In full disclosure, VaynerMedia assists the National Hockey League with their online and social media presence. Therefore, to be fair, I will not be assigning the NHL letter grades as I have done for the NBA and the NFL, rather I will leave it to you, the reader, to decide the league’s grade. Please leave your grades/thoughts in the comment section below.
In recent years, people have argued whether or not the National Hockey League can still be considered one of the four major sports. Compared to football, baseball, and basketball, hockey has suffered considerably in terms of popularity. While hockey has kept its die-hard fan base, the average sports fan doesn’t seem to be interested. Now, through social media, the NHL is finding a way to rebuild themselves and to tell their story. They are trying to get creative and attract a new audience, and regain the visibility they once had. So, how are they doing?
The NHL operates powerful Twitter (173,000+ followers and 1,350+ listed) and Facebook (175,000 fans) accounts. Also, the league has a Youtube channel with 3 million channel views and 47,000 subscribers. These numbers are lower for the NHL than they were for either the NBA or the NFL, but hockey is also a less popular sport at the moment. In the end, I would like to see the league utilize emerging platforms, like Ustream and Dailybooth, especially because the other leagues are not. It would help them stand apart.
There is a nice variety of content coming from both the Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as a steady stream of videos (generally game highlights and plays of the week) coming from the YouTube account. On Twitter, the NHL posts a wide range of content, including promotions, polls, video highlights, NHL.com articles, and most notably, #SaturdayNHLPicks, a popular contest being run by the league right now. The NHL updates each day on Facebook, as well, with a similar variety of content. Further, they have done video interviews and signed item giveaways on Twitter and Facebook with Kevin Smith, Mark Messier, and Alex Ovechkin. The real theme here is consistency. Fans and followers can expect content from the NHL each day, and I commend the league for that.
The NHL does a decent job of interaction on Twitter, especially compared to the NBA and NFL (neither engages with followers on Twitter at all), @replying some amount of followers each day. Also, they are taking advantage of Twitter lists by creating a list of fans for each team in the league. That’s a nice way to get followers involved. On Facebook, the league’s engagement is very minimal. Some of the NHL’s statuses do include calls to action for the fans to interact, and the NHL sometimes responds to fans on the wall, but not enough. So, the league can do better with fan interaction.
The NHL’s two biggest names are Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Crosby is not utilizing social media and Ovechkin’s last tweet was in late January. Ouch! Apart from these two, there are some other big names active on Twitter, including Mike Green, Martin Havlat, and Mike Commodore. However, in general, I don’t see a lot of players on Twitter, Facebook, or any other platform. It’s possible that the NHL’s player are just less intrigued by the spotlight, or more traditional than athletes from other leagues, however, they have to understand that social media is to their benefit, and pretty soon they will be criticized for not being involved.
It is hard to judge the NHL, especially against the other three major sports. Hockey has taken a tremendous hit in recent years and is finding it tough to compete with the NBA, NFL, or MLB in terms of popularity. However, they are trying to make a comeback, and the utilization of social media is part of that process. They have a tall mountain to climb, but they are already making progress. The NHL is about average in terms of visibility (I would like to see them take it to the next level with emerging platforms), and well above average in terms of content. The league also does a better job of interacting with fans than either the NBA or the NFL. However, their player involvement is low, for whatever reason.
While I cannot grade the NHL on their presence, what grade(s) would you give them? Take a look at my report cards for the NBA and for the NFL (linked at the top of this article) if you need some reference. Leave your thoughts in the comment section, and I will definitely respond with my opinions and feedback. Thanks!
I like what you’re saying here…
Here’s an odd twist on it all — because hockey is so Canadian, and because Canadians seem to LOVE social media (and I’m not just saying that, but I find many more Torontonians than Londoners on Twitter, for instance) — that might have something to do with what I would say is a rock solid use of all the social media marketing channels.
Disclosure: I’m American.
Haha, maybe you’re on to something, Dave!
Thanks for your interest in the NHL and its efforts in social media. As I have said many times, we can always be getting better … and many of the concerns you have flagged are true blind spots for us right now. Some of which is part of our longer-term roadmap.
I believe the most important thing we have achieved to date is that the League 1) has a firm belief in the importance of social media; and B)we are trying to raise the collective social media IQ of the League on a daily basis. To that end, it’s been an important development that the NHL has created a dedicated department to oversee it, and invested other resources in it (we consider Vayner, for example, to be a strategic partner).
When we combine these resources with analytics (including feedback like that in this blog), we can’t help but do a better job serving fans over the long haul – and we are viewing this as a marathon, not a sprint.
In any case, I thank you for your interest in the NHL, and for your feedback. I would be pleased to actually speak to you in person about our efforts any time you wish.
In terms of media relations the NHL has suffered severely because of not one but 2 strikes in 2 decades. Even after the strike in the early 90’s hockey bounced backed nicely with the red wings and colorodo dynasties, and was still popular because of great well known legends such as Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy and thats just a few.
I think you have to look at the NHL’s unpopularity based on society. The days of blue collar popularity is over. Twitter, facebook, do you think any athletes of the NBA or NFL would have been on twitter or facebook daily if it was accessible? Hell no, NHL players are still about respecting the opponent and keeping things in house. You dont have Chad Ocho Cincos in the NHL. Even the knucklehead players in the NHL like Ray Emery would be model NFL players.
“That being said”… (Larry David haha), i feel this is the reason the players dont interact on Twitter or Facebook, Anerican or not, hockey is still a blue collar sport and players will never embrace pop culture or the rediculous internet hourly interaction that dominates todays society.
ps. Taggard you suck at hockey!!!
The National Hockey League has made a great step forward with Hockeywood. Hats off to that initiative, but it’s in its early days, and any scores would be premature until the fans and media community get into and engage on that platform.
IMHO to succeed (business definition), the story of Hockey needs to be updated with new characters that we can engage with; love the heroes, hate the villains. Heroic players such as Gretzky had massive awareness among general public, but the younger and arguably more exciting generation that we would be paying to see today (if we could get “into” the storyline) have not yet claimed the spotlight. Social media is the forum to do this. Fire at will.
Chris, I see where you’re coming from. I think hockey is definitely a blue collar sport in America, and I think the players have a different mentality about fame. It’s more “old school.”
In the end, the the players have to understand (and they will) that social media is going to be very important for their sport. Also, they will realize that the value of social media is the ability to connect with fans, the people who support them on the ice. So, I think they will come around, because hockey players definitely care about their fans.
Richard, social media is all about social media. Honestly, you couldn’t have said it better, “the story of Hockey needs to be updated with new characters that we can engage with; love the heroes, hate the villains… The younger and arguably more exciting generation that we would be paying to see today… have not yet claimed the spotlight.”
Thanks for your comment!