NHL Metrics Help Reaffirm Fans Are Cup Crazy
The Tampa Bay Lightning reclaimed its place atop the NHL by winning a second consecutive Stanley Cup in July, achieving a historic championship after the most unprecedented two seasons the league has ever had. We saw two different “bubbles” in Canada to wrap up 2020, followed by a modified 2021 season consisting of clubs only playing within their divisions and no Canadian team crossing the border until the Stanley Cup Semifinals. The Lightning completed its Cup defense by beating the Montreal Canadiens, and while this past season may have been crazy in ways that we’ve never seen before, the data shows that the interest in the NHL throughout North America – especially Canada – continued to rise throughout the season and playoffs. The league’s emphasis on engaging social media, and the support given by its brand partners, complemented the success on the ice.
It is evident that big markets and big traditions run deep. Franchises including the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs led the league in social visibility throughout the regular season. Although some of the most popular teams in the league didn’t make it to the postseason during 2021, the emergence of casual fans tuning into a spectacular conclusion of the season provided a meaningful boost to the NHL’s social presence. During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, impressions increased 15% and overall engagement increased by more than 52% across social media platforms.
Despite being the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning ranked toward the bottom of the league in impressions per post (21st) and average engagements per post (28th) over the course of the regular season. But during the team’s historic playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second season in a row, the Lightning catapulted to the top half of the NHL, ranking 13th and 14th, respectively.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason success led to a massive increase in social performance compared to the regular season. The team generated twice as many impressions and four times more engagement per post on average. Both increases were the largest observed by any franchise this season.
The smaller-market team ranks 16th in the league in overall social follower counts, but its performance on the ice throughout the last few seasons has coincided with a 13% growth on social media – third-most across the NHL since the start of the 2019-2020 season. The franchise hopes to maintain positive momentum gained from an increase in popularity and engagement as it attempts to three-peat in 2022.
Hockey has long been the most popular sport in the Great White North, but after the U.S. and Canada navigated playing a collective regular season while separated by the border, there was an evident increase in interest and affinity throughout Canada when the playoffs began in May.
The average impressions generated on social media for the American-based teams remained stagnant as the playoffs started, but the engagement for Canadian teams skyrocketed. Canadian-based teams saw a 13% increase in impressions generated during the first three rounds of the playoffs. During the Stanley Cup Finals, there was an additional boost of 49% in impressions generated, as well as a 77% increase in overall engagement compared to the regular season.
Across text and image detections, the Montreal Canadiens generated US$247,151 in brand value for their partners on social media during an incredible playoff run culminating in the Stanley Cup Finals – 38% more than their counterparts in Tampa.
During the 2021 season, Canadian teams outperformed U.S.-based teams on a per-post basis across all metrics – impressions generated (+11%), post value (+16%), brand value (+9%), and, most notably, engagements, where teams north of the border produced 30% more interactions per social post on average.
The NHL, along with other professional sports properties across North America, implemented new and unique signage assets as a result of the pandemic. The addition of decals for corporate partners on hockey helmets was seen as a best practice and revenue driver that had measurable success across the board. The league’s move to add corporate participation to highly-visible spots on helmets paid dividends during the regular season and playoffs.
Throughout the 2021 NHL season, social posts featuring the helmet asset generated an average of 27,836,816 impressions per team, driving an average value of $46,105 for helmet partners on social media. Approximately 87% of the overall value was derived from the regular season due to the volume of exposure provided to sponsors. However, during the playoffs, helmet sponsors received 30% more value per post than they did throughout the regular season.
After two long, tumultuous seasons, the return of fans to the stands - along with fewer border restrictions – should help grow engagement for the NHL. The excitement of back-to-back championships for the Tampa Bay Lightning as well as the return of a Canadian team to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in a decade led to a great engagement narrative for the league. The addition of new signage assets, such as helmet decals and forthcoming jersey patch sponsorship deals, will serve as an engagement tool and supplementary revenue for years to come.
With young rising stars throughout the league, an audience that has expanded its passionate following, the debut of the Seattle Kraken, and a new broadcast partner for the 2021-2022 season, there are exciting things coming for the NHL. Not only did the NHL survive during the darkest days of the pandemic, it also found ways to thrive and produce amazing content for its fans across North America. The proof is in the numbers.