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European teams lead social media boom
Published April 25, 2011, Page 1
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|Top teams worldwide for social media
(combined Twitter and Facebook totals)
|4||Los Angeles Lakers||9,577,996|
Despite the continuing meteoric growth of sports on social media outlets, particularly Facebook and Twitter, most North American sports properties remain well behind top European and Asian soccer clubs in terms of global followers.
Of the 20 individual sports teams in terms of largest combined Facebook and Twitter audiences, nine of them, including the top three and seven of the top eight, are soccer teams from England, Spain or Turkey.
“If there’s anything to be learned from what’s happening abroad, it’s that these [soccer] teams are global brands,” said Bryan Perez, NBA Digital senior vice president and general manager. NBA Digital, a partnership between the league and Turner Sports, collaborates with NBA executives, notably marketing vice president Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, on the property’s social media efforts.
“They have truly vibrant global followings, exactly the kind of thing we’re trying to build here, and social media, of course, is going to be a key tool in that,” Perez said.
Fenway Sports Group, owner of Liverpool FC, which sports a Facebook following of more than 5.2 million, said marketing and commercial elements are not necessarily as overt on social media with many European soccer clubs.
“A lot of what’s happening there is content-based, a lot of unique content, and the players are really involved,” said Billy Hogan, managing director for FSG’s Fenway Sports Management and a key liaison to Liverpool FC and the club’s head of technology, Andrew Robinson.
“They’ve taken extra pains to make sure the social media is primarily about engaging fans, as opposed to it being more marketing related. In fact, they don’t market as much as they maybe could. But they’ve really grasped that it’s one thing … to have someone sign up and follow, but yet another to keep them engaged.”
Back in the U.S., another set of emerging dynamics is at play. The NBA, as it has for some time, holds the largest following of the major leagues with more than 37.8 million total fans and followers when combining the Twitter and Facebook audiences for the central league feed and those of the 30 individual teams.
But numbers and rankings are changing almost by the day. Major League Baseball’s total Facebook and Twitter audience of more than 20.6 million has more than doubled in size just since the end of the 2010 World Series, and projects to be north of 30 million by this fall. The more even balance among team-level followings in MLB and the NFL show a more localized social media fan development strategy than the more league-centric strategies shown by the NBA and others.
“We have an overarching strategy that we want Facebook users to become baseball fans, and not necessarily the other way around,” said Bob Bowman, MLB Advanced Media president and chief executive. “And beyond sheer numbers, we want to grow our [social media] users in two dimensions, both qualitatively and quantitatively, and be truly engaged.”
Clubs’ social media followings are getting large enough that they are dictating long-term, high-level strategic thought on the same level given to traditional broadband and TV programming efforts.
“You’re going to see every league realize that … these are sort of parallel cable networks,” said Michael Lazerow, chief executive of Buddy Media, which has counseled many teams and leagues and built tools for their social media endeavors. “That means you have to program against them with content in a concerted, dedicated way. We definitely continue to move into uncharted waters here.”
Still, debate within the industry percolates as to what social media audience sizes really mean beyond bragging rights.
“Whatever you do in social media ideally has to be tied to some kind of measurable business objective,” said Pat Coyle, president of Coyle Media, which also counsels sports properties and has created SportsFanGraph.com, a real-time ranking of social media followers for teams and leagues. “Whether it’s selling tickets, building an audience for sponsorship or whatever, there needs to be a stronger, direct link.”
|10||Chicago White Sox||18,409||583,393||601,802|
|4||Los Angeles Lakers||1,944,384||7,633,612||9,577,996|
|10||New York Yankees||352,191||3,548,692||3,900,883|
|14||Boston Red Sox||64,582||2,292,832||2,357,414|
|18||New England Patriots||87,209||1,935,500||2,022,709|
|20||Green Bay Packers||71,436||1,500,069||1,571,505|
|Leagues and Properties|
|ATP World Tour||62,859||383,151||446,010|
|Indy Racing League||19,966||37,874||57,840|
About the research
The charts presented here show the number of Twitter “followers” and Facebook “likes” for team and league sites as of April 19. The teams are ranked by their combined number of fans across the two sites.
The sites tracked were those sites identified as “official sites” by the leagues and teams. Many teams do have multiple sites — official and unofficial — used to reach fans, including sites created by front-office personnel.
Player sites also provide points of access, but for this listing, only “official sites” were monitored.
Numbers listed reflect what was reported on each individual site. For the league/property and worldwide teams charts, teams were identified for listing by the rankings available from SportsFanGraph.com, and the individual sites’ updated numbers were then taken directly from the listed sites.