The NHL needs to win back hockey fans after its 113-day lockout. We offer seven businesses that went through crises, and how they patched things up with their customers.
Yes, the NHL can learn something from the NBA, which itself has a noxious history of lockouts. In the 1998-99 season, the NBA lost three months to spatting owners and players before finally settling on a 50-game schedule — one depressingly similar to the NHL’s likely 48-game conciliation for 2013. Back then, the NBA was worried about winning back apathetic fans. A USA Today/Gallup poll found that 53% of fans missed games just a little, or not at all. So owners went on the offensive. Two exhibition games were free before the season started, and teams had to open at least one scrimmage to fans. The next season, all teams were required to sell 500 tickets a game for 10 bucks. Nets president Michael Rowe told USA Today, “We’re not taking for granted that fans have been sitting waiting for us.” The NHL might share his thinking.
Odwalla's E. Coli crisis
Odwalla nearly alienated fans in the mid-90s after the company’s unpasteurized apple juice carried an E.Coli strain that killed one person and sickened 66 more. But through smart and decisive action, the company saved its brand. The CEO quickly claimed responsibility and began a $6.5 million recall. Within months Odwalla created a flash pasteurization process so the problem wouldn’t happen again — a key to engendering trust among wary customers. It also sent delivery drivers, sidelined by the halt in business, to explain the changes to wholesale buyers. In short, Odwalla changed its ways to preserve the goodwill it had spent years building.
JetBlue's tarmac problems
In 2007, JetBlue JBLU committed a couple grievous errors. First, it left dozens of passengers in planes at JFK for almost 11 hours. Then it stranded thousands more on tarmacs during a late-Februrary snowstorm, right after being criticized for the first snafu. At first, founder and CEO David Neeleman responded appropriately. He went on Letterman to apologize, then did the same on YouTube before eventually issuing a passenger’s bill of rights that limited the amount of time they could be stranded on the tarmac. But the real hero of the drama was JetBlue’s board. A few months after the episode, it forced Neeleman to step down, and signaled to JetBlue’s fans that the company wouldn’t tolerate something like that again.
Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol crisis
Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ moves after the 1982 Tylenol poisoning disaster — in which seven people died after ingesting capsules laced with cyanide — remain the gold standard for regaining consumer trust. Not only did J&J put customers first by recalling 31 million Tylenol bottles and offering a free replacement to stores — an expensive (the recall cost $100 million) and rare move back then, as recalls almost never happened. CEO James Burke took to the television airwaves repeatedly to guide consumers through the process. It was corporate crisis management at its best. Fix the problem. Allay customers’ fears. And communicate throughout.
Firestone's tire recall
Ford and Firestone took turns blaming each other in 2000 for 174 fatalities and 700 injuries caused by defective Firestone tires on Ford F SUVs. The tire supplier was forced to recall 6.5 million tires and its 95-year old relationship with Ford was terminated. To help make things right, Firestone’s parent company Bridgestone dropped the price of its premium Bridgestone brand of tires to something near the mid-level priced Firestone tires, and then offered generous warranties on both brands. Customers received other perks, including a $40 rebate on Firestone tires and a free camera for Bridgestone tires, which helped resurrect the hobbled brand.
Mattel's contaminated toys
In 2007, Mattel MAT recalled 21 million Chinese-made toys after they were found to be contaminated with lead paint and contain loose magnets that posed a choking hazard to young children. Affected toys came from some of Mattel’s most popular lines, including Barbie, Batman, and Disney’s DIS Cars movie. Mattel responded quickly, and focused allaying parents’ fears. It provided postage so customers could return contaminated products. It also gave customers vouchers for other toys. To ensure everyone got the news, Mattel posted ads across Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network. It was an ugly episode for Mattel, but one that it quickly overcame.
Toyota's pedal crisis
That we’re even including Toyota’s TM response to its pedal accelerator problem shows how low the bar is set for the NHL. Initially, Toyota went on the defensive in 2009 following disturbing evidence that indicated its accelerator pedals sometimes stayed depressed after the driver lifted her foot. The company avoided media, and went so far as to blame its third party manufacturers. Then Toyota found religion. Americans watched CEO Akio Toyoda apologize in front of Congress and, as Fortune recalled, later shed tears in a YouTube video. Toyota still has a long road ahead to regain its sterling reputation but unlike the NHL thus far, at least it has asked customers for forgiveness so it can move on.