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Social media reach and the Tampa Bay Lightning

Between the high-quality efforts the club undertakes socially as well as its broader outreach to the Tampa Bay metroplex in growing the game, the team has it right.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

I scan headlines a lot from the hockey blogosphere. Not by way of web-based news sites, not via a Twitter stream, but by way of an RSS aggregation program. I see a lot of headlines on a daily basis (and I promote some of it on a Reddit subgroup I oversee). Some of the content is newsworthy stuff, some are general anecdotes and incidents in the game for each team, other articles are broader takes on the game or sports in general. It’s those broad takes that pique my interest the most… Hell, there’s evidence in the archives of Raw Charge that ties this author to broader takes on the Bolts, the NHL, hockey and sports in general. At times like this especially, the offseason, it’s when the broader scope becomes a necessity.

My headlines scanning got my interest piqued by way of WingsNation giving their thoughts and analysis of ESPN releasing a list of the top 100 athletes out there in the world of sports. Oh, it wasn’t a talent ranking but a world perception ranking that played off of things like endorsement money for athletes, Facebook/Twitter followers and Google trends. And that’s where things with the NHL fall way, way short: No one hockey player made the ESPN list. I urge you to hop on over to WingsNation and read a bit more for yourself. I’d quote here, but the wider analysis isn’t there. Just the admission by the author that plays up the weight of the game in Canada compared to the world.

This led to so many wide thoughts on my mind – about the NHL’s failure to market its personalities in the game, its questionable media personalities and there seldom demeaning social analysis (I’m looking at you, Don Cherry, and you, Mike Milbury). It also got me wondering a very basic stat, but not pushed as widely as players: Teams on social media and their reach. Actually, a little more narrow – Tampa Bay and reach in the social sphere.

Just what is the Tampa Bay Lightning’s potency on social avenues when compared to the other local professional teams (and an outlier, 90 miles away)? Do the Bolts, at least on the local level, have a smaller reach by being members of the league owning a weaker reputation in the sports world?

TB Social media #s 6.2.2017

Team Twitter Followers Facebook Likes
Team Twitter Followers Facebook Likes
Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL) 565,000 546,378
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL) 651,000 943,591
Tampa Bay Rays (MLB) 463,000 731,077
Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL) 25,100 81,125
Orlando Magic (NBA) 1.51 million 2,773,507
John Fontana & social media

I don’t know if this factor is repeated by (m)any of you reading this, but upon seeing the numbers my first reaction was profanity uttered in surprise. The Orlando Magic thumping every team in Tampa Bay through social media is surprising. The explanation behind that which came to mind is that the Magic (who started play in 1989, the same year the NHL announced intentions to expand to Tampa Bay) are the sole pro team playing in Orlando. Add to it the fact the Magic are the NBA team of central Florida (making them a draw of fans from Tampa Bay as well as towns on the east coast nearer to the team). Everything else passing through my mind is an excuse. The truth is the Magic and the NBA have a broader reach than I expected to find.

My focus is on the Tampa Bay Lightning, though. Things do surprise me when the Bolts are compared to the Bucs, Rays and Rowdies. That latter franchise will grow with time unless the team goes the route of the original Rowdies franchise and folds. Still, the Rowdies were Tampa Bay’s first pro sports team and that history is tied to the current franchise (you can read more about that over at the Tampa Bay Times). The team may advance to Major League Soccer should it chose to expand, and there’s already talk about how TBFC (another name for the Rowdies) is in a St. Pete battle with the Rays for drawing fans.

The other surprising data here isn’t so surprising as-so-much a reminder: Twitter isn’t the same as Facebook when it comes to reach and social use. Oh, we use Twitter all the damned time as a social application (it’s @Johnny_fonts, people. Join me, won’t you?), but 140-characters-or-less and how the site tends to run doesn’t win everyone over or marry people to it. Facebook? A different beast and showing vastly different numbers for the pro clubs. The Magic once again lay a gob smack while the Buccaneers are just shy of a million fans and the Rays aren’t that far behind. The Lightning’s reach on social media that is so even between platforms while the team is dwarfed in difference on Facebook. That stands as what can be used as obvious evidence that the NHL and how its popularity in the sports world.

The Lightning franchise and its outreach can’t be seen as part of the issue; between the high-quality efforts the club undertakes socially as well as its broader outreach to the Tampa Bay metroplex in growing the game, the team has it right. And don’t make the excuse that some fans don’t want to follow the team on Facebook / are affiliated with another (unofficial) team page and think they’re following the official one. That avenue is a truth for all parties listed above and only affects them in minimal amounts.

That athlete-popularity list isn’t team popularity though. Two factors mar and make me back away from just putting up a listing of rosters and social media: Roster size and the off-season state of three of the five listed teams. Yet touching on social media lone seems like an understatement in showing hockey minimal relevance in the pro sports social consciousness.

I’ll leave you with a question: How could the NHL act to better itself in sports culture’s collective consciousness? Who are the top personas, in your opinion, who could find a niche in the broader pop culture? It’s hard to see hockey as an acquired taste in sports, but it’s sadly visible that the league and its athletes aren’t at the same level in popularity as they could be.