The Small Agency Conference kicked off with Brian Jennings, EVP-Marketing at the NHL. He opened with an interesting analogy of Nike shutting down and getting bad press, which is unimaginable, but that’s what happened with the NHL last year. The negotiations between owners and players came to a standstill on negotiation regarding compensation, pension, healthcare and Olympics participation. In Canada, the media compared the 2012 lockout with the BP Oil Spill. Jennings outlined the overall business and marketing strategy, starting with direct communications and contingency planning with the clubs/teams. The second audience was sponsors, partners and licensees, which was very complicated. The third and most important audience was the fans. A refreshing approach the NHL took was to take the blame and own the issue. The NHL hosted impromptu games around North America in small communities. Clubs hosted clinics and events, or anything not involving the players. The Penguins tapped former players (and the mascot) to participate in events. The NHL focused on positive, but honest, messaging about the lockout, players and negotiations. The key messaging piece the NHL put together was a 2 minute video, Hockey is Back, announcing the return of NHL in January. In the end, the communications and marketing strategy played out well, backed by the Blackhawks incredible season. The season played to 97.5% average capacity, record TV ratings and NBC saw the highest ratings in 14 years and the most watched hockey season in 19 years. On the digital side, mobile app downloads increased 20% and page views were up 13%. Overall, it was an interesting and informative presentation, although I was surprised Jennings avoided Nike’s answer to the lockout: Hockey is Ours.