By Barry Janoff
July 11, 2016: The Pittsburgh Penguins are not only the 2015-16 NHL Stanley Cup champs, they also are title holders of the most loyal fans in the league.
The Penguins came in No. 1 in the just released 2016 NHL Sports Fan Loyalty Index from research, analytics and consulting firm Brand Keys, New York.
Pittsburgh moved up from No. 5 in 2015, replacing the Chicago Blackhawks, which won the Stanley Cup in 2014-15, then topped the Brand Keys NHL list.
According to Brand Keys, winning is an important aspect, but not the only aspect.
"While final scores and game attendance contribute more to loyalty rankings for professional hockey, all of the emotionally-based, predictive drivers have to be taken into account when it comes to NHL team loyalty."
Brand Keys said it uses four "emotional drivers" to assess fan loyalty: Pure Entertainment (how well a team does), Authenticity (how well they play as a team and do fans actually attend games to root for their home team), Fan Bonding (are any players particularly respected and admired) and History and Tradition (has the game and team become part of fans’ and community rituals, institutions and beliefs).
"The ‘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 NHL fans, loyalty in professional hockey is a little different than other major league sports," Robert Passikoff, president for Brand Keys, said in a statement. "Winning contributes more to loyalty for the NHL — about 10% more."
The Top Five teams in the 2016 NHL Sports Fan Loyalty Index also include (in order) tied for No. 3 the St. Louis Blues (No. 4 last year) and Washington Capitals (No. 10); tied for No. 4. the Boston Bruins (No. 2T) and New York Rangers (No. 2T) and the San Jose Sharks (No. 4).
At the opposite end, the New York Islanders, which this past season moved from Long Island to Barclays Center in Brooklyn to play its home games, came in dead last in the 2016 NHL Sports Fan Loyalty Index (down from No. 25 in 2015).
The Bottom Five also includes tied for No. 29 Winnipeg Jets (No. 28 last year) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (No. 30), No. 28. Arizona Coyotes (No. 29), No. 27. Buffalo Sabres (No. 29) and No. 26 Colorado Avalanche (No. 23).
Brand Keys said the 2016 NHL Sports Fan Loyalty Index is based on a survey of 225 fans in each of the teams’ local catchment areas,
Why does winning account for a larger loyalty jump in professional hockey than in other sports.
"First, the sport moves faster than the others, so more attention is necessarily paid to the Pure Entertainment driver wherein wins and losses reside," said Passikoff. "Also the scores are much closer in hockey. 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.
“Additionally, while hockey fans will have their favorite players, the protective equipment makes instantaneous identification of individual players difficult, so Fan Bonding makes a slightly smaller contribution in the case of this sport," said Passikoff.
According to Brand Keys, the NHL ranks No. 4 in its Sports Fan Loyalty Index among the four major sports in the U.S.
The NFL is first, followed by MLB and the NBA, according to Brand Keys.
Overall team rankings – no matter which league – are based on predictive engagement metrics and correlate with viewership and licensed merchandise sales and, in the case of hockey, attendance, per Brand Keys. "And since rankings can be influenced depending upon how different loyalty drivers are managed, it’s critical that NHL team marketers act as strategically off the ice as players do on the ice.
According to Passikoff, It was Wayne Gretzky, ‘The Great One’ and the leading point-scorer in NHL history, who noted that a good hockey player plays where the puck is; 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 metrics in place," said Passikoff.
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