Hockey fans are famous for their passion. Which NHL teams are building the hottest social channels and how are they doing it?
Time to hit the ice.
In our previous sports breakdowns, we’ve determined that the sports sector and NFL franchises have built tremendous social channels. This time, let’s look at some other in-season sport franchises — NHL teams. Hockey fans are infamous for their passion but do they use social media to further augment their experiences?
The NHL certainly seems to think so. In a USAToday interview, Commissioner Gary Bettman said that “the ability to use digital platforms and connect with our fans more than ever before … has been vitally important to us.”
The NHL has strong cause to connect with those fans. Their fanbase is the most educated and wealthy of the four major leagues. Because of that wealth, NHL season ticket sales are the highest of the four major leagues. Finding new ways to reach those fans and keep them engaged is essential.
Over the past six months, the NHL’s website traffic was driven 9.66% from social platforms and 18.77% from search. But, we wanted to see if that was reflective of the traffic for the individual teams. We dove in deeper to see which teams have been building the most notable social channels.
The chart below is our analysis of the top ten NHL teams with the largest social channel, compared to their search channels. The data comes from SimilarWeb. For a look into all NHL teams and the data analyzed in this blog, click here.
Social vs Search Traffic in the NHL
Social vs Search Traffic for NHL Teams
Five teams earn more social media traffic than search traffic. The Montreal Canadiens lead by an enormous 16% more social traffic than search, becoming our social champion as well as the biggest Stanley Cup winner. Ten teams have less than a 5% difference between their social and search. The average amount of traffic received from social was over 16%.
[bctt tweet=”@CanadiensMTL has highest % traffic from social media of the NHL teams! Goal!”]
Only two teams has a surprisingly low percentage of social traffic. The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers received less than 2.5% of traffic from social platforms.
Like we did for the NFL, we can analyze this against our publishers’ social vs search traffic chart. Like the NFL teams, the traffic of the hockey teams are not too different from our major publishers. The NHL’s percentages would fall in the same range—the teams have truly built impressive social channels.
Social vs Search Traffic for Publishers
Like publishers, sports can easily use social media platforms. They’re both product and publisher. They don’t have to spend their budgets on creating entirely new content for social. Their product is already content.
Plus, the built-in fan bases around each team is a self-creating loop of engagement and audience-generated content. The teams can rely on their already impassioned fans.
Video is a key player right now in the social game, and once again, sports like the NHL already have an strong footing. Excerpts from matches and games can be shared on Facebook, Youtube, Vine, and Snapchat. Teams can keep their fans updated in real-time with tweets about game scores as they happen.
What Platforms Make up These Social Channels?
In a shift from the breakdown of sports we saw in our sector post, Facebook drives less than half of social media traffic. In our average of the top sports leagues, the average was 55%.
Like the football teams, the NHL ends up almost tying across Reddit and Twitter. Again, Reddit edges out Twitter for second place. More than half of the New York Rangers’ social traffic comes from Reddit. Three other teams also have Reddit to thank for the majority of their social hits.
Three of the teams have their biggest social channel on Twitter. The Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, and Edmonton Oilers all lead the social media hits generated from tweets.
We noted in our NFL post that despite the natural fit of video and sports, YouTube doesn’t account for much of the social media traffic hits. Our average for the NHL was less than 2%. However, our previous outlier Washington Capitals have 22% of their social media traffic driven from the video platform. Second to that is our other outlier, the New York Rangers, which receives 5% of social traffic from Youtube.
This could be in part to Facebook’s rivalry with YouTube. More than 8 billion videos are now viewed on Facebook daily. Fans no longer have to leave Facebook to find their team’s video content.
More Fans = More Social Traffic?
Let’s see which teams have the most zealous fans on social. At the time of writing, this is a ranking of NHL franchises, comparing relative size of social channels, to numbers of fans on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. Again, feel free to dive into the data here.
NHL Teams, Highest Social to Search Traffic Ratio, and Largest Social Media Fan Bases
We can see immediately that fan base size doesn’t correlate to the amount of social media traffic a team generates. While the Montreal Canadiens are still in the top ten, they don’t have the largest amount of fans on any platform.
The Chicago Blackhawks were our #26 ranked in social traffic percentage rank, but they have the largest fanbase on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter. Ten percent of their traffic is directed from social platforms, which is 6% below the average of all NHL teams.
[bctt tweet=”Which NHL team has the biggest fan bases? @NHLBlackhawks wins on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter”]
There are a large number of likes and shares on their content. A short video posted on November 17th about the championship movie, “Hat Trick”, had over 330,000 views, 11,000 likes, and 1,400 shares. But that engagement could be staying on the platform, instead of driving traffic back.
Five of our teams in the top ten for social traffic percentage rank had some of the smallest fan bases. The Columbus Blue Jackets, while having the third highest traffic percentage from social, was in the bottom 15% of fan rankings for all but YouTube.
Despite not having a YouTube account of their own, the Boston Bruins still have the second highest total number of fans. The New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild additionally do not have official YouTube accounts.
Only the Blackhawks, Bruins and Red Wings exceed 2 million in their total of Facebook fans. On Twitter, the Blackhawks is the only team to claim over 1 million followers. Subreddits with the biggest fan bases are remarkably consistent. Again, the Blackhawks boast the highest amount of subscribers, while the Red Wings and Bruins are in the top five.
The three teams with the smallest communities on social media are the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, and Florida Panthers (based in the Miami metropolitan area). Like we saw with the NFL, it’s a interesting correlation that these three smaller teams are all from southern states.
Where NHL Teams Score on Social Traffic
The Montreal Canadiens had the highest percentage of traffic from social platforms. They have the fifth biggest fan base of our teams across Facebook (5th), Twitter (3rd), YouTube (2nd), and Reddit (9th). Let’s take a look at their Facebook posts, which drive almost 80% of their social traffic.
The Montreal Canadiens content is highly visual, using stunning images and videos that prompt click-throughs back to the team’s website. Their posts over 10 times a day, on average. This steady stream of content promotes brand awareness and creates opportunities to share.
[bctt tweet=”‘@NHL teams that have a steady stream of content create more chances to engage + share #contentmarketing'” via=”no”]
The Canadiens go beyond just recaps and team news, they extend their brand by using Facebook events to share details for their charity functions.
The Montreal Canadiens have a proud voice in their posts. Even when the team loses a game, they take it in stride.
On Twitter, the Canadiens face a unique challenge compared to the majority of other teams: bridging a language gap in 140 characters or less.
This consideration has the Habs employing some Twitter best practices. Their tweets are succinct (to fit both French and English) and most rely on visuals. More recently, Twitter has begun to roll out emojis and the Montreal Canadiens have wholeheartedly embraced the universal language of smileys.
A great use of Twitter’s video platform Vine, along with prominent brand hashtags, emojis, and short and sweet content
Let’s shift focus to the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings are sixth in social traffic percentage rank and have the second biggest Reddit community. A look at their week’s top posts reveals a medley of team news, visual media, and user-generated content.
One of the community’s most popular posts of all time was an open forum hosted by enforcer and four-time Stanley Cup winner, Darren McCarty. Mini-events like this reward fans for their engagement and encourage them to promote their team.
Red Wings fans on Reddit ‘flare’ their usernames with their favorite player number
Reddit gives fans an active channel to discuss, create and curate content about their favorite team. The posts build hype about games and team news, and Reddit’s upvote feature is a simple way for fans to click and feel engaged.
To produce consistent, compelling content, each brand needs to define their own social media voice. The LA Kings have a snarky, humorous, and oftentimes controversial tone to their social posts that entertains (and occasionally scandalizes) their audience.
Like we noted in the NFL analysis, the NHL teams don’t prioritize selling products on their social channels. The LA Kings are having fun with their social media, creating positive moments for their fans to connect with. They provide their fans with consistent streams of high-quality content, and foster a sense of community through shared hashtags and buzzwords.
Why Does Social Media Work So Well for the NHL?
Like all sports, the NHL has a dual role as both entertainer and publisher. This already puts them ahead of most brands.
The NHL has always had a smaller community than giants like the NFL, MLB, and NBA. The NHL believes that the majority of its fan base roots for teams in outside markets. Given the global, connecting nature of the internet, those fans can now form stronger communities than ever before. When the teams join in by interacting with those fans, brand loyalty skyrockets.
While the NHL has banned the use of Periscope in stadiums, they have adopted new platforms like Snapchat. They announced their channel in a cleverly illustrated tweet. The NHL has a vested interest investment in building their team brands on social media.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Rob Mixer, manager of digital and social media for the Columbus Blue Jackets, said, “If you’re not producing content to capture attention on the second screen, you’re doing it wrong.”
Mixer’s got the right idea. Sports events generate the most-tweeted TV broadcasts every year. In 2013, 50% of the tweets about TV were linked to sports events.
Next time, we’ll explore the most engaging NHL content on Facebook and social to analyze the the content pieces and strategy driving this social media performance.
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