The puck dropped on Saturday night for the first time since the 2012-2013 NHL lockout ended, and teams are doing their best to entice fans back with free ticket giveaways, open practices to the public, autograph signings, and apology letters. After a 113-day lockout and 1,020 missed games, the NHL is faced with a public relation nightmare. With only 48 games guaranteed for each team this season, NHL marketers are going to have to do their best to fill those seats with fans and get sponsorship dollars back in their pocket.
The NHL players had an estimated total loss of about $400 million, and you can double that for the league. Marketing departments of the NHL are doing their best to encourage fans back to the rink. Here in Toronto, the Leafs held an open practice last Thursday that attracted 1,400 fans; they will be also giving away about 1,000 tickets to Monday’s home opener through various promotions against the Buffalo Sabers. Among giving away commemorative scarves at the game, 1,500 season ticket holders will be seeing the first game free of charge. In less traditional hockey markets like Chicago, the Black Hawks are giving away 1000 autographed jerseys, and a lucky fan in San Jose is going to be selected to drop the ceremonial puck in their home opener.
Whatever ways NHL marketing departments decide to coax fans back to the game, sponsorship dollars will not flock back until companies see that faith has been restored in fans’ loyalty across the league. The NHL must been seen as a stable enterprise, with the ability to provide an interrupted season to the good ol’ fashioned hockey game– after all, they’re what drives the fans.