My FanHouse partner-in-snark Jes Golbez recently noted that "most NHL-related ads have been clumsy, forgettable, and just plain dumb," before referencing the "Citizen Kane" of marketing miscalculations by the league: those cringe-inducing post-lockout "My NHL" ads that tried to sell hockey with a Sears underwear model as some sort of samurai warrior on skates. Seriously, they made Tom Cruise look like Chow Yun-Fat.
Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated recently had a lengthy, wide-ranging interview with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that included a few questions about NHL marketing. One question centered around the fact that the NHL's recent ads featuring some of its young stars only seem to appear during NHL broadcasts: "With so much work to be done in promoting the game, does there come a point where you stop preaching to the choir and start paying to get those spots on during other sporting events, or even during prime time?" Bettman responded to that critique and, for the first time I can recall, offered the official defense for those soft-core samurai ads that probably cost the league millions in every sense of the phrase:
You know, that's a difficult question. Most sports leagues do not run their own promotional spots outside of their own air [time] because the ability to aggregate enough air time the way a consumer products company might do it is not something any of us are in a position to do. Except, I suppose, the NFL. But, you know, the campaign we did last year that you were referring to, there were three things about that. One, we had to be ready to go in six weeks. Two, we didn't have the players available to us for enough time to shoot. Three, we didn't know where anyone was going to be, in terms of where the players would be located. We needed something generic and that was an attention grabber and while people may or may not have liked it, the fact is that everybody knew about it. And really, that's what we were trying to accomplish.
We like this year's [campaign] because we're now working together with our players, having cooperation, having a partnership. We're now in a position where we're doing some things together and that's something we haven't been able to do for years and years because we haven't had the cooperation of the union.The rest of the interview is Bettman's usual combination of Pollyanna sunshine and impenetrable logic, vigorously defending his product as even Hockeytown loses interest. But it's good to see from the excerpt above that Gary hasn't lost his talent for blaming the players union for all of the NHL's ills.