Can you buy success in the NHL? Apparently, yes!
Hockey's popularity is unmatched for us Canadians. While that may feel hard to quantify, social media has given us an excellent tool to measure popularity. Using Upfluence, Online Casino List analyzed the Instagram accounts of teams and players from the NHL.
Our findings show some interesting results: one team with a fanbase with more women than men, one veteran with an untapped audience of a million Instagram followers, and one German center who's solely responsible for 10% of the Edmonton Oilers' fanbase.
We've also looked into the correlation between player salaries and rankings. Do the teams that pay more also end up on top? The short answer: yes, but there's more to it. Our database shows which teams rank higher than should be expected and (partly) explain the downfall of the Chicago Blackhawks since their 2015 Stanley Cup win.
As a first step to reveal the data, we selected the five NHL teams with the highest engagement numbers. We analyzed every NHL team on number of engaged followers and kept the top results to identify these top five teams. We then supplemented these five teams with an additional Canadian team to further underline the differences. These six teams together provided the data for this analysis.
Next, we identified performance indicators for each team:
- Number of engaged followers
- The engagement rate as a percentage (engaged followers divided by the total number of followers)
- The total number of followers.
From there, we derived different demographic data points, such as the gender, age, and location of followers. This combination allows for an in-depth look into the audiences of different NHL teams. Below, you'll find the findings for each of the six selected teams.
1. New York Rangers
The first analyzed team is the New York Rangers. Although the Rangers have the advantage of playing in the United States' most popular city among international tourists, they don't really lead in any of the data points related to tourism.
The New York Rangers are not the best-followed team overall, nor are they the team with the most international followers. The New York Yankees baseball team, a long-time staple of Big Apple tourism, has over 2.5 times the number of Instagram followers (beating out any other team in the sport).
Where the Rangers do stand out, however, is in their engaged followers. No other team has the sheer number of engaged followers that the Rangers managed to gather. As we'll see below, there are teams with a better engagement rate as a percentage of their total following, but concerning the total numbers, the New York Rangers take the crown — or the proverbial Stanley Cup, if you will.
2. Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins beat the New York Rangers in two key statistics: total Instagram followers and Stanley Cups won. With a solid 1.5 million Instagram followers, Boston has a lead of nearly 40% over the Rangers. Only when it comes to engaged fans does the New York team beat the Bruins.
Another noteworthy statistic is the number of Canadian followers: 9% for the Bruins versus 3% for the Rangers — although the latter has ten Canadian players instead of four Canadian players for the Bruins. Perhaps the large Canadian following is based on the adage to keep your friends close but your enemies closer.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the second-best NHL franchise when it comes to the most Stanley Cup wins, and the biggest Canadian hockey team has the most Instagram followers. With approximately 1.2 million followers, the Maple Leafs also trump the Rangers when measured just by followers, just like the Boston Bruins. This loyalty perhaps shouldn't surprise us Canadians since the estimated wait for new season tickets is around 250 years.
The demographics for the Toronto Maple Leafs are just as unsurprising: Canadians make up 56% of the followers, with US-based followers comprising only 31% of all followers.
4. Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks are another of the Original Six in this list. With three Stanley Cup wins since 2010, they are the most successful team of the franchises discussed here. Their 18,800 engaged followers almost perfectly reflect their average attendance.
A second look at the demographics reveals that Blackhawks fans are older. No less than 7% of Instagram fans are 54 or up. In comparison, no other team has over 2% in this price category (the Maple Leafs). Regrouping the age categories shows that 86% of Blackhawk fans on Instagram are 25 years or older — significantly more than any other team.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins
If the New York Rangers have a disappointing number of fans considering the city's international reputation, the Pittsburgh Penguins are overachievers. The franchise's 2.1 million followers are close to the population for the entire greater Pittsburgh area (at 2.4 million).
The Penguins have the most followers of any team — by far. Winning two consecutive Stanley Cups during Instagram's heyday must have helped, but it doesn't explain all of the online popularity for the Penguins. Pittsburgh's team isn't an overachiever on every statistic: it has the lowest number of engaged followers, with a staggeringly disappointing rate of 0.81%.
6. Edmonton Oliers
The Edmonton Oilers are included in our sample for the sake of comparison. The Oilers aren't an Original Six team, and they haven't won a title since Wayne Gretzky left the team in 1989. And they're not in a tourist area (to say the least). They also have the least amount of followers but boast the second-highest engagement rate.
Compared to the other Canadian team in our sample, the Oilers have a much more diversified fan base. Less than half of their Instagram followers are Canadian, with 27% of fans coming from the US and another 25% from the rest of the world.
Salaries compared to final standings
Next, we compared the average player salary to the final standings in the different divisions. This way, we can get an indication of just how important player salaries are in getting into the playoffs. The average salary per player is taken per team to somewhat balance out the one odd key player raking in an outlandish salary. Besides, some teams have more players in their roster than others.
The Metropolitan Division
The Metropolitan Division houses two of the teams from our sample: the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Neither of these two teams is among the big spenders in this division. The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders lead the teams in money spent, and only the Hurricanes translate this to success on the ice, with the playoffs reached.
As you can see in the table (ranked by average salary per player), the ranking roughly reflects the division table we've seen this year. Only the Islanders and Capitals are out of step, with the former grossly underperforming, while the Capitals do slightly better than can be expected.
|Average Salary / Player
|New York Islanders
|New York Rangers
|Columbus Blue Jackets
|New Jersey Devils
The Atlantic Divison
The Atlantic Region hosts current titleholder Tampa Bay Lightning and two other teams from our sample: the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. These three familiar teams also take up the three top spots for average salary per player, and the Tampa Bay Lightning leads all other teams in the NHL when it comes to spending.
Both Toronto and Tampa Bay have a fair shot at the playoffs, but the Panthers are the overachievers in the Atlantic Division. They outscore every other team in the NHL while not overspending on their average salary per player (or overall salaries). Number 7 & 8 on the list achieve exactly what is expected from them when looking at the average salary per player. With the Montreal Canadiens on last placed which is definitely correlated with their lowest players expenditures.
|Average Salary / Player
|Tampa Bay Lightning
|Toronto Maple Leafs
|Detroit Red Wings
The Pacific Division
In the Pacific Region, performances on the field closely follow the rankings on average salary per player. The Flames are in the lead in both rankings, with the Kings and Oilers following closely. The Los Angeles Kings are the overachievers in this division, whereas the Seattle Kraken newcomers struggle to catch up to the big leagues — even if their salaries would put them above last place. After the Kings got their last title in 2014, the division delivered two losing Stanley Cup finalists.
|Average Salary / Player
|Vegas Golden Knights
|Los Angeles Kings
|San Jose Sharks
The Central Division
The Central Division shows perhaps the biggest underachiever: the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets managed to secure a playoff spot for four consecutive years until 2021, and even though their winning streak is coming to an abrupt end, their salaries still top the division. The reverse is true for the Minnesota Wild, who qualified for the playoffs for the ninth time in just ten seasons while paying the league average.
Based on popularity and stature, the Chicago Blackhawks shouldn't be dangling at the bottom of the rankings together with the Arizona Coyotes. However, when you take a look at the salary numbers, their standings and performances make a lot more sense.
|Average Salary / Player
|St. Louis Blues
For many team owners, there's a mythical question of how much it will cost to win the Stanley Cup. While the analysis above doesn't answer that question, it does show a clear correlation between the average salary per player and the current standings. Paying players more generally gives teams a higher ranking — outliers notwithstanding. What further underlines this is that the Tampa Bay Lightning (the team that's paying most) is best represented in the top 100 players in the 2022 season.
Aside from analyzing Instagram accounts for the teams in the NHL, we've also analyzed the highest-paid players in the league and looked at how engaged their Instagram fans are. As you'll soon find, it's a lot easier for players to create a connection than the (faceless) teams they represent — food for thought for marketers. All Russian players have been removed from the analysis.
1. Connor McDavid
Connor McDavid is undeniably one of the notable NHL stars this year. He won the 2021 Hart Trophy by getting every single one of the first-place votes. This year looks no different, and the Edmonton Oilers will probably feel that his salary of $13 million is money very well spent. The 25-year-old Canadian is dubbed the 'human NHL highlights reel,' and nearly a million Instagram followers watch his Instagram Highlights, too. With well over 84,000 users regularly engaging with his posts, he is the NHL player with the most loyal fanbase. BetMGM caught onto his popularity, too (how could they not?), and signed him on as an ambassador.
2. Auston Matthews
If the BetMGM move turns out to be worthwhile, other online casinos should look into Auston Matthews. The 24-year-old Matthews from California has been compared to Mario Lemieux and has the stats to back it up. He's listed in the top-10 for goals per game, needs less than 350 games to reach 200 career goals, and has a better engagement rate on Instagram than Connor McDavid.
The demographics of Auston Matthews' followers are another reason for casinos to pay close attention: only 10% of his audience are minors (compared to 20% for Connor McDavid). Matthews also has a higher engagement rate from his followers: 9.37% against 8.60%. In raw numbers, Matthews has 64,175 engaged followers of gambling age, against 67,493 for McDavid - a difference most likely overlooked by BetMGM.
What's even more notable is that Matthews is an anomaly in the NHL: 54% of his followers are women. That opens him up to a whole new segment in the market. Signing Connor McDavid is the obvious choice for casino marketers, but perhaps BetMGM missed a more interesting option with Auston Matthews.
3. Charlie McAvoy
The next two players on the list are Russian and have been excluded from this list, so the gap between Auston Matthews and Charlie McAvoy might be slightly misleading. McAvoy has 'only' 162,000 total Instagram followers, with 20,444 engaged followers. A higher engagement rate is usually inversely correlated with the number of followers, but 12.62% is still a very high number. Perhaps this makes McAvoy a good choice for smaller brands, especially because only 6% of his followers are below the legal gambling age. McAvoy's age (24) makes him a bit more interesting, as he still has plenty of years ahead of him.
4. Mikko Rantanen
Mikko Rantanen has an even higher follower engagement rate (15.68%) but too few followers to make a substantial dent. What especially stands out here is his fan base: 49% are from the US, 3% of his followers are fellow Canadians, and an impressive 48% are international.
5. P.K. Subban
Lastly, P.K. Subban needs to hire a new agent. When ranked by the number of engaged followers, he's fifth on the list with 12,000 engaged followers. That's not much worse than Mikko Rantanen, were it not that P.K. Subban has about ten times the total number of followers. In fact, he's got more Instagram followers than Connor McDavid, and he's got about the most diverse fan base in our sample. If Atlantic City is paying attention, they'll give Subban his new agent and an Instagram manager — P.K. Subban is a goldmine in the making.
Although the above findings already give plenty of food for thought, there were also some interesting analysis results from outside the sample we used. Below, we will highlight some of these additional findings to shed better light on how Instagram followers and the NHL relate.
The Carolina Hurricanes
As you may have noticed (and expected), the fan base for each team, and all but one player in our sample, is overwhelmingly male. Outside of our sample, the Carolina Hurricanes proved to be an exception, with a 44-56 ratio of male vs female followers. There is no obvious explanation for this, but it does coincide with another interesting statistic.
The other statistic where the Carolina Hurricanes outperform any other NHL team is their engagement rate (the percentage of followers that engage with posts). The mean engagement rate across all teams is 1.39%, while the Hurricanes have a rate of 3.45% — a 2.06% difference.
A common explanation for a high engagement rate is a lower total follower count. However, that's not the case for the Canes; their follower count is perfectly average. Therefore, there must be another explanation, which brings us back to the lady followers of the Hurricanes. In general, female Instagram users are more engaged than their male counterparts. This stat probably explains the higher engagement rate, which could be a pointer for other teams looking to improve their Instagram game (although most team managers will be more envious of their actual game).
Two teams with lots of followers outside of Canada and the USA
Finally, we looked at the country of origin for each team. As we have seen above, Canadian and American fans always make up the bulk of Instagram followers. Canadian teams often have a much larger percentage of Canadian followers, with the Buffalo Sabers being a noteworthy bonus team for Canadian followers. 13% of their followers are from Canada — largely explained by the fact that Buffalo, NY, sits right on the US-Canadian border.
The Oilers are another team with a noteworthy statistic: 10% of their followers are from Germany. Undoubtedly, this is due to the presence of Leon Draisaitl. Connor McDavid overshadows Draisaitl in the NHL, but internationally (especially in Germany), Draisaitl has no equal. In 2020, he was voted The German Sportsman of the Year, inducted into the All-Time Germany Team, and he won the Art Ross Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, and the Hart Memorial Trophy while also playing in the NHL All-Star game.
Diving into Instagram statistics and player salaries has brought us a few noteworthy findings. In light of Connor McDavid's signing with BetMGM and the rise of legal sports betting options in Canada and the USA, the popularity and price of players can bring new opportunities for players and fans.
Although Connor McDavid might seem like the obvious choice as a spokesperson, fellow player Auston Matthews might be the unrecognized MVP on social media. His follower base is perfect for casinos, with a relatively older and more engaged audience.
Veteran P.K. Subban is perhaps our most surprising find. His location (New Jersey, with its liberal gambling regulations), the demographics of his fan base, and his untapped potential of total followers make him the ideal ambassador for any Atlantic City casino, as long as they provide him with a savvy social media manager.
What also stands out is how the Carolina Hurricanes' fan base differs on two key points, which might be more related than you'd think at first sight. As the only NHL team with more female than male followers, they manage a significantly higher engagement rate than any other team.
Lastly, only one team has managed to truly gain an international (outside of Canada and the US) audience: the Edmonton Oilers. A tenth of their fanbase is from Germany, following their star player, Leon Draisaitl.
We've noticed a clear correlation between player salaries and team standings on the ice. Although there are some anomalies, teams with a higher salary per player generally float to the top of the rankings and make it to the playoffs.
To obtain our results, we used Instagram and Upfluence, an Instagram analysis tool. This tool is designed to find quality influencers for a brand or study. It gives insight in to the demographic & geographic data of the follower base of a particular influencer. Besides, engagement rate of the followers and engagement rate on posts is shown as well. In this study, we used it mainly for the engagement rate, demographic & geographic data of the influencers.
To obtain the salaries of the players, we used CapFriendly. Information on salaries of all teams and players is publicly available on that website. Other information on players' statistics and final standings was found on NHL.com and ESPN.com.