How the NHL Shoots & Scores on Instagram

How the NHL Shoots & Scores on Instagram

Last week, NewsWhip published an intriguing piece on social media and the NHL. You can check it out here.

Their analysis focused on the heavy hitters of social media — Facebook and Twitter — and even touched upon the likes of Reddit, YouTube, and Snapchat.

Instagram, surprisingly, was absent.

Now, two of my favorite things in this world are hockey and social media. Personally, I use Instagram to check on my favorite team, the Philadelphia Flyers, quite often. Thus, I thought it would be fun to challenge myself to do some research and find out how, exactly, the NHL operates on Instagram.

Before I move any further, you may wonder:

Why Care About Instagram?

Instagram is a rapidly-growing platform that shows no signs of stopping. Its user base has not only grown tremendously stateside, (especially among adults), but also internationally — 3/4 of the last one-million users reside outside of the United States. This is key information, as NHL fans come from the world over, especially  Canada and Europe.

Also, engagement is much higher on Instagram than any other major social network. Sure, Facebook and Twitter boast the robust follower counts, but the relatively intimate Instagram is a hotbed for user interaction.

Given those factors, it would behoove marketing teams across the NHL to harness the influence and capabilities of Instagram.

(Plus, I use Instagram all too often. Of course I’d like to see more content on it! Is that selfish?)

What’s the NHL Look Like on Instagram?

NHL Instagram Infographic

To see how every team ranks, click here (all data as of November 28, 2015).

To break it down:

  • The reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, are also the champions of Instagram followers. They have nearly 200,000 more fans than the team that trails them, the Boston Bruins.
  • The New York Rangers rank third with their 591,000 followers. By comparison, they only have 576,000 Twitter followers.
  • An astonishing 80% of teams in the top 10 are from the Eastern Conference. The Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions each have four representatives.
  • The two lone Western Conference teams in top 10, Chicago and Los Angeles, have won five of the last six Stanley Cups. (The outlier is Boston, who won in 2011.)
  • The Anaheim Ducks may post more than any other team in the NHL, but only have 210,000 followers on Instagram. That’s 14th out of 30 teams.
  • As for the Blackhawks, they’re 24th in total posts with 1,868 — quality over quantity in that regard, maybe?
  • Poor Nashville – they’re last in both followers (62,200) and posts (510). Hey, at least the team isn’t in the cellar
  • …as that space is currently occupied by the Edmonton Oilers. Despite missing the playoffs the last five seasons (but scoring some sweet first-round draft picks in the process!), they still have 207,000 fans following their every Instagram move.

What else can we take from these stats? Fans like winners. Most teams in the top ten have won at least one Stanley Cup in the last 25 years. To reiterate, Chicago and Los Angeles have been very successful in winning Cups since 2010, although Boston won in 2011. Pittsburgh skated to victory in 2009, and before that won back-to-back Cups in the early 1990s. Detroit has won four Cups since 1997. The Rangers captured the championship in 1994, a year after Montreal did , and while that seems like eons ago, it’s important to note that New York and Montreal have overall remained competitive since.

So what does that say about Toronto or Philly, two teams that have not won a Cup in a very long time? (As a Flyers fan, typing this is PAINFUL.) Both of these cities are known for having fiercely loyal fans, despite having their hearts broken year after year. (Granted, the Flyers have been competitive until recent years.) They’re true to their teams, no matter what. Right now, both squads are in the bottom half of the league standings.

And as for Washington? They’ve never even won a Stanley Cup, and their one and only SCF appearance was in 1998. However, the team is performing very well so far this season. Once again, fans like winners.

The 8 Ways the NHL Uses Instagram


1. Post-Game Results: Many NHL teams call upon their graphic designers to create final score images, much like this one from the Chicago Blackhawks. At their most basic, they feature the final score plus goal stats, usually accompanied by an in-game action shot.

Saturday's By The Numbers presented by Sentry Investments. #TMLtalk

A photo posted by Toronto Maple Leafs (@mapleleafs) on

Some teams, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, like to take it a step further and offer more advanced stats, such as time on ice, three stars of the game, and other key metrics.


Aucun but après 20 minutes. / We remain scoreless after 20 minutes.

A photo posted by Canadiens de Montréal (@canadiensmtl) on

2. In-Game Progress:  For fans who can’t watch or listen to a game live, several teams, such as the Montreal Canadiens, provide updates on Instagram after each period. The format is much like the post-game results graphics.


Stats. #CGYvSJS

A photo posted by San Jose Sharks (@sanjosesharks) on

3. Pre-Game News: “Know thy enemy,” right? The San Jose Sharks, for example, post head-to-head stats prior to each game so fans can see how their favorite team stacks up against the competition.

It's a #Sabres game day in Nashville, Tennessee! #LetsGoBuffalo ⚔

A photo posted by Buffalo Sabres (@buffalosabres) on

Other clubs, like the Buffalo Sabres, keep this information brief by simply providing game times and broadcast info.


SOCIAL SPECIAL: #BUFvsDET – 12/1. 🔥🔥🔥 LINK: in bio PASSWORD: social

A video posted by Detroit Red Wings Hockey Club (@detroitredwings) on

4. Marketing: Teams use Instagram to promote deals, contests, and other fan events. The Detroit Red Wings even recruited center Dylan Larkin to record a short video for their Social Special.

Brandon Prust of the Vancouver Canucks couldn’t escape showing off this ugly sweater, which is currently on sale at the Canucks Fan Store.


Congrats to Coach Tippett on his 500th @NHL win! 👊🏼

A photo posted by Arizona Coyotes (@arizonacoyotes) on

5. Celebrating Milestones: Recently, Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett celebrated his 500th career win, which was commemorated with the above graphic. It’s not only a nice gesture, but it also gives fans another forum to express their well wishes.


Never too busy for old friends. Thanks for helping us get the W, Liam!

A photo posted by Philadelphia Flyers (@philadelphiaflyers) on

6. Behind the Scenes: NHL Instagram grants fans to access to moments that aren’t caught on TV. Here, fan Liam Traynor met with his favorite player (and good friend) Michael del Zotto of the Philadelphia Flyers after a game at Madison Square Garden.

@frederikandersen31 back on the ice and casually making the tough save.

A video posted by Anaheim Ducks (@anaheimducks) on

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks like to tease followers with brief scrimmage clips. As team practices can sometimes be off-limits to the general public, giving fans an opportunity to view these otherwise restricted events is quite refreshing.


Lookin' good, Denver! #GoSensGO

A photo posted by Ottawa Senators (@senators) on

7. Fan Appreciation: Where would these clubs be without their loyal supporters?  Teams like to show their thanks to the men, women, and kids who cheer them on by featuring them on their official accounts. Recently, the Ottawa Senators posted a photo of the fans who traveled to Denver to see the team take on the Colorado Avalanche.

Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins paid tribute to fans who took advantage of the team’s Black Friday Sale at the TD Garden.


@anesty11 left his mark at Chelsea Piers today.

A photo posted by Carolina Hurricanes (@nhlcanes) on

8. General Tomfoolery: If there’s one thing I’ve learned following NHL teams on social media, it’s that most organizations and their players have great senses of humor. Here’s Andrej Nestrasil of the Carolina Hurricanes proudly showing off the glass he shattered during a team practice in New York.

Then there’s Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals with his “Mini-Me-Ovi.” There’s really nothing to it other than fan-friendly fun.


The content is varied, and every team approaches these themes in their own way. The one trait they share is the high levels of engagement, specifically when it comes to “likes.” Fans are taking an interest in the content and making it known.

How Will NHL Instagram Continue to Evolve?

It’ll be interesting to revisit this post a year from now to see what’s changed. I personally think the ten most popular teams will remain largely in-tact, but it’d be fun to chart the year-to-year growth among all teams. (Maybe the Predators will finally get some more love!)

I’m also keen on seeing if the NHL will experiment with new tactics. Writing mini blogs in the caption space seems to be the current trend on Instagram. I doubt teams will divert from the practice of utilizing their 614×614 space to broadcast stats and promotions graphically, but maybe the long-form captions could serve as a means to introduce fans to players, or even fans to other fans. It’d add another element of intimacy, in addition to the behind-the-scenes posts that are already prevalent on NHL Instagram.

There’s so much more I’d like to explore on this topic, such as volume of fan engagement per team and frequency of posts per account. But alas, I,  a mere pleb, can only do so much! Maybe one weekend, I’ll do some sleuthing to see if such data exists. If so, I’d certainly love to see it.

I enjoyed compiling this research and hope you got a little something out of it, whether you’re a hockey buff or a social media maven…or both…or even neither!

The Monday Question

What interested you most about this analysis? Is there a data point that especially stood out to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Til next Monday!

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