Whether it’s the lightning-fast pace of the game, the time-honored traditions, or the legendary fights that are tolerated by officials – there’s plenty to love about professional hockey.
The National Hockey League (NHL), established almost a century ago in Montréal, Quebec, is currently composed of 30 member teams or “clubs.” And league fans? They’re as die-hard as the ice is cold.
A quick check of NHL scores will reveal the teams leading the pack – but which teams have the best fans? Great fans stick with their teams through thick and thin, often holding out hope even when their beloved teams are skating on thin ice.
We wanted to find out which NHL fans are most loyal to their teams, so we analyzed the hockey fan base using arena occupancy, social media following, and jersey sales. Here’s what we discovered.
Most Loyal NFL Fans, by Team
The Chicago Blackhawks – as one of the Original Six NHL teams and having won six Stanley Cup titles since their founding in 1926 – considerably outpace every other team in the NHL, according to our fan loyalty ranking. We developed our ranking by sorting each team within each of the three metrics (arena occupancy, social media following, and jersey sales). Depending on the teams’ numbers relative to the rest of the league, they were assigned a number, zero to one, with zero being the lowest and one being the highest. By combining the results from the three categories and reranking the aggregate, we were able to develop a compilation ranking with zero being the team with the least loyal fans and two being the team with the most loyal fans.
Like all long-standing teams, the Hawks have had their ups and downs through the years. They won two Stanley Cup titles in the 1930s, and one in the early 1960s then experienced a prolonged drought. In 2004, ESPN went so far as to name the Hawks the worst franchise in professional sports.
Fortunately, everyone loves a good comeback. After more than 40 years without winning the Cup, the Chicago team scored the ultimate victory three times: in the 2009-10, 2012-13, and 2014-15 seasons. Three Stanley Cup titles in five years is an amazing feat that’s paid off in scores by filling arenas, fueling jersey sales, and sparking social media chatter. Recently, the Blackhawks made history by having four players named to the 2017 NHL All-Star Game. This feat will no doubt continue to spur their fandom.
The Pittsburgh Penguins – founded in 1967 as part of the league’s first expansion from six to 12 teams – won the Stanley Cup in the 2015-16 season. The Penguins’ championship win no doubt has played a role in the team’s No. 2 ranking for overall fandom.
The Boston Bruins (the oldest U.S. team and the third-oldest in the league) ranked No. 3 for having the most loyal fans. They’ve won six Cup titles, most recently in the 2010-11 season, and played in the conference championship (but did not win the Cup) in the 2012-13 season.
Capacity for Fandom
Packed stadiums, sold-out seats, and cheering fans. Regardless of the sport, this is as good as fandom gets. But when it comes to the NHL, do the winningest teams always have the easiest time filling the arena?
According to the data, U.S. teams with above-average win percentages tended to have above-average ticket sales, but this wasn’t the case in Canada, where packed stadiums were often filled with spectators on the losing side of the game.
The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won a championship game since 1967, but their fans remain true blue, often selling out the Air Canada Centre. Other underperforming Canadian teams also come close to filling their stadiums. This goes to show just how much Canadians love their hockey.
The internet has fundamentally changed many aspects of modern life, and the world of professional sports is no exception. Fans often go online not to merely track wins and losses, but also to learn about aspects of the games they love and to connect with others who share their passion. It’s also a great way of assessing which teams have the biggest following.
To find out which teams have the greatest social media presence, we looked at the number of followers for the official NHL teams’ Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts as of December 2016. As one might expect, U.S. teams that win the most games and fill stadiums also have the most followers. The Blackhawks, Bruins, and Penguins took the top three spots.
And while we’re on the topic of media … one caveat for younger fans (who’ve grown up in the age of screens) is to not just consume NHL action online or on TV. Nothing beats actually going to a game.
League-licensed outerwear is big business. It also allows fans to express their team pride by wearing their hearts on their sleeves – and allows us to gain insight into which teams and players are most beloved.
Looking at recent sales, Blackhawks fans have bought the most jerseys, followed by New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Boston Bruins fans. The Rangers haven’t won the Cup since the 1993-94 season, but they’re a winning team — appearing in the playoffs nearly every season since 2005.
From our analysis, it is true that winning breeds winning, both on and off the ice. With its recent success, the Chicago Blackhawks franchise leads in all categories and thus has been determined to have the most loyal fan base. While other teams experience similar success, in some cases, wins are hard to come by, and in smaller markets, loyalties can be tested. Even so, teams like the Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames exemplify the loyalty of a true NHL fan.
Whether your team is on a postseason run or you’re looking to join a devoted fan base, make sure to stop by Fanatics to get yourself game-ready.
The total fan loyalty rankings for each NHL team were calculated by looking at average arena occupancy, social media following, and jersey sales. This formula was used to put all NHL teams on a scale of 0 to 1 for each factor that made up a category. Since different categories had multiple factors, possible scores ranged from 0 to 3.
NHL teams were ranked on a scale of 0 to 1 for average arena capacity. That number counted as a positive number toward their score because a higher average capacity means more fans in attendance.
NHL teams were ranked on a scale of 0 to 3 for social media following. Our ranking formula was applied to each of the three factors that make up social media ranking: Twitter followers, Instagram followers, and Facebook fans. This score also counted as a positive toward the total loyalty score.
Finally, NHL teams were ranked on a scale of 0 to 1 for their average jersey sale rank position. This average was calculated using Fanatics internal sales data, from January 2015 to November 2016. A score of 1 meant a team sold the most jerseys. This scale score was subtracted from the total loyalty ranking score rather than added, along with the other two categories.
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