NHL 2013-14 Digital Media Findings, Part 1


This is the first of a five-part series from Aaron Westendorf

Part 1: The 2013-14 NHL Season

I am very excited to take on this five-part series about Digital Media growth in the NHL. I will be analyzing growth from both a macro and micro level, finding narratives in the numbers, and sharing my findings. The results are not to say that certain NHL teams are bad at Digital Media, or that those Digital Managers need to try something different. There are many complexities that must be shared prior to diving into the numbers. Some conflicts a Digital Manager may encounter include lack of funding, lack of resources or lack of support from their executives.

These numbers are useful, whether a team is in the red or green (in terms of digital rankings). If you are a Digital Manager for a team in red, you are able to use the numbers to shape your narrative. For instance, if a lack of funding is the largest hurdle to overcome, he or she may display that small growth as a direct result from a small budget. If a Digital Manager is looking to find additional staffing, or resources, they may use the numbers to display a direct need. If the Digital Manager is preparing their end of year report for executives, team data displayed in context of the rest of the league may be a useful tool during negotiations or budget asks.

The numbers can tell the narrative you wish to write in most cases. This is particularly useful to help overcome the stigma that Digital Media is a waste of money or doesn’t possess adequate ROI. The sports industry has become one of the most progressive industries when it comes to digital anything. Teams have been able to generate revenue from sponsorship, as well as effectively sell tickets through digital channels. Saying a team possesses effective Digital Media means they have expanded their fan base, corporate sponsors and put more fans into seats.

Digital Media growth is important to measure because it indicates growth, or strengthening, of its fan base. This in turn hints at expanding business opportunities, and can be used by the team during off-season business negotiations.

For the purposes of this five-part series I have measured growth within Facebook and Twitter for all 30 NHL teams. Admittedly, teams use other Digital Media such as Instagram, Snapchat, Google+ and YouTube. Not to mention the increased use of team phone applications. Facebook and Twitter are two of the larger Digital Media in terms of users and fan engagement, making it easy to measure relative growth between teams.

Listed below is Facebook Fan Growth, Twitter Follower Growth and Total Growth (Facebook and Twitter) for the 2013-14 NHL season. I have also used team wins as reference for each team. Winning can be an important aspect for Digital Media success of a team. For instance, many teams may only put money behind Facebook posts that follow a win. I thought it would be interesting to see the average amount of fans gained per win. This data may be useful to figure hypothetical results and answers the question: Did the Digital Media success/failure come from the success/failure of the team? There are no rankings sorted by Fans Gained Per Win, but one of the remaining four-parts will dive more into this subject.

The charts below are saved as clickable images. You will be able to click and zoom each of the growth charts.

Facebook Fan Growth:

Using Google Wildfire, I measured the amount of Facebook fans each team had on October 1, 2013 (Facebook 1) and how many fans teams had at the end of the season on April 13, 2014 (Facebook 2). The data is sorted by Facebook Growth, measured in percent change from Facebook 1 to Facebook 2. Also listed for reference is Total Growth (Fans from Facebook and Twitter) and Fans Gained Per Win.

An important note for two teams: The Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames both did not have data available for October 1, 2013. Google Wildfire measures the growth of Facebook pages based on their web address. This leaves me with assumption that the Panthers and Flames changed Facebook page names, or their specific web address. In order to overcome this gap in data, I used Facebook 1 data from approximately December 1, 2013 for Florida and Calgary.


NHL FB Growth

The teams highlighted in green performed above league average, those in red performed below. On average teams grew their Facebook fan base by 27%. The average Facebook 1, or amount of fans at the beginning of the season, was 516,490. The average Facebook 2, or amount of fans at the end of the season, was 654,697. You can already see hints of how Total Growth is impacted by Facebook Growth. Facebook, being the larger of the two media, holds a slightly larger weight in a team’s overall growth.

Also worth mentioning are the intricacies involved with marketing on Facebook. For instance, Facebook now promotes posts over a 24 hour span depending on their significance and fan engagement. Facebook populates fan timelines with posts from multiple fan pages, of which a NHL team is one. The Facebook algorithm rewards highly-engaged posts and pages by populating them in user timelines.  A Facebook post announcing a win at approximately 10:00 PM EST may populate during that evening, and then repopulate the next morning from high engagement. Another concern on Facebook for a Digital Manager is when to back a post with money. If a Digital Manager were to put money behind a winning post the next morning, that specific post would gain traction throughout the day, hopefully hitting new fans who then decide to like the page. The page’s growth would hopefully possess some organic reach (likes and engagement from fans sharing and commenting) as well as paid reach (new fans reached from paid posts) in order to be considered a success.

This brings up another important fact about Facebook: just because a fan likes your page doesn’t mean they’ll see your posts. The only way a fan is guaranteed to see all of a team’s posts is if they subscribe to the page. This sends alerts and notifications when the team posts. The population of fans who subscribe to their favorite team’s Facebook page is very low. Knowing this, it is important for a team page to not only create engaging content in order to gain new fans, but also is necessary to reach existing fans.

It is important for a Digital Manager to understand peak times to post, when to back that post with money and what kind of content best engages with your fans. High engagement rewards a post and its page, creating growth via new fans. Understanding all of these aspects should lead to a team’s success on Facebook.

Twitter Follower Growth:

Using Google Wildfire again, I measured Twitter followers on October 1, 2013 (Twitter 1) and Twitter followers on April 13, 2014 (Twitter 2), and sorted data by Twitter Growth. Also seen for reference is Total Growth.

An important note for two teams: The St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs showed no Twitter activity prior to April 13, 2014. This could simply be a glitch in the Google Wildfire program, but as a place holder I assumed 0% growth and filled their Twitter 1 with the same as Twitter 2. I will go into hypotheticals for these results using Average Twitter Growth, and Average Fans Gained Per Win in a later post.

NHL Twitter Growth

Due to the Blues and Leafs lacking any data, the calculated percent error is 2%. This means that almost 8 teams could be bumped from Green to Red if the league growth average changed 2%. I will manipulate the data in a later post to show how data can tell narratives, measure hypotheticals and can better understand Digital Media across the league.

Total Growth:

Total Growth measures the total amount of fans gained over time from both Facebook and Twitter. Fans Gained Per Win displays how important it was for teams to have winning seasons for their Total Growth.

Worth noting: The St. Louis Blues performed above league average despite their assumed lack of growth on Twitter for the purposes of this study. Toronto was just below league average with the same assumed circumstances (they would most likely be above league average for Total Growth with any Twitter Growth).

NHL Total Growth

Teams that surpassed their winning expectations for the season also experience large growth: Columbus, Dallas, Colorado and Tampa Bay. I will explore later if the winning meant large growth, or if it was digital strategy.

Total Growth in Digital Media for some teams hint at a successful season. For others, the statistics shine light on a lack of balance between Facebook and Twitter. Other narratives include teams reaching a plateau of growth, the large range of growth across the league (almost 40%), and indications of emerging hockey markets.

Final Thoughts:

It is important for teams to understand their growth at a macro level. All of these results are “big picture” for the overall 2013-14 NHL season. The micro-level results may be more telling as to why certain teams had large Digital Media fan growth this season. The remaining four parts to this series will explore some of these statistics and the stories they tell.

Again, this is not a measure of whether a team was successful or not in terms of Digital Media. These stats may help set goals for next season, measure success against past seasons or display where Digital Media funding should go next season.

Further Reading: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

I will be posting this five-part series through my Twitter handle: