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Battle For Fans Is Over as NHL Starts Playoffs

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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The NHL playoffs kick off today, just in time for legions of sports fans to ignore them in lieu of this weekend's NBA playoffs. While hockey might not have as many fans as the other major sports, it certainly has some of the most passionate. And Facebook now has a map that can help you find your fellow hockey brethren no matter where you live.

The graphic plots each U.S. state and Canadian province according to which of the 16 playoff teams have a plurality of fans, based on number of Facebook likes. (Facebook released a similar graphic mapping MLB fans at the start of the baseball season.) When it comes to hockey fans, it's clear that history and championships matter. It's also clear that, while local rivalries have been a recipe for success for the NHL at large, local competition isn't particularly healthy for some of the individual teams involved.

Take, for example, Pennsylvania. It's not particularly surprising that the Pittsburgh Penguins are the second-most-popular team overall, enjoying a plurality among Facebook fans in nine states and provinces. The team has been around for nearly half a century and has retained its fan loyalty through star power and championships. The Mario Lemieux era has given way the Sidney Crosby era, and the team won the Stanley Cup in 2009.

That can't be easy for the Philadelphia Flyers, who take their local rivalries very, very seriously: The team this week urged its Facebook fans to unfriend fans of the New York Rangers before the two face off in the first round of the playoffs. The Flyers have a similar sense of history -- they were founded the same year as the Pens and have actually made more Finals appearances. The two fiery fan bases decidedly don't like each other, and the state tends to be split in allegiance. But despite having one of the best players in the world in Claude Giroux and recent playoff success against their Keystone State rivals, the Flyers seem to have lost the Battle of Pennsylvania among Facebook fans and television audiences. Pittsburgh led the league in local television ratings this season and was named the top local NHL fan base by Nielsen in December.

There there's California -- a state that could be considered oversaturated with sports teams in general. It is home to three NHL teams, with the San Jose Sharks surprisingly coming out on top among Facebook users in California and also Oregon. The Sharks have yet to make a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 21 seasons of existence; meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings won it all just two seasons ago, while the Anaheim Ducks captured the trophy in 2007. Throw in the fact that the team formerly known as the Mighty Ducks is based on a film trilogy and a TV series that were hugely popular among my generation of Facebook-using millennials. It seems likely that the two Southern California teams are splitting the vote to the Sharks' advantage.

The good news: All three teams had great regular seasons, finishing with the three best records in the Pacific Division, and the Kings and the Sharks are set to face each other in the opening round. The bad news: Neither the Kings nor the Ducks had a plurality of Facebook fans in any state or province, and both teams are toward the bottom in local NHL television ratings. Even Disney has no say in the Battle of California.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

(Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. Follow her on Twitter at @kavithadavidson.)

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Kavitha A Davidson at

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