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NHL Learns a Hard PR Lesson Early in 2016

Laura Curk Comm Blog

1.194 million people watched a highly anticipated televised event Sunday night—no, not Grease Live the NHL All-Star Game. Tweet was the word as audiences discussed one of the most controversial events the NHL has ever hosted. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain what happened.

In case you missed it, some folks on the Internet decided to have some fun with the NHL’s online fan vote in December and elected John Scott as captain of the Pacific Division for the All-Star Game. What’s the big deal? The All-Star Game is supposed to include only the league’s most finessed talent—the Crosby’s, Ovechkin’s, Subban’s etc. As an enforcer, Scott does not fit the All-Star criteria and the NHL had none if it.

Over the last two months, the league made attempts to get Scott to walk away from the game, citing that he should give his spot to a more deserving player. After Scott refused the NHL’s requests to bow out of the All-Star Game he was traded from the Arizona Coyotes to the Montreal Canadiens and immediately placed to the AHL’s St. John’s Ice Caps, throwing his spot into question. Pardon me? This looked like deliberate sabotage. Plus, by that time, fans had turned the gag vote into an honest campaign and they were pissed.

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The hardest and most human element of this whole situation is Scott’s wife, who is expected to deliver twins this week. On top of that, Scott has claimed that the NHL attacked his sensibilities by questioning if his family would even be proud of him if he played.

“So when someone from the NHL calls me and says, “Do you think this is something your kids would be proud of?”… That’s when they lost me. That was it, right there. That was the moment. Because, while I may not deserve to be an NHL All-Star, I know I deserve to be the judge of what my kids will — and won’t — be proud of me for.”

All of this was discussed very publicly. Twitter literally exploded. Fans were outraged and the NHL kept digging itself into a deeper hole, until they announced on January 19th that Scott would play in the All-Star Game.

Scott took to the ice to play the game of his life this past Sunday. By all appearances, it seems as though he enjoyed himself: laughing during the player introductions as the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane was booed, exchanging fake punches with Kane later on, scoring two goals and reacting with disbelief when he was named MVP.

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The league can’t heal all of the wounds from this debacle, but this is how it can do the most to repair its image and turn an ugly situation into a learning moment. Here’s what I recommend:

  1. For all future fan votes, support who the fans pick.
  2. Avoid internet gags like this from happening by putting greater regulations on fan votes. Fact: users were allowed to vote up to 10 times a day for anyone who is currently an NHL hockey player for the All-Star Game.
  3. Believe it or not, sometimes things aren’t going to go your way. In situations like these it’s better to roll with the punches, and if we know anything it’s that audiences will always side with the underdog.

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Laura CurkNHL Learns a Hard PR Lesson Early in 2016