NHL 2013-14 Digital Media Findings, Part 3

via lightning.nhl.com

via lightning.nhl.com

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

Part 3: Does winning matter?

Part 1 and 2 of the series looked into the 2013-14 digital fan base growth around the NHL. Using that data, I uncovered the possibility of a relationship between winning and growth when I divided league growth between the four NHL divisions. As I did this the data showed that divisions with more wins experience more fan growth.

Was this coincidence? Is there a direct correlation between winning and growing a team’s digital growth? And if so, is it calculable?

I evaluated seven teams at random, measuring their Facebook Fans Gained compared to their win totals from the past four seasons. In Part 1 I discussed how much Facebook matters in digital marketing based on its user population, engagement and advertising abilities. For that reason, and the fact that digital data is skewed by Facebook’s weight, I have excluded digital growth from other media such as Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. Here are the results of Facebook Fans Gained and Wins :

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Note between 1A and 1B there is no real correlation between the amount of wins and the growth of a team’s fan base on Facebook. The slowing pace of growth in 2012-13 can be credited to a shortened season due to the NHL lockout. As I, and possibly you, may have noticed is that there is no distinguished growth curve in the data.

What the data hints at is the possibility that digital growth on Facebook correlates more with proper marketing (and lots of money) and less with the a team winning. Before you race to the bottom of your screen to the comment section or click X, allow me to explain. Facebook has changed its platform many times throughout the years, and it was all in a move to become a better marketing tool. Their algorithm was designed to place ads, or sponsored content, in the timelines of fans who would most likely respond to it. Most recently, Facebook made it even more difficult for brands and teams to reach fan timelines without money behind the posts.

This means that recent data regarding Facebook Fans Gained would reflect marketing campaigns and money more than wins.



Here is an example of how Facebook’s new algorithm, backed with money or fan sharing, places content on user timelines.

This doesn’t mean that winning doesn’t help, or that this data is useless. It might be possible to measure team marketing gains and money spent, or to help marketing narratives throughout league offices. Again, this isn’t a measure of bad or good, but rather can tell the story a team wishes to tell. Should they need more money, or need to explain why their money was well spent, it can be found within the data.

Listed below is the raw data, Facebook Fans Gained each year by teams in 2a, and Fan Growth set to a curve throughout the years in 2b (numbers are proportionate to the team that gained the most fans, essentially measuring if they are gaining pace or losing pace on league-leading teams):

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Although the data above is just seven random teams, lets assume most teams fall in this range. If the Blackhawks are setting the league-wide standard for success (gaining the most fans each year) then other teams can measure their efforts year-by-year. For instance, the Sabres appear to gain at parallel levels as the Blackhawks. This could possibly point to them gaining a proportionately equal number of fans each season within their own market. This is important information when discussing successes and failures of each season, and how to better yourself next season.

Does winning a Stanley Cup matter?


There are three teams with a random surge in Facebook growth over the past four years that is not so random: they won a Stanley Cup. But is this growth measurable and predictable for teams who win the Stanley Cup? Below is the growth of Fans measured in % growth (note that the Blackhawks won in 2010 and 2013):

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As you can see, the growth is substantial for a three month period. You may have noticed the Blackhawks (2013) experienced under 10% growth, but this can be explained by the fact that they had already received their Stanley Cup fan boost in 2010. Not only that, but they won the Stanley Cup in 2013, or the shortened season which may have stunted their growth (please refer to the stagnated growth in 1a and 1b for all teams).

Below is a chart measuring the amount of Facebook Fans Gained (The Blackhawks 2013 lack of % Growth will make sense):

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The first thing that jumps out is the incredible growth the Boston Bruins experienced in 2011, but I’ll get to that later. First I’d like to point out that the Blackhawks experienced almost identical growth in 2010 as they did in 2013. This places an ideal indicator of how much growth a team can experience from winning the Stanley Cup.

Now, to the Boston Bruins. Why was their growth so substantial compared to the two other teams? There are many measurable factors to consider: population, market size, established base and hockey specific fans. Most of these factors are difficult to measure without internal information and access. For instance, using Facebook, a team can identify how many of its fans are loyal to just hockey, or other sports within the market. A team can also conduct market surveys or fan surveys to determine extra data variables.

That is why Facebook has become one of the most powerful marketing tools available: it not only helps create a brand, but in doing so provides free research and survey statistics, while allowing you to utilize any given information for paid ads. A billboard still can’t do that.

Now, why did the Bruins grow so much…

Capturing A Market

Using the resources I have at my disposal, I wanted to explore growth in relation to a market’s size. Without internal information from the teams being measured, I have created generic results for each of the Stanley Cup Champions. For population size I referenced 2012 Census results, and for Facebook Fans Gained I used Google Wildfire. FPC equates to Fans Per Capita. Here are the results:

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Again, the Bruins stand out as having experienced incredible growth. An outlier.

Upon closer evaluation of the numbers used I decided that the city of Boston’s population is most likely an inaccurate measure of market size. I conducted some research and found Forbes Evaluation of NHL Teams. Within their report, Forbes measured and determined metropolitan size for every NHL team as their market size. Here are the results using Forbes estimated market size:

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This data will become more useful and predictable over time: more data over time eliminates outliers and should point to trends within Facebook, despite its constant evolution and relative youth. However, if I were to predict the growth for this year’s Stanley Cup Champion I would estimate near the equivalent of 1% of its metropolitan area’s population.

Boston, again appears as an outlier. I believe the Boston Bruins had an incredible marketing effort in 2011 to back their championship run. Not only that, but Facebook underwent its first major overhaul in 2011. Though the Facebook algorithm from 2011 is extinct, the Facebook redesign was significant in that Fan Pages were now populating everyone’s timelines. Teams could now put their content on user’s timelines, or pay to advertise on potential new fan timelines (this was the beginning of what would become the current pay structure and algorithm Facebook uses). It would have been huge for any team in 2011 to win.

Another significant growth will occur in 2013-14 due to Facebook’s increased necessity to pay for content. If teams are willing to pay, and have good content, they will grow. Conversely, some teams may experience a significant drop off in growth (not necessarily a large unfollowing) due to their inability to fund posts and create engaging content.

Concluding Thoughts

The importance for teams to measure and catalog digital growth throughout their season is becoming increasingly clear. This includes monitoring growth on a week-to-week basis, keeping notes of why lucrative weeks were high, and why idle weeks were low. As a digital marketer you must know if your success was from money, a specific marketing campaign, new hashtag, or if it was because you just won the Stanley Cup. This can also be useful when understanding which of your individual athletes are most marketable (for instance when deciding on bobblehead night, you may have hints from digital successes of who is a popular player).

I also believe measuring digital success against market size is an important way of understanding growth between teams. Many critics of the Blue Jackets’ success in Part 1 pointed to their relatively low market size (making it easier to experience a massive growth), and stated that it would be impossible for a large market team like Chicago to compete with their growth. Measuring Fans Per Capita, or Fan Growth Per Capita, is interesting if not important in digital marketing. Part 4 of this series will explore digital success per capita for NHL teams.

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

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