SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 20: John Scott #20 of the San Jose Sharks skates around the ice with her daughters a day before the game against the Los Angeles Kings during the Stadium Series Game on February 20, 2015 at Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

For those of us who are hockey fans, the controversy that is John Scott and the NHL 2016 All Star Game has made tidal waves on social and traditional media. The story, for those who aren’t inundated with hockey culture, goes like this:

In an effort to drum up interest in the NHL All Star Game, the league’s governing body decided to open up voting on teams’ captains to anyone with a working internet connection.

It went exactly as things normally do online.

After the tally was counted, John Scott, an aging heavy on the Phoenix Coyote’s 4th line, won the position of captain for the Pacific Division.  Scott’s selection as team captain made him into a human punch line. How the NHL responded to this is what makes this into a marketing lesson.

The NHL may have not entirely understood how their audience views them so we have taken the liberty of providing the league with some insights.

NHL 2014 Emotional Heat Map

*Emotional perceptions of the NHL. Taken from a general population sample of 690 respondents in 2014

The highlighted portion of our emotional perception heat map shows that a significant portion of the population views the league as loyal, respectful and most importantly trustworthy. It’s not that the league doesn’t know it either; their mission statement even starts with “We don’t own the game of hockey — we serve it.”  So how does the league go about fulfilling its Brand Promise to its fans?

Probably not by pressuring Scott to drop out of the All Star game 

The details of the what happened between Scott, the NHL, and a few of the league’s franchises is a story you can find on any sports website. For the sake of brevity, John Scott quickly found himself in the minors and ineligible to play in the All Star Game. From a brand perspective, the NHL, which promises integrity and trust, broke away from its emotional RIGHT SPACE and its fans’ expectations.

At Hotspex we preach Relentless Consistency as a key pillar of iconic and highly successful brands. This means that a brand needs to understand its promises and deliver on them across all its audiences’ touch points. It means delivering to customers, fans, and audiences, what they have come to expect from it. In the case of the NHL that was trust, loyalty and respect.

So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise when the league got called out on its maneuver and was publicly shamed on Twitter, Facebook and in sports bars across the northern hemisphere.  The hashtag #FreeJohnScott garnered about 1,796,118 social impressions in just 3 days on Twitter alone and spawned a slew of mocking images like this one:


The perplexing PR decision to bury Scott in the minors has forced the league into an embarrassing rush to try and save face. The tragedy, from a marketing perspective, is that this could have been a huge win for the NHL.  How better to live the brand values of trust, loyalty and respect than to honor the fans wishes? Even if those wishes were a somewhat mean spirited joke.

Turn this potential gaffe into an opportunity, execute your values with Relentless Consistency and show your fans and the sports media that the league values its promise to both players and fans.  Of course, you can’t do this if you don’t know where you stand in the first place, which just makes understanding your brand’s emotional RIGHT SPACE all the more important.

Interested in learning more about how the population views the NHL? NBA? LPGA? Or any other brands, email us or visit us at