The NHL could face a frosty reception from fans when the season kicks off next week after an acrimonious lockout that cost the league a lot of good will.

So says Brian Cooper, a partner at sports management firm S & E Sponsorship Group, appearing Monday on the CBC's Lang & O'Leary Exchange.

Cooper's firm represents corporate partners that are eager to associate themselves with the game of hockey in Canada, the U.S. and abroad.

"They're relieved the game is back," Cooper said. "But there's caution as to how do you re-enter the market."

The NHL wiped out about half of its season in a four-month lockout over how to share revenues, before the league and its players reached a deal last weekend.

Fans seem likely to return to the game to some degree, but for the league's corporate partners, it might be a tricky dance of how best to market themselves with an entity that's facing some hostility.

"Some will be more aggressive than others," Cooper said.

Sharing a passion

Most of Cooper's clients — and other corporations — are unlikely to boycott the league in any material way, because they mainly have long-standing, multi-year agreements in place.

And ultimately, they want to associate themselves with the league, long-term.

"That's the reason they went into it," Cooper said. "They were sharing a passion for the game."

His advice boils down to focusing on the individual teams and players as opposed to the corporate entity of the NHL itself, because that's what fans have positive associations with.

"There's a big difference between the league and the Leafs," he said. "[But] they're going to have to do something special promotionally to win those fans back."

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