Social media: NHL is hardly on the radar

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
10:00
AM ET
The NHL is back. After a 113-day lockout and 625 canceled games, professional hockey will open a shortened 48-game season on Saturday.

The question is -- to paraphrase the Dallas Cowboys’ social media swipe from a week ago -- does anyone care?

The diehard fans always return. But how much damage did the lengthy and acrimonious labor dispute inflict on hockey? If social media is any gauge, the answer is quite a bit.

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Social media firm Fizziology studied fan sentiment during the waning weeks of the lockout. Unlike many social media companies using a computer program to gauge social media sentiment, Fizziology researchers personally study a sample of social media posts. According to general manager Rich Calabrese, the company gauges social media sentiment with 95 percent accuracy.

Fizziology analyzed almost 10,000 posts from five markets in the United States and Canada, and its findings showed U.S. hockey fans weren’t weathering the lockout well. In Los Angeles, home of the reigning Stanley Cup champions/social media-savvy Kings, 56 percent of the social media sentiment around the NHL was negative. In New York -- which boasts three teams -- 52 percent of the sentiment was negative.

Of course, from a marketing standpoint, the only thing worse than having fans vent their unhappiness with your team is having fans not talking about you at all. And that’s largely what Fizziology found. With the exception of the New York market, the NHL was hardly even on the social radar in American cities -- including traditional hockey hotbeds Pittsburgh, Chicago and Boston -- as 2012 came to a close.

Things didn’t get much better once the lockout ended.

Crimson Hexagon, a Boston-based social media analysis company, looked at the social media sentiment once news of a deal broke on Jan. 6, signifying the lockout’s end. The company’s patented analysis uses an algorithm “guided by” a researcher, allowing the company to glean specific insights from social media beyond whether conversation around a topic is positive or negative.

Analyzing more than 230,000 tweets, Crimson Hexagon’s findings don’t bode well for the NHL. Fifty-six percent of the tweets the company analyzed were neutral -- that is, people basically tweeting links or mentioning the lockout was over. It’s at either end of the spectrum where things get interesting.

Looking at the positive and negative tweets, almost an equal amount of posts falls under each category (21 percent positive vs. 22 percent negative). But when the company looked deeper, it found that while 16 percent of fans were glad the lockout was over, only 5 percent of people talking about the NHL on social media were excited to see games. Meanwhile, three times that many fans (15 percent) cited a decreased interest in professional hockey.

Sure, venting on Twitter is nothing new. But according to Crimson Hexagon vice president of marketing Wayne St. Amand, “Social media does tend to mirror real life.”

Realizing a lockout is detrimental to a sport is nothing new. However, in the social media age, sentiment analysis is giving us a better insight into the scope of that impact.

Maria Sharapova joins Twitter

Seven months after brushing off the idea of joining Twitter, Maria Sharapova has joined the popular social networking site. The No. 2-ranked tennis star picked up 63,000 followers in the first 48 hours after activating her account.

“I’m a rookie,” Sharapova told reporters at her Australian Open news conference when asked about Twitter. “There are a lot of things I’m still learning about. I’m just starting to follow things and people. Now I’m learning how to hashtag things. That was a new one for me. But it’s interesting. I won’t be doing it every single minute. I won’t be telling people what I’m eating. … But when I do have things to say, I’m sure I will.”

While Sharapova might be new to Twitter, she’s already mastered one skill that many longtime athletes on the site still struggle with: knowing when not to tweet.

“I was watching this match, and I really wanted to say something about the commentating,” Sharapova said. “But I bit my tongue. I was like, ‘Isn’t that what Twitter is for? To open up?’ But I was like, ‘No, nope.’”

Elsewhere in the social mediasphere

If you like infographics, here’s one on sports and social media winners and losers.

NASCAR announced its 2013 Drive for Diversity class via Google+ hangout.

Social media was a hot topic at the NCAA’s annual convention.

Got a story we should feature? Have a site we should check out? Who's on your must-follow list? Tweet me at @BurnsOrtiz. If your idea gets mentioned in this column, so will you. Follow Playbook on Twitter at @ESPNPlaybook.
Maria Burns Ortiz covers social media for ESPN Playbook. She began writing for ESPN.com in 2006, covering college soccer for ESPNSoccernet.

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