ESPN and TNT Kick off the 2021 NHL Season with Big Numbers Through Social


For the first time in over a decade, the NHL season premiered on a channel not named NBC in the U.S. On the heels of a pair of blockbuster 7-year licensing agreements, NHL hockey made its 16-year return to ESPN on October 13th and its premiere on TNT the following night.

To fully understand how the NHL’s opening nights played on their new TV partners, we looked at all the owned and earned media generated on Twitter.

Across both nights, ESPN and TNT generated almost $1 million in social value, reached an audience of 807 million people, and inspired over 25 thousand organic posts. Among those posts, over 90% of posts were positive and contrary to what some might say, almost half the audience was comprised of women.

Breaking it down by network, the NHL on ESPN earned $491,139 in social value with an engagement rate of 0.5%, while the NHL on TNT earned $282,741 in social value and a slightly lower engagement rate of 0.2%.

Top Posts:

The three top posts on the NHL’s return to ESPN combined for over $108 thousand establishing the value of fully utilizing two of their biggest social assets in the @ESPN and @SportsCenter accounts and tapping into the star power of one hockey’s brightest young phenoms in @AM34 (Toronto Maple Leaf, Auston Matthews).

The top post was from the @ESPN account with a cinematic exploration of the history and development of ESPN’s NHL theme song, all narrated by superstar Justin Bieber (@justinbieber). Earning $64,351 in social value, 2.24 million impressions, 18,546 engagements, with an engagement rate of 0.83%; this post managed to find the perfect balance of old school nostalgia and modern sensibilities, with a little sprinkle of popstar magic.

The second highest post came in the form of a video from ESPN’s premiere TV property in @SportsCenter. With $28,514 in social value, 1.33 million impressions, and an engagement rate of 0.28%, this post proves the longevity of the show’s classic TV spots, in one of their hosts interacting with a sporting icon around a mundane office scenario (in this case riding an elevator with the New Jersey Devils mascot).

The third highest post came from @AM34 All-Star Austin Matthews, hyping up his perfectly timed cover story in ESPN the magazine. This post earned $15, 552 in social value, 610 thousand impressions, a 1.4% engagement rate, and an interaction rate of 3.64%. Demonstrating the power of a young, social media savvy star and the value of perfect timing and synergy across multiple platforms.

The top posts from hockey’s debut on TNT paint a slightly different story by showing the benefits of creating a dedicated account for a new partnership in @NHL_On_TNT. It managed to quickly establish itself as a valuable asset, earning $176,885 in social value all on its own by leveraging TNT’s new star personalities and leaning on enduring old ones.

Their top tweet comes from @NHL_On_TNT and reminds everyone that the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, resonates just as much with audiences today as ever. Earning $24,525 in social value 1.1 million impressions, and an impressive 27.89% interaction it proves that when you can get the athlete who defines a sport, it’s probably best to showcase them as much as possible.

The second highest post comes from @BleacherReport and showcases a wonderful cross-genre gag of basketball hall of famer, and NBA on TNT mainstay, Charles Barkley hoping in net and attempting to block shots on Gretzky. Garnering $17,039 in social value, 609 thousand impressions, and 0.77% engagement rate; this post only further demonstrates the value of star power and reminds everyone that Gretzky’s still got it.

Charisma, comradery, and comedic timing all came together in the third highest post, once again from @NHL_On_TNT, in a wonderful conversation between Charles Barkley and Wayne Gretzky about hockey, GOATS, and how-to put-on goalie pads. With $13,442 in social value, 555 thousand impressions, and a follower interaction rate of 17.75%, this post really hammers home that great on-screen talent makes great content.

Key Takeaways:

  • Leverage multiple platforms to fully maximize reach
  • Utilize star power whenever possible
  • Creating dedicated accounts for specific properties can improve outreach to the most engaged fans
  • Charismatic personalities maintain their appeal across audiences to help broaden and diversify reach
  • If it has to do with hockey, use Wayne Gretzky