Twitter Sentiment on Future NHL Olympic Participation

NHL fans turn to Twitter to question Olympic participation, consider a World Cup of Hockey, and offer condolences to injured players.

NHL Twitter social sentiment

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2014 may be the last time we see NHL players participate in the Winter Olympics. In lieu of major injuries to NHL all-stars, hockey fans are reevaluating whether it is safe to send their hometown heros to the Olympic Games. One alternative option is a World Cup of Hockey.

Insights

Below are some key takeaways surrounding the topics of conversation of NHL Olympic participation in response to injuries suffered by players during the 2014 games:

  • Tweets expressing sentiment toward Olympic participation totaled 37% of online discussion.
  • General news and predictions about the future of NHL Olympic participation overwhelmed other topics of discussion at 41%, a testament to how social media responds to major sports injuries.
  • Post volume for “Injuries Should Not Affect Decision” reached its highest totals on February 15th and February 20th in response to the injuries suffered respectively by NHL players Henrik Zetterberg and John Tavares.
  • Consideration of a World Cup of Hockey as an additional tournament to the Olympics or as an alternative to NHL Olympic participation only accumulated 1% of conversation.
  • Males provided 77% of the relevant posts monitored by the ForSight platform.
  • Each of the 3 top interest affinities from this monitor are American hockey teams: “Nashville Predators”, “Detroit Red Wings”, and “UCLA Bruins”.

Context

The Men’s Hockey Tournament in Sochi, Russia this winter marked the fifth time that the National Hockey League participated on the Olympic stage. Back in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, the NHL made a trial run debut in the tournament. Before then, the United States had been participating in Olympic hockey tournaments since 1920 using all amateur players. I
The first Olympic hockey was played during the summer. In 1924, the hockey was moved to the Winter Olympics schedule, and the switch in seasons never changed. The Winter Olympics has since taken place in the middle of the NHL regular season. This never mattered, considering the Olympic Games were intended for amateur players only. It was not until 1988 that NHL players were approved to compete, a rule the league did not tolerate from its players until ten years later.
As more years of experience at the Olympic level have accumulated, the NHL has naturally reevaluated the internal structure of league business operations in relation to the tournament, general motives behind league participation, and the logistics of player safety. One critical decision that is currently up for deliberation by league officials is whether the NHL’s valuable talent should be risking injury in the Olympic tournament. The Olympics can certainly be a stressful time for the front offices of NHL organizations.
Taking place in the heart of the NHL season, the timing of the tournament certainly strengthens the side of the discussion in opposition to Olympic participation. In 2014’s games, the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings lost their center/left wing Henrik Zetterberg for the rest of the regular season when he aggravated a herniated disk in his back playing for his home country, Sweden. The New York Islanders also lost their Canadian star center John Tavares to a partially torn MCL that would ultimately end his NHL season, including the playoffs. Injuries like these are more than enough evidence for NHL stakeholders to resent the idea of NHL player participation at the 2018 Winter Olympics Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. One solution drawn up by the NHL is the return and revitalization of a World Cup of Hockey during the summer months to build the NHL’s international brand while retaining player safety.
As far as the future of NHL Olympic participation, we assume the fans of the NHL and Olympic Games alike will have a strong voice about the decision. Using our ForSight software, Crimson Hexagon investigated which topics of discussion were the loudest amongst Tweeters regarding the NHL’s future Olympic participation. It seems as though some of the NHL’s toughest players are related to one of the toughest decisions that has faced the NHL in league history.

Analysis

We can begin to understand the major trends of this monitor’s results by examining ForSight’s Brightview™ graph for the year of 2014:
Future of NHL Olympic Participation Brightview (Volume)
As expected, Twitter activity about NHL participation in future Olympics was essentially nonexistent during the first month of the year. We see how conversation first truly spikes in various topics of conversation on February 7th, the initial day of Winter Olympic activity in Sochi. This conversation comes from either excitement or ignorance, posted days before the national teams first took to the rink for games. This past winter, Olympic hockey began on February 12th and capped off when the gold medal was awarded to Canada eleven days later on the 23rd.
Another peak in overall conversation comes after one of the major NHL injuries came to light. The morning after a February 12th game between Sweden and Czech Republic, Sweden’s captain, Henrik Zetterberg, was absent from the team victory picture and practice. After another day for mild speculation about a re-aggravated herniated disk, it was announced on February 14th that the experienced Olympian Zetterberg would have to miss the remainder of the Sochi Games. Zetterberg is also the starting left wing for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, validating the mindset of those in opposition to overall NHL participation in the Winter Olympics. The next 24 hours spawned heated debate over NHL players participating in the Olympic Games, including mention of the possibility of replacing future Olympic participation with a World Cup of Hockey during a more favorable time of year in the eyes of NHL front offices.
By now, we know that all great public mysteries find their way under Twitter’s microscope; the Brightview graph reveals the development of this story. Between the 14th and 15th of the month, 833 out of 4,423 relevant posts analyzed by this monitor were tweeted. These numbers make it the most active two-day
span of our research. Some Zetterberg fans offered condolences to the injured superstar:

In spite of the significance of Zetterberg’s injury, 31% of conversation on February 14th and 15th showed enthusiasm toward NHL Olympic participation:

  Others share the same stance with a different attitude. Olympics fans seem well aware of the implications of such potent NHL injuries during the Winter Games.Tweets with this specific sentiment were categorized under “Injuries Should not Affect Decision”. A topic of discussion that never seemed to peak or dive was the delivery of news and predictions about the future of NHL Olympic participation. According to our Brightview graph, this topic showed a perpetual popularity over the course of the tournament. To be exact, “General News/Predications” has represented 41% of 2014’s “Future of NHL Olympic Participation” Twitter discussion. Many posts related to NHL injuries were used to predict the outcome of the decision:

As more opinions like the one above influenced others online, it is surprising to see how little momentum the idea of a World Cup of Hockey received overall. In contrast to the popularity of news, predictions, and sentiment toward seeing NHL players in the Olympic Games, a mere 1% of conversation reflected interest in a World Cup of Hockey.
A select few posts from this time range shot down the life of the rumors, encouraging continued NHL Olympic participation in favor of replacing it with a World Cup of Hockey:

Even Tweets like the one above, which express discontent with the idea of putting Olympic participation to rest in favor of the World Cup of Hockey, come scarcely. It seems as though the World Cup of Hockey will never sway the exciting stigma of the Olympic Games in the direction of an international summer tournament. More time went by, and little advocacy for the return of the World Cup of Hockey ever picked up. Another serious injury during the Olympic Games caught the attention of Twitter between February 19th and 20th. During the quarterfinal matchup of Team Canada vs. Team Latvia, a New York Islander took a hit that would end the NHL season he had left after the Olympics were to come to a close. Also a captain of his NHL team, star center John Tavares has been ruled out for the remainder of the NHL games the Islanders have remaining this season with a partially torn MCL and torn meniscus in his left knee. Again, we see the influx of posts on the 19th about our most popular topics of conversation. Future of NHL Olympic Participation Brightview (Proportion) Future of NHL Olympic Participation (Proportion) This time around, posts with the sentiment categorized as “Injuries Should not Affect Decision” accounted for 36% of online conversation on the 19th and then 32% on the 20th. Much to these tweeters excitement, Tavares has vocalized to the media how he personally supports NHL player participation in the Olympic games. Tavares has even promised his return to Olympic hockey in a quote from a public interview, “I certainly love playing for my country, and if I got the call again, I would.” A tweet from February 23rd offers some insight as to why the superstar plans on returning to the Winter Olympics:

Until an official decision is made, we look forward to seeing whether this kind of sentiment from the injured players will help shape the future of international hockey in one way or another. Which Tweeters are particularly eager? If we check out ForSight’s interest affinities visual, we see how one of the largest groups of interest suffered a tragic hometown injury during the Olympic Games.    Twitter sentiment affinties NHL Olympic Participation At a rate 173 times as often as the rest of Twitter, the people discussing these topics of conversation are also tweeting about the Detroit Red Wings. We figure the Henrik Zetterberg injury hit close to home. There were also lasting effects of the last minute change in general manager of the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team. A week before the games began in Sochi, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile expected to fly with a national team that included one of his own NHL players to Sochi to be the United States’ general manager at the Winter Olympics. During that same week, he suffered facial injuries after being struck by a hockey puck at practice. Here we have a completely different kind of injury and result. Despite lacking representation in much of our tweet topic analysis, we see in the affinities chart how controversial David Poile’s injury was for both NHL and Olympic hockey fans on Twitter. People who discussed the future of NHL Olympic participation also tweeted 543 times more than the rest of Twitter about none other than the Nashville Predators. We have seen what kinds of things we can learn by investigating social media metrics with the ForSight™ platform. What we cannot determine is a lid for the potential of this Twitter activity. If the World Cup of Hockey returns to the world of sports…if the Winter Olympics stand tall as the most exciting option…or if things do not exactly go as planned…we know Twitter will be watching. At least we have plenty of predictions to take into consideration. 

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