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The Bias Survey: Scientific proof that we're all gigantic homers

Was probably a fair call.
Was probably a fair call.

You may remember that back in May we linked a survey designed to get a deeper look at the perceived opinions of NHL discipline, both on-ice and off-ice. Put another way, we wanted to learn more about NHL fans' biases and what they perceive the NHL's biases to be.

While the results certainly have selection bias -- nearly half of all respondents were Flyers fans, most respondents were readers of SB Nation blogs, etc. -- and thus should be viewed with some skepticism, the findings are still telling.

NHL fans are huge homers.

Almost nobody thinks the league gives their team preferential treatment, but almost everybody thinks the league gives other teams preferential treatment. Similarly, fans are roughly ten times more likely to say the NHL hates their favorite team than other fans around the league are.

However, among the minority who think the NHL is biased against a team other than their favorite, it is nearly universal that team is the Flyers.

While this provides league-wide support to those who feel there is a bias against the Flyers, the support is provided primarily by those who believe in an NHL bias against their own team.


Out of the 676 respondents, nearly half - 303 - were Flyers fans. The rest of the sample was predominantly Detroit fans (120), followed by Boston (58), Toronto (35) and Anaheim (34) fans.

Over 83 percent of them say the NHL gives at least one team preferential treatment, but only six percent think the NHL favors their favorite team.

When asked if the NHL is biased against at least one team, more than half -- 51.3 percent -- answered in the affirmative, and nearly 87 percent of those -- 44.5 percent of all fans -- cited their favorite team as a victim of the NHL's bias.

Put simply, you are extremely likely to think the NHL plays favorites and not in your favor, while half of you think the NHL is biased, and not in your favor.

NHL's Favorites

As mentioned above, over 83 percent of fans say the NHL gives at least one team preferential treatment. Of those 83 percent, the runaway winner was the Penguins with over 85 percent listing them as a favorite of the NHL.

Team Think NHL Favors Them
Penguins 85.40%
Red Wings 33.50%
Bruins 31.30%
Canadiens 25.10%
Canucks 22.20%
Rangers 19.60%
Blackhawks 17.30%

However, because our respondents were disproportionately Flyers fans, we noticed a trend: You were more likely to say your favorite team's rival benefits from NHL favoritism than league-wide fans were. Just another example of homer bias, throughout the league.

Team Rival Fans That See Favoritism Towards League Fans That See Favoritism Towards
Penguins 95.00% 77.00%
Blackhawks 25.50% 15.40%
Canadiens 56.30% 22.20%
Canucks 48.30% 14.90%

Flyers, Red Wings, and Bruins fans are much more likely to claim their rivals receive preferential treatment from the NHL than other fans. In fact, Bruins fans were much more likely to claim a league bias for Montreal and Vancouver than the rest of the respondents.

This trend was not universal, however. Those who believe the Red Wings and Bruins are favored by the NHL did not have a clear rival driving that perception in the same way the Penguins, Blackhawks, Canadiens and Canucks did.

While the perception that the Penguins receive preferential treatment is still extremely common in our sample, it is clear that Flyers fans are more inclined to believe their rival is preferred than most NHL fans. Detroit fans also contributed to this perception - another problem with our small sample -- as 94.3 percent of Red Wings fans believe the Penguins are favored by the league.

Removing these two fanbases - with clear rivalries with the Penguins -- leaves a still-large 64.9 percent of fans who think the NHL has a favorite listing the Penguins.

Alternatively, only 5.9 percent of respondents think the NHL favors their favorite team. Among those who agree that the NHL has favorites, only 7.1 percent think their team benefits from this.

Almost every fan believes the NHL has a favorite and almost nobody believes their favorite team is it. Instead, they believe the NHL favors their rival much more than the rest of the league does.

NHL Bias

While almost every NHL fan thinks the league looks favorably upon at least one franchise, a little over half of our respondents believe the NHL is biased against at least one team. Among those who think the NHL is biased against a team, nearly 87 percent say that their favorite team is the victim of that bias. In fact, nearly 40 percent go so far as to say their favorite team is the only team to suffer the NHL's bias.

Team Fans See NHL Bias Against Non-Fans See NHL Bias Against
Lightning 64.30% 2.00%
Flyers 61.40% 15.50%
Canucks 50.00% 3.30%
Bruins 48.30% 2.60%
Red Wings 45.80% 1.40%
Ducks 41.20% 3.10%
Coyotes 35.30% 4.90%
Maple Leafs 22.90% 2.20%

There are numerous small sample size issues here -- three of the top five teams above have fewer than 35 respondents -- but we see every fan base has a sizeable minority that feels as though the NHL is biased against them.

The rest of the league, however, provides a check against fan biases. Only 15.5 percent of non-Flyers fans think the NHL is biased against the Flyers, or less than one-third as many Flyers fans who think so. And yet, that is still far and away more than any other team mentioned as disfavored by the NHL.

It is particularly enjoyable to see large discrepancies in how fans see their own favorite team and how opposing fans see bias toward that team. For example, 46 percent of Red Wings fans think the NHL disfavors them while 34 percent of NHL fans think the NHL offers favorable treatment. Additionally, 48 percent of Bruins fans think the NHL disfavors them, yet 31 percent of NHL fans think the league favors them.

Put another way: large minorities -- sometimes even majorities -- of fans believe the NHL is biased against their favorite team despite almost nobody else throughout the rest of the league agreeing with them. For Flyers fans, they can take comfort that not everybody thinks they are crazy, just 84.5 percent of hockey fans.

Star Bias

Over 83 percent of respondents, when asked how often the NHL "favors stars", believe the NHL at least usually favors stars. This is not a surprise.

Favors stars 49.60%
Usually favors stars 33.60%
Sometimes favors stars 15.70%
Does not or rarely favors stars 1.20%

Elimination of the Instigator Penalty

Almost 60 percent of respondents want to see the instigator penalty eliminated, 52 percent of whom feel the NHL is biased against their favorite team.

Worst Decision of the Year

Because of the open nature of naming the worst decision of the year, we decided to leave the field blank. This led to some very interesting answers (including "Sorry, don't follow it closely enough to answer", "Consistency" repeated ten times, and "Giroux's constant dangerous play ignored in the Pens/Flyers playoff series.") including ones with multiple nominations. As a result, the figures below will represent number of mentions, not just the first-named incident.

Fans quite clearly felt that the NHL's failure to suspend Shea Weber for slamming Henrik Zetterberg's face off the glass was the worst supplementary decision of the season, with 51 percent naming that incident. The next most named decision was James Neal's suspension/non-suspension, with 16 percent. That number, however, is heavily skewed by Flyers fans, as less than five percent of non-Flyers fans mentioned Neal.

Because the results so heavily skewed by fan allegiance -- except for the Weber decision -- we will present the results in Flyers fans and non-Flyers fans:

Decision Flyers Fans Non-Flyers Fans
Shea Weber 52.10% 50.40%
James Neal 30.20% 4.90%
Claude Giroux 26.00% 4.90%
Evgeni Malkin 14.00% 2.20%
Raffi Torres 5.10% 13.10%
Brendan Shanahan 4.60% 5.90%
Milan Lucic 1.30% 4.30%
Duncan Keith 0.00% 3.00%

It is rather obvious that NHL fans view the worst suspension decisions with a heavy slant on offenses against their favorite teams -- 84.8 percent of Red Wing fans mentioned the Weber-on-Zetterberg decision; 75 percent of Coyote fans mentioned the Torres suspension; 36.4 percent of Canuck fans mentioned Keith-on-Sedin; 30.2 percent of Flyers fans mentioned Neal's suspension/non-suspension and 26.0 percent mentioned Giroux's suspension.

When supplementary discipline is handed down against your favorite team, or when an act you deem worthy of supplementary discipline is committed against your favorite team and goes unpunished, that incident means significantly more to you than it does to fans of the league as a whole.

Maybe Keith on Sedin is as offensive as James Neal's two hits on the Flyers, but it certainly appears that Canucks and Flyers fans will bitterly disagree. Naturally, fans care more about incidents involving their favorite team.


In an effort to see if there was any correlation between age, politics or religion, we did notice some interesting -- if inconclusive -- trends.

As respondents move right on the political spectrum, they also become more likely to believe the NHL is biased against their team. It appears to be a modest factor:

Self Identified As ... NHL Biased Against Favorite Team NHL Favors Favorite Team
Liberal 41.40% 7.80%
Moderate 53.70% 5.80%
Conservative 56.50% 2.40%
No Response 57.10% 7.10%

Age also appears to be a modest factor, though the age classifications quite likely were not split up in a way that shows exactly where the dividing line is:

Age NHL Biased Against Favorite Team
18-25 49.50%
25-34 44.20%
35-50 55.90%
Over 50 54.30%

It does appear that those over age 35 are much more likely to think the NHL is biased against their favorite team.

Attend Religious Services ... NHL Biased Against Favorite Team
Rarely/Never 47.30%
Once per Month/Few per year 62.30%
Once per week or more 46.60%

With such even results, it does not appear that frequency of attendance at religious services impacts views.


Fans views of the NHL are consistently seen through the eyes of their favorite team. Over four out of five say the NHL plays favorites, and almost all of them agree their favorite team does not benefit. Instead, roughly twice as many view their rivals as receiving favorable treatment by the NHL than non-rivals do.

Over half of fans say the NHL has a bias against at least one team, and almost all of them agree that their favorite team is the victim of that bias. Barely anybody else, however, agrees that the NHL is biased against your favorite team; only your fellow fans.

Fans are also multiple times more likely to name an incident harming their favorite team as the worst supplementary discipline decision of the year than those fans whose teams were not involved.

Largely, all of this information is intuitive: Fans are passionate about their teams. They care about what happens to their teams, not what happens to the Coyotes or Sabres or Canucks or Flyers.

Almost everyone is a homer.

*Updated 8/4

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