What Frank Luntz Taught the NHL About Winning Back Hockey Fans

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With the NHL's lockout dragging on for months and little movement from either side, fans are starting to lose it. Since the NHL knew they were losing the publicity battle, they got GOP strategist Frank Luntz to help win back fans and get leverage in the negotiations. 

Luntz was hired to hastily throw together a focus group of hockey fans ("of the 30 people, 75 percent were men, and all but three or four were white") to figure out a pro-owner's message they could deliver to fans with a straight face. A participant in the survey leaked the questionnaire and information packet to Deadspin's Barry Petchesky. As Petchesky explains, Luntz has some experience with crafting a message: 

He's played a key role in framing the GOP's message over the years. When global warming was recast as "climate change," that was Frank Luntz. When the estate tax became a "death tax," that was Frank Luntz. When the Affordable Health Care for America Act was held up as "a government takeover," that was Frank Luntz, too.

After testing the hockey fans using his signature "dial testing," where people are shown a series of videos and asked to turn a dial indicating a positive or negative response, this was a mock speech Luntz gave as an NHL executive explaining their next deal: 

As for the owners' slogan, one laughable phrase kept coming up: "Shared sacrifice."

"Maybe we asked for too much at first," Luntz's mock-NHL-exec speech went, "but we're willing to give. The NHLPA has to be willing to give as well, if we're going to give the fans back their hockey. There's no way we're going to do this without both sides bringing something to the table."

The new deal offered by the NHL basically serves this quote to Bettman on a silver platter, he just hasn't been given the soapbox to recite it yet. The NHL just proposed a collective bargaining agreement that includes a full 82 game season and an even 50-50 split of hockey related revenue. The players who fear their contracts would be rolled back appear to be safe, for now.

There are other parts of the agreement, particularly how the "escrow" is divided, where the players could lose money. The league's previous deals had a much harsher revenue split, though. This is considered a concession on the league's behalf. "Shared sacrifice." 

For fans, the most important part is not losing any hockey. How the money's dived is secondary. The players' response so far is positive, generally speaking. They didn't immediately reject it. To hockey fans, that's a good sign. 

As Yahoo's Greg Wyshynski writes, "the bottom line is that we can feel a twinge of optimism here. The NHL went to 50/50, and tossed out many of the poison pills from previous offers. Donald Fehr didn't reject it. This is progress." Luntz helped the league move forward, and put pressure on the players to accept a deal to save a whole season. You can't say he's ineffective.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.