Both sides in NHL-player lockout take on big-name PR assistance

NEW YORK: Each side in the National Hockey League's lockout of players has taken on heavy-weight PR help to win public opinion in the labor dispute.

NEW YORK: Each side in the National Hockey League's lockout of players has taken on heavy-weight PR help to win public opinion in the labor dispute.

The NHL is working with Rubenstein Associates, confirmed Patrick Smith, a Rubenstein EVP. A Canadian press report said the league also has hired Mark Fabiani, a former aide to Bill Clinton. The NHL didn't return requests for comment.

The National Hockey League Players Association, which has its headquarters in Toronto, last year hired Edelman's sports practice to help it with anticipated labor problems, said Jonathan Weatherdon, manager of media relations.

"We're working every day to get our message out," Weatherdon said.

The players' PR is emphasizing that the association has answered all the league's demands, he said.

The basic dispute is that the owners want a salary cap similar to other professional leagues. The players have offered a 5% wage rollback and a "luxury tax" on high-spending teams.

Smith would not comment on Canadian press reports that the firm has advised that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman keep a low media profile and let the league's number two executive have the media spotlight because he comes across as more sympathetic than Bettman.

On Tuesday, Bettman appeared in a televised town hall meeting on Canadian TV. Player's association executive director Bob Goodenow appeared on a similar show the next night.

The lockout is receiving much more coverage in Canada, where hockey is the national pastime, than in the US. Canadian coverage so far seems to be favoring the owners, said Bruce MacLellan, president of PR firm Environics in Toronto.

"The owners are doing a good job of portraying the problem as being caused by the players" and their high salaries, he said.

Weatherdon said public-opinion polls have shown a variety of opinions about who is winning the hearts and minds of hockey fans during the lockout, which began September 15.

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