Both the NHL and the NBA are heading into the off season as busy as ever. Both leagues are coming off of impressive, competitive and entertaining playoff finals, but, the brands are approaching their offseason public relations messaging in different ways.
In the NBA free agent speculation and trade rumors abound. Just like they do in every offseason. In the NHL, the message is not about who’s going where … it’s about who’s playing whom. With the release of the pre-season matchups, hockey nation has revealed exactly where its priorities lie. They want team fans, not player devotees. Sure, they want to sell a ton of labeled jerseys, but they are more concerned with getting fans in the seats than they are about who they are coming to see. That second dynamic might run a very close second, but it is still Number Two. Instead of a constant stream of individual player news, the teams are being discussed. This dynamic underscores the difference in the games, the leagues, and their fans.
Or does it? Is the NBA simply responding to a fickle fan base that cares more about watching individual players or is the league sacrificing long-term fan loyalty to the temptation of instant brand pomp and circumstance?
A quick overview of the most recent finals might shed some light on the strength of that strategy. In the NHL Tampa Bay fans exulted when their team 86ed a seemingly better New York team in the conference finals … a team that featured a fan favorite player who last hoisted Lord Stanley … with Tampa Bay. Yet St. Louis did not receive a hero’s welcome in Tampa when he returned home. Fans openly hoped their new golden boy, Stamkos, and his band of Triplets could neutralize St. Louis. Past laurels were forgotten even though they were literally hanging over their heads from the arena rafters.
When LeBron James returned to Cleveland, he was greeted like the Second Coming, and King James made good on his promise to get his hometown team back to the dance. That immediate shift seemed to bode well for those in the NBA who place the PR muscle behind individual personalities. Then upstart Golden State routinely dismantled the Cavs. It was a great series, sure, but if James had the same supporting cast his star opponents enjoyed, his team would have had a better chance.
Now, headed into the offseason, both leagues seem committed to those divergent priorities. The tale of the tape will be in next year’s receipts. Will the team-first dynamic of the NHL win the day or will the superstar-driven PR of the NBA reign supreme? What do you think?
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of New York City based Public Relations company, 5W PR. Author of best selling PR Book “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations”, and a life long New Yorker.