VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) = There has been big-time brand damage for the NHL, concludes a consulting group that examined the on-going hockey lockout. The consultation group suggested that fans may not be as interested in the league when hockey does eventually return.

The fans did come back after the previous NHL lockout, but two negotiation debacles in less than a decade could be the breaking point.

The Globe and Mail, citing a survey conducted by Level5 Strategy Group, said looking at brand analysis, it appears the fans are feeling betrayal, and in some cases outright boredom with the shut down.

Level5 CEO David Kincaid told The Globe the survey was actually conducted for league sponsors to show how to connect with hockey fans.

Kincaid says the NHL brand damage is at levels not previously seen. In some cases, worse negativity was reported than even for the BP oil spill in The Gulf of Mexico.

Many average male fans of the game were showing a neutral attitude and lack of connection. More passionate fans, meanwhile, were showing outright disgust.

Kincaid says up to a third of Canadian fans may have been lost to the league, adding that it will take a long time to regain the trust of those still interested.