The opening day of any sport is an exciting time for fans. While preseason games satisfy the long awaited need for their favorite sport’s return, there is something special about the official start of a new season for fans. Disappointments of past seasons are pushed aside and anticipation for what is to come bubbles over as fans prepare themselves. With the explosion of social media, that excitement has generated an extensive amount of conversation and new opportunities for fans to engage with their favorite leagues and teams.

For the NHL, whose new season started October 7th, there has been no shortage of chatter for opening day. Hockey fans are well known for their passion and willingness to share their excitement and views on social.  The NHL has used #NHLFaceOff as the official start of the season hashtag for the last several years and seen significant engagement. In 2014, #NHLFaceOff was used nearly 27,000 times in the first week of the season. So what happens when you add an extra feature to this popular hashtag? For the 2015 opener, the NHL partnered with Twitter to give fans a bonus when using the hashtag #NHLFaceOff. For the first seven days of the season, anytime #NHLFaceOff was used in a Tweet, a hockey themed emoji would appear. The emoji changed everyday and would disappear at the conclusion of the seven days. The results: over 83,000 mentions of #NHLFaceOff between October 7th and 14th. Of those, 2,100 specifically called out the fact that the hashtag generated a new emoji. While it is impossible to say that this increase is solely due to the addition of emojis, this extensive growth is cause for notice. Mentions inclusive of the recognition of the emojis accounted for 2% of total chatter, only slightly lower than mentions of the handles of the most popular teams in the league. So what do these changes look like year over year? We took a deeper dive to find out…

2014 #NHLFaceOff Chatter

The 2014 chatter was highly concentrated around the official opening day (October 8th) before dropping off while 2015 chatter more steadily declined over the first seven days of the season. Spikes in passion intensity in 2015 are largely attributed to exciting moments such as rookie Dylan Larkin’s first NHL goal and Cam Atkinson’s impressive goal against the Rangers. “Hockey Emoji” also appeared as a top term in chatter, earning a place alongside #NHL and #NHLFirsts.

2014 Chatter2014 Gender Breakdown
2015 Chatter2015 Gender Breakdown

While the overall chatter review generated some interesting insights, looking exclusively at the chatter specifically mentioning emojis better demonstrates the real impact of their release. In particular, the passion intensity of posts mentioning emojis is significantly higher than that of the remaining chatter for both 2014 and 2015. Chatter is also concentrated in the first couple days of the season contributing to 2015’s higher volume of chatter to start the season and the more steady decline.

2015 Emoji Chatter Gender Breakdown

The NHL is not the first league to use specialized hashtags. The NBA released league wide hashtags featuring the Larry O’Brien trophy and the NBA logo alongside team specific hashtags for the 2015 finals. NCAA basketball, Women’s World Cup, and the Rugby World Cup have also jumped on the emoji bandwagon. While it is difficult to attribute increases in chatter volume to emojis alone due to the dynamic nature of sports, there is no doubt that fans have embraced their use.

What has been your favorite use of an enhanced hashtag? Do you think they add to the fan experience? Let us know!

This blog first appeared here

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