2018 NHL Brand Power Rankings
This is it, the definitive (and only) power rankings for NHL team brands. And it’s based on more than just a subjective opinion about each team – there’s actual math/science/statistics behind it. For those interested, I’ll outline how the rankings were calculated. Don’t care? Click here to jump right down to the ranking themselves.
What is a Brand?
First, a little bit about branding.
There’s a perception that a brand is nothing more than a collection of a team’s logos and uniforms, and I can’t overstate how wrong that is. That’s doesn’t even fully encompass just the visual brand of a team (a visual brand also includes things like marketing materials, ads, websites, season tickets, game programs, paraphernalia, etc, etc).
So, what’s a brand? The simplest way to put it is: it’s nothing more than the public’s perception of an organization (or team, in this case).
While the visual brand is certainly an element of that, the overall brand includes the team’s performance, their fan’s confidence in them, their ticket sales, etc. If a team has a lousy season, it negatively affects their brand. If a team can’t get people into the arenas, it negatively affects their brand. If a team has a massive and engaged fan base, it positively affects their brand. If a team wins the Stanley Cup, that has a definite positive effect on their brand.
What that means is that while the team does have a certain amount of control over how the public perceives their team, there is inherently a lack of control as well. Fans not trusting an organization’s direction, for example, is beyond their control. In hockey specifically, a bad PDO or injuries can affect a brand. A team’s previous successes (or lack thereof) – which the current management had no part of – definitely affects a brand.
The point is, a brand is constantly in flux. Every touch point between the organization and the public can affect how the public perceives the organization.
So, the team tries to control as much as possible every aspect of their brand that they can, to positively influence the public’s perception of them on a continuous basis. And that’s where brand strategy comes in. Boston, for example, brands the type of hockey they play and that comes out in their visual brand as well – aggressive, gritty and truculent. They find players that fit that brand, for better or worse, and it guides the entire organization.
All this is to say that a team’s brand is much, much more than just the logo and uniforms. But they do play a large part, because it’s the most visual representation of an organization and the easiest way to show the direction of a brand.
All this is to say, there’s many different elements to a brand.
For these power rankings, we’ve selected nine specifically, and here’s what they are and how they’re decided.
Four of the categories are taken up with the visual brand. And again, this is not just my subjective opinion, but the combined opinion of over 40 people – all of whom are professional designers and hockey fans, working within and outside the hockey industry, including luminaries such as Todd Radom. They all voted anonymously though, so we have no idea who voted for what, we just have the final compiled data, so don’t @ me…or them.
In future rankings, we hope to continue including more designers in the process to get an even more precise ranking. If you’re a professional designer and want to be involved next time, definitely let us know. More than doubling the amount of input from professional designers from 2017 had a bit of sway, as it eliminated more bias that’s implicit in any ranking of this sort.
We all independently ranked each team in each of the following categories (listed below). Those rankings were compiled and averaged, and then all 31 teams were ranked 1 through 31 using these averages. Vegas, welcome to the Rankings for the first time! The visual brand categories are:
Category 1. Current Logo Design
Category 2. Current Home & Away Uniforms
Category 3. Current Third Jersey/Special Event Uniforms*
Category 4. Visual Brand Legacy (all previous logos and uniforms)
*Special event uniforms only from 2017-18 and already announced 2018–19 alternate jerseys were included. If a team did not have either (a) a third jersey/uniform or (b) a special event uniform from 2017-18, all jerseys/uniforms than positively affected a team’s brand were ranked above these teams, and all jerseys/uniforms that negatively affected a team’s brand were ranked below. If you want to see which ones were included, you can click here.
Of course on-ice performances affect a brand. Perpetual losers will be more-likely perceived as perpetual losers no matter how beautiful their logo and jerseys are. But like the visual brand categories, there’s current on-ice performances and historical on-ice performances. For example, a team like the Oilers haven’t made the playoffs in over a decade (negatively affecting the brand)…but they still have more Stanley Cups than 80% of the league (positively affecting the brand).
So, we created some formulas to figure out the best way to rank on-ice perfomance, and how that affects a brand. There’s two on-ice performance categories, and we’ll outline them both here.
Category 5. Recent On-Ice Performance
This category measures the last 5 seasons for each team. While 5 years is somewhat arbitrary, it’s generally how long a Cup win shine can last before fans start getting listless, and it’s generally how long a proper rebuild takes to start showing results, so it seemed like a logical number to use.
First there’s the regular season, and the easiest and most obvious way to measure a team’s success is their point totals.
For the playoffs, we used a weighted formula to measure a team’s playoff successes to somewhat correlate with point totals for the regular season. Making the playoffs meant your season total went up by 10 points. Winning one round meant 20 points. Winning two rounds meant 40 points. Getting to the Stanley Cup Finals means 60 points. Winning the Cup meant 100 points.
For example, a 100 point regular season is considered a high benchmark, so the team that got the Cup gets that amount added on. But, the reason the points awarded diminishes faster after that is because it gets harder and harder to people to remember (and therefore, affect the overall brand) who made the Finals, or the Conference Finals, or even the playoffs.
Then, these 5 seasons (regular + playoffs) are added together and averaged out, and then the 30 teams are ranked 1 through 30 based on that average.
Category 6. Historical On-Ice Performance
This one gets a little tricky, as you can’t really penalize teams for not existing as long as, say, the Original 6 teams. Sure, Montreal’s won 24 Cups, but they’ve also been around for 100+ years. And how much do you value winning the President’s Trophy (or being the regular season champion pre-President Trophy)? As much as President’s Trophies are scoffed at if there’s no playoff success that comes with it, it’s still a banner hanging in the rafters regardless.
And so do Conference championships, so that’s included as well (as Stanley Cup Appearances, for pre-Conference years). Division championships also have rafter banners, but the history of divisions in the NHL is erratic, so it’s too difficult to take into account. If you know a way of doing this, let me know.
So, there’s four different elements to this ranking:
- Regular Season League Championship
- Playoff Appearances
- Stanley Cup Finals Appearances
- Winning the Stanley Cup
Each team was given a “per season” ratio for each of these elements. For example, Montreal’s 24 Cups over 105 seasons gave them a rate of .2476 Cups/Season. Their 85 playoff appearances over 105 seasons gave them a rate of .8095 Playoff Appearances/Season, etc, etc.
Then, each element is given a weighted point structure:
- Regular Season League Championship = 10 points
- Playoff Appearances = 5 points
- Stanley Cup Finals Appearances = 20 points
- Winning the Stanley Cup = 50 points
The “per season” ratio is then multiplied by the points for that element. Again, using Montreal, .2476 x 50 = 12.38. The total for all four elements are added together, and then the teams are ranked from 1 through 30.
It should be noted that re-located franchises did not have their previous locations’ baggage carried around with them. So, the Calgary Flames stats doesn’t include their years as the Atlanta Flames. New Jersey doesn’t include Kansas City or Colorado. Dallas doesn’t include Minnesota, etc, etc. In every case, this is to the franchise’s benefit, but it’s safe to say that a relocation is generally regarded as a fresh start for the franchise in every way, including branding. Oh, and Montreal’s stats do include their pre-NHL days, as it’s still the same team and franchise.
These categories are where I borrowed heavily from outside sources rather than using our own statistical methods to determine their rankings. I’ll explain each one individually.
Category 7. Dedicated Fanbase
It’s a tough one to quantify. Using social media account followers, for example, would be skewed based on the population base of that team’s location. So, we needed something that was a percentage based metric and tends to wax and wane depending on a team’s performance, their physical location, and the dedication of their fans…ticket sales. Specifically, their arena capacity percentage over the 2016-17 season.
I used the rankings compiled by ESPN based on information from the NHL. We used only the home arena statistics. Including the road arena statistics (or overall statistics) would tend to value high on-ice performance (that is, people showing up to only watch the good teams), and we’ve already covered that in the previous categories.
Category 8. Fanbase Confidence
This is probably the category that is the closest to measure the core of a brand: the public’s perception of the organization. For this, we used the annual Dom Luszczyszyn rankings on The Athletic from back in July that used their own methodology to create their rankings of the confidence each fanbase has in their team.
There’s an argument to be made that the more passionate fans are more likely to voice displeasure with their team, but that would theoretically be measured through the previous category, so we won’t make that argument here.
Category 9. Net Worth
After all the other categories described, they’re not worth much if the franchise isn’t making any money. No matter what, an organization’s worth affects their brand. Every time Apple’s stock goes up or down, for example, it affects their brand. So we wanted to make sure this aspect of a brand was reflected.
The most logical way to rank all the teams was to use the annual Forbes list of NHL franchise valuations, so we did.
The Final Score
After each team was ranked 1–31 in each of the 9 categories, their rankings were added together and divided by 9 to get a final definitive ranking. So, the higher the number, the lower they are on the list.
Now that you understand exactly how the process went, it’s time to unveil the definitive 2017 NHL Brand Power Rankings.
(click on the image to enlarge)
Is there a team with a worse brand perception than Ottawa right now? I doubt it, and the science bears that out. Tumbling in every single category (except Net Worth, but that didn’t help their placement), the Sens bottom out these rankings. A bad logo…bad jerseys…bad performances…upset fans…an arena in the middle of nowhere…questionable management/ownership…no first round pick in 2019…it all adds up to 31.
Columbus’ drop seems precipitated more because of other teams climbing and the Jackets not doing much. Another first round playoff loss mixed with the same mediocre visual brand and no history of success means Columbus is treading water at the back of the pack.
Another Canadian team that’s fallen on hard time is the Canucks. Three straight bottom-5 finishes and odd off-season signings have deepened the hole for Vancouver to climb out of. Looks like the whole Canucks brand is another thing uber-rookie Elias Pettersson can add to the pile he’s already carrying on his back. The future may look brighter, but the future’s not here yet.
Here sits the lowest ranking for any team that’s won a Cup, let alone four of them. For most categories, the Islanders are treading water (up in some, down in others), but the Tavares loss stings. And until a new arena happens, the fanbase seems to be staying away. I’m not sure even Lamoriello and Trotz can solve this one anytime soon.
This is actually the highest Carolina has ever performed in these rankings, buoyed by the return of the Whalers jersey (one of the greatest logo/jersey combos of all time). Once they finally make that push through to the playoffs (this year maybe), they should continue their upward trajectory.
They’ve got a better-than-most visual brand together, but now the rest of the categories need to follow suit. Better on-ice performances would likely help the other categories as well, and their brand overall.
The Coyotes got a big jump this year, particularly with the return of the Kachina jerseys that everyone seems to love (Ed. note: except me). Now if they could jump make that jump into the playoffs and beyond, this upward trajectory would be less superficial and nostalgia-driven, and more sustainable.
This is the big surprise for me…Winnipeg dropped 7 spots despite having their best year ever. Their stolen third jersey contributed, along with the amalgamation of a few small drops in other categories. But, a few more long playoff runs like last year (which looks inevitable) should make them jump back up.
San Jose doesn’t move the needle that much, but it should be noted that the bottom half of the categories doesn’t take the Karlsson factor into account, propelling the Sharks from the bubble to Contender™ status. Now if we could just do something about their visual brand…
Buffalo move a move up based on a strengthened admiration for their visual brand – especially last years’ Winter Classic jersey – and a seemingly collective forgetting of that turrrrible third jersey and the Buffaslug (or is it ironically cool now?). They still have a hold of the worst recent on-ice performance, but Dahlin, Eichel & Co should be able to push that needle the right away again.
The Predators – despite a banner-raising season – stay put in 21st this year. Their biggest gain was in Recent On-Ice Performance, but nothing else moved that much. Another long playoff run (unless they keep crashing into a Jets wall) or two will help. But, oh what could’ve been, if they hadn’t ditched their previous jersey set for the atrocities they wear now.
John Gibson aside, nothing’s looking too good for the Ducks. They’ve never had a great visual brand and their bastardized version of their Mighty Ducks jerseys helped, but not enough to push the needle upwards at all. Otherwise, they’re stagnating and getting left in dust behind better brands.
With the Avalanche, it’s all about those Cups. They’re average in almost every category (with a better-than-average third jersey) and haven’t been really relevant on the ice in years. But for a team that’s only existed a couple decades, those two Cup victories loom large (Merci Nordiques!), and they’re starting to become relevant again.
It seems fitting that the Devils immediately follow the Avalanche. Both franchises have multiple Stanley Cups for relatively young franchises, both with surprise years last year featuring a Hart trophy nominee with a cast of young up-and-comers. And both with mediocre visual brands buoyed by third jerseys. Sorry, these are different teams, right?
The Kings are the best example of a stagnant team standing still while other teams pass them by. Their rating actually increased from last year (buoyed by higher rankings in their visual brand category with the increased number of designers contributing to the rankings – but still a bad logo), but they still dropped a number in the ranking. And with their Cup window closing fast, a further slip seems inevitable.
The Cup champions make large jumps in the On-Ice Performance categories, as can be expected after a Cup victory, and the Fanbase categories unsurprisingly get a jump as well. But it’s the visual brand that took a beating, dropping in all four of the categories, keeping the Caps (barely) in the bottom half of the rankings. Just make the Weagle the official logo dammit!
The Bolts tread water in the rankings, maintaining their hold on 14th. Fanbase confidence is up (and why wouldn’t it be), but a mediocre to bad visual brand is killing them. There’s a big discrepancy between their jersey rankings and the Leafs’ jerseys, which is odd considering how similar they are, but at least the originals are being rewarded. A long playoff run or two would help.
The Flames hold still from last year as well, moving up in most categories, but dropping in others. It’s another case of treading water while other teams swim by. If they can make the jump past the first round of the playoffs, they would start moving up. Those jerseys are just not helping at all either, but they officially have the best third jerseys in the league now.
The Wild face a big drop this year, leaving the Top 10 based mostly on (a) the additional input from a wider range of designers on the visual brand, and (b) a complete lack of fanbase confidence. After failing to do much in the post-season lately, it’s not too surprising to see this. They still have one of the better logos/jerseys in the league though.
The Oilers jump a spot with the help of a historic third jersey and being a bit richer, but a bad year from Edmonton, and the fans confidence all but evaporated. It’s hard to bet against McDavid, but it’s still the Oilers. We’ll keep them trending sideways until things consistently improve.
The first entry in the Top 10 is making in inaugural inclusion into the list. We did rank their visual brand last year, but now we have the data for the rest of their categories. Their visual brand was just confirmed as being mediocre to bad, but winning the Pacific Division and the Western Conference in your first year will do wonders for your brand. But, it’s also an extremely volatile position when you’re this young of a team. So, unless they can do it all over again this year, there’s a good chance some of those numbers will drop.
The Blues are once again the highest-ranked non-Cup winning team, holding steady at ninth. But their rating score had a relatively large drop, precipitated mostly by fans not showing up at the games. A lost season may do that, but a better season can reverse it pretty quickly. And those third jerseys are fire!
Philly jumps into the Top 10 with stronger visual brand ratings and a renewed confidence by their fans. Their worst performing visual brand element? Those black Stadium Series third jerseys. The quicker they get rid of those, the better. Selling a few more tickets would help too.
And here comes the Original Six, starting with the New York Rangers. In self-proclaimed rebuilding mode (which didn’t hurt the fanbase’s confidence at all), we’ll have them trending downwards in the short term, especially as tickets sales might continue to trail off a bit.
Detroit is in a similar situation to the Rangers of a rebuilding Original Six team (with the fans turning on Ken Holland apparently). The difference? One of the best visual brands in the league with a few more Cups in their case.
One of just two actual “Original” teams in the league, Montreal has finally been dethroned from the Historical On-Ice Performance category by the Golden Knights, but that likely won’t be a long-term thing. If they can ever turn around their recent on-ice performances, it wouldn’t take much to launch them upwards again, which would move them up what is easily their worst category: fanbase confidence. Their visual brand though…iconic, hard to beat.
The Bruins stay put in fourth place, making gains via their fanbase, but losing ground on the merits of not developing their visual brand via a third jersey. So, treading water. But treading water in fourth place is not a bad place to be at all. A couple playoffs runs would definitely help.
Bronze goes to the only non-Original Six team in the top seven spots. The voices of additional designers gave Pittsburgh some more love, but could the slight movement down of their other categories be a prediction of future drops, as the Cup window starts closing ever so slightly?
The Blackhawks stay in 2nd place, but that rating score is an indicator of a big drop…they were far ahead before, but the gap is closing. Missing the playoffs and years of excellence will do that, which will also affect the fanbase (even if it’s not in ticket sales). And they keep their stranglehold on the consensus best jerseys in the league.
Maintaining the top spot for a second year in a row is the Maple Leafs. Like the Blackhawks, their actual rating took a hit, so the gap has narrowed to the rest of the group. With a young core, a steal in Tavares, and a rabid fanbase starting to taste blood, well keep them holding steady in the trending department. And they maintain their spot as the consensus best team logo in the league.