Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Most Loyal Fans In Hockey



Hockey fans are on the edge of their seats watching NHL teams gliding through first two rounds and into the conference finals and playoffs of the 2014 Stanley Cup – commissioned in 1892, named for Lord Stanley of Preston, the then-Governor General of Canada – the championship trophy awarded annually to the National Hockey League winner at the conclusion of the finals. And just before the conclusion of hockey’s greatest competition, Brand Keys has released the results of their Sports Fan Loyalty Index for the most loyal fans in the NHL.

Sure, winning is good, and winning a championship trophy is even better, but doing that alone doesn’t automatically skate a team to the top of the loyalty list. Winning gives fans bragging rights but there are other engagement values that have to be taken into account. And from a marketing perspective, loyalty – because it’s a leading-indicator of positive consumer behavior correlating, highly with viewership, licensed merchandise sales and, to a more-or-lesser, degree, attendance – represents the ultimate trophy a sports marketer can win.

These assessments come from 150 self-classified fans in each of the teams’ own DMAs, and the current 2014 NHL top-5 and bottom-5 brand loyalty rankings are as follows, with last season’s ranking in parentheses:

Top-5

1. Chicago Blackhawks                                         (#2)
2. New York Rangers                                             (#1)
3. Boston Bruins                                                    (#2)
4. San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues               (#3 and #6)
5. Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings &
    Philadelphia Flyers                                            (#4, #5, and #5)

Bottom-5

30. New York Islanders                                         (#30)
29. Columbus Blue Jackets                                  (#29)
28. Phoenix Coyotes and Winnipeg Jets              (#28 and #27)
27. Buffalo Sabres                                                (#23)
26. Tampa Bay Lightening                                    (#26)

Win-loss ratios may be the only thing when it comes to making the playoffs, but as we’ve said again and again, when it comes to loyalty it’s not the only thing.

Rule-of-thumb is that win-loss ratios can contribute up to a 20% bump in a team’s loyalty. But to be fair to the NHL fans, professional hockey is a little different from other Major League Sports. Winning games contribute a bit more to loyalty for hockey. About 10% more, for a number of reasons: first, the sport moves faster than the others, so there’s a bit more attention necessarily paid to the Pure Entertainment driver wherein wins and losses reside. For the NHL, the Authenticity driver correlates very highly to at-home attendance figures, and makes a slightly higher contribution to engagement and loyalty than it does for the NFL, MLB, or the NBA, probably because in recent years NHL TV access has been comparatively limited versus other Major League Sports.

And while we’re sure hockey fans have their favorite players, the protective equipment makes it hard to instantaneously identify a player (with the possible exception of the goalie), so Fan Bonding makes a slightly smaller contribution in the case of this sport.

So while the final scores and game attendance tend to contribute more to loyalty for professional hockey, all of the emotionally-based, predictive drivers really have to be taken into account when measuring team loyalty. The four emotional drivers of fan loyalty look like this:

Pure Entertainment:
How well a team does but, and a bit more important for hockey than other Major League Sports. But also contributing, how exciting is their play?

Authenticity:
How well they play as a team and do fans show up to root for the home team.

Fan Bonding:
Are there players that are particularly respected and admired?

History and Tradition:
Is the team part of fans’ and community’s rituals, institutions and beliefs?

Of the four Major League Sports that Brand Keys tracks in their Sports Fan Loyalty Index, the National Hockey League is #4 again this year. The National Football League is currently 1st followed by Major League Baseball, with the National Basketball Association in 3rd place. 

Overall team rankings – no matter which league – because they are based on predictive engagement metrics, and since rankings can be influenced depending upon how loyalty drivers are managed, it’s critical that NHL team marketers act as strategically off the ice as the players do on.

Wayne Gretzky, aka “The Great One,” and leading point-scorer in NHL history, noted that a good hockey player plays where the puck is, and a great player plays to where the puck is going to be. Great sports marketers know that same maxim can be applied to fan loyalty too. Particularly if you have the right loyalty and engagement metrics in place.





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Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: brandkeys.com. Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

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