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Usual suspects

Social media sing with NHL lockout mood swing Add to ...

In the era of instant feedback, no one brought more immediate and visceral response to the NHL lockout than the purveyors of social media.

Depending on the day, hockey fans on Twitter were either outraged, very outraged or about to require sedation over the 119-day delay to the 2012-13 season.

But impressions are fleeting things in Twitter’s aggregated communities. Like minds tend to bond, oblivious to other factors. (Such as imaginary online girlfriends … but that’s for another column.)

Getting a clear-eyed picture of opinion can be coloured by the bias of limited networks. But the cumulative Twitter opinion is easy to measure, Jesse Hirsh, president of Metaviews Media Management Ltd., said in an e-mail.

“It’s silly for the media to speculate on what fan response will be, or conduct silly polls, when the data exists via social media,” Hirsh said. “This go-round they could measure fan interest, they could measure that geographically, and they could project how much market or audience they’re losing and thus how hard it will be to get it back to the numbers they need.”

Ottawa-based Mediamiser is one of the firm doing exactly that, scraping and analyzing the approximately 1.3 million hockey tweets produced since the latest NHL lockout began on Sept. 15, 2012. Mediamiser’s findings show the difference in opinion between negative and positive tweets was remarkably close.

Approximately 16 per cent of the messages recorded about hockey till the Jan. 6, 2013, settlement were negative towards the league and players versus 12-per-cent positive. (Tweets sharing other information were considered neutral in the study.)

Not surprisingly, the negativity grew over the course of the lockout, said Jim Donnelly, director of data for Mediamiser. By last October, the tweets were 21-per-cent negative and 14-per-cent positive.

“The increase in positive tweets can be attributed to users indicating they missed hockey and wanted it back ASAP,” Donnelly said in a e-mail.

By January, however, with a settlement imminent, opinion flipped. The breakdown was 22-per-cent positive and 16-per-cent negative.

“News of the lockout’s end caused a 155-per-cent spike in NHL-related tweets from Jan. 4 to Jan. 6,” Donnelly said. “Positive sentiment on that day [Jan. 6] toward the league was close to 30 per cent.”

Two of the top 10 hashtags in January’s NHL tweets, were #finally and #endthelockout.

Credit team-brand loyalty, Donnelly said. “We even found that, of those fans who said they were still upset with the league, they were also very explicit in saying they would still go out of their way to support their favourite team.”

One thing that did not move the needle, however, was NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s apology to fans in early January for all the damage the labour dispute had caused.

Donnelly believes the value in analyzing social media is only beginning.

“Generally, as more people use Twitter to voice their opinions or feelings on various issues, its data has become more valuable to those looking to gauge what people are saying/feeling/thinking about an issue,” he said. “Twitter and other social media are emotional medias, where people log on to speak their minds. We feel it’s very appropriate for an issue such as this, which has inspired passionate commentary from fans on all sides of the issue.”

Spin the dial

Gord Stellick has left SiriusXM satellite’s Hockey Night in Canada Radio to return to Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 as host for its Toronto Maple Leafs coverage. Stellick previously co-hosted The Fan 590 morning show with Don Landry.

It represents a move into Stellick’s comfort zone, as the former Toronto general manager can wallow in all things Maple Leaf, his strong suit.

No job posting has emerged yet at HNIC Radio (why rush, it’s only middle of the season) for a replacement. In the meantime, Elliotte Friedman will have to curtail his Fan 590 appearances to be the temporary host, paired with analyst Kelly Hrudey.

HNIC Radio does a fine job in its weekday, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern) slot on NHL Network Radio. Getting Wayne Gretzky amidst Wednesday’s Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. rumours was a coup for producer Jeff Domet.

Unfortunately, the show has been hurt by being pinwheeled from various sites on the Sirius dial the past few years. It resides (for now) at 207.

Speaking of HNIC, hopefully someone will have told TV host/reporter Andi Petrillo by now that there’s no such person as “Dick Irving” in the show’s past. If HNIC is going to invest in her future, perhaps she might get up to date on its storied past.

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