SUN Hockey Pool

A PR nightmare

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

With a summer settlement to the National Hockey League's labour problems in sight, it appears that the league has hired a top public-relations company to herald the return of the game.

The firm is Rogers & Cowan, which refers to itself as "the worldwide leader in entertainment public relations," and has offices in New York, Los Angeles and London (not Ontario).

Because the league knows that hockey will be a tough sell when it returns, it wants Rogers & Cowan to develop a marketing strategy that will not only inform potential fans that the game is back, but also point out that, in true PR fashion, the product is "new and improved."

When asked about the deal, a spokesman at the firm was coy. "I can't tell you anything at this point," he said. "Nothing has been made official yet."

But he strongly indicated that plans are in place, and that there is a definite expectation of a working arrangement, not only with the league but also with the media.

He went on to say, "We can potentially be good friends at some point," and, "You will definitely know who we are."

Rogers & Cowan is a major player in the public-relations field and says that it "specializes in developing integrated marketing campaigns for entertainment, technology, and fashion/beauty clients utilizing a blend of cross promotions, product placement, special events and website marketing."

Like most firms of this nature, it has specialist departments and says that its sports-marketing section, "works with a diverse range of sports-related organizations and companies sponsoring everything from football to NASCAR racing to extreme sports. We work with sports organizations, athletes and corporate sponsors to generate consumer awareness for ... athletic-related pursuits."

It is highly unlikely that Rogers & Cowan will be called to serious duty this week, but it is expected that in New York, further steps will be taken along the road to a settlement.

Tomorrow, the NHL Players Association will meet with league officials. The day after, the NHL's board of governors gets together.

At issue are the ongoing suggestions from the NHLPA that if the league wants to effect a partnership with the players, as commissioner Gary Bettman continues to insist, it must first have a partnership of its owners.

The NHL ranks a distant last among the four "major" sports in revenue sharing, and it is the PA's contention that until the disparities between the incredibly wealthy and the relatively destitute are reduced, the league can never be healthy.

The PA wants a system that would allow the stars who draw the fans to be compensated in accordance with the standards of the entertainment industry, while at the same time allowing every team to be competitive.

In New York, for instance, the mindset of the fans is such that teams in all sports have to have stars to sell tickets. If New York hockey teams want to pay for the privilege of acquiring big names, then let them do so.

Despite published suggestions that the NHLPA has offered new proposals, the proposal now in place is the same one that was on the table when Bettman cancelled the season.

Other concepts have been aired, but there is nothing concrete to them. They are merely variations on a theme.

SAME DEAL

While the league might have issue with the PA's numbers, there is an increasing groundswell in favour of a hasty settlement and an abandonment of the replacement-player concept -- if indeed it ever existed as more than a threat.

The two sides are still far apart, but at least they are now singing from the same songbook. Eventually, they'll progress to the point that they're on the same page.

And that's when the crank-it-up call will go out to Rogers & Cowan.


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