SBJ/July 17-23, 2017/Research and Ratings

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  • NBA, Real Madrid tops in social engagement

    When it comes to social media, the NBA’s got game.

    An Instagram post showing Steph Curry celebrating his championship with family draws more than 738,000 likes on Instagram. A video on Facebook with a dunk performance gets more than 100 million views. Another video on Facebook featuring Michael Jordan’s postseason highlights gets 23 million views.

    Such results are why the NBA is ranked first among leagues globally in a new study exclusive to SportsBusiness Journal that examined social media engagement in sports.

    California-based analytics and valuation company Hookit looked at the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts of 1,255 leagues, teams and federations across the globe over the past year and ranked them based on a composite score that took into account factors such as views, shares, likes and number of followers. Real Madrid took top honors among teams globally (see charts) and had the highest overall score among all properties.

    A video of Michael Jordan's playoff highlights was one of the many buzzworthy posts by the NBA.
    Image: FACEBOOK

    The study showed the NBA having a total global following of more than 82 million followers across its official league social media extensions. It added 14.7 million social media followers in the 12 months that Hookit study measured, which was a 21 percent year-over-year increase. Popular destinations on each of the established American social media platforms have been supplemented by global efforts on China’s Sina Weibo and Tencent, among others.

    The NBA has long been seen as an industry thought leader with regard to social media, as it has frequently been a first-mover on many social platforms and the league won the inaugural award for Best in Sports Social Media at last year’s Sports Business Awards. When also including NBA team and player feeds, the league’s social media reach actually surpasses 1.2 billion fans and followers.

    But the league doesn’t really have a separate social media operation. It devotes about a dozen staffers to manage activities on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But rather than siloing those social media operations, they are intertwined with the rest of the NBA’s digital media functions, which in turn are closely aligned with sales, marketing and other core NBA departments.

    “These units are all now working in lockstep with the same basic goal of serving the right content to the right platform at the right time,” said Melissa Brenner, NBA senior vice president of digital media. “There’s a much clearer focus now to what we’re doing on social, and nothing is really done in isolation.”

    First Look podcast, with social media discussion beginning at the 11:30 mark:

    Of course, the NBA has enjoyed some key advantages since the earliest days of social media: an active and engaged player base, a small playing surface easily allowing for close-in video views, and a decidedly liberal and global mindset from former Commissioner David Stern continuing to successor Adam Silver to prioritize social media, innovate, and take risks.

    Smaller and less established sports properties, too, have adopted similar strategies with regard to social media. The World Surf League, which had the most-watched video post (surfing dolphins) last year of any property and overall engagement levels surprisingly surpassing the English Premier League, generates more than 800 hours of live content per year.

    Without the benefit of a traditional TV deal, the property has aggressively pursued efforts such as live streaming competitions on Facebook, developing drone-based content for Snapchat, and even crowdsourcing the development of a surfboard over social media.

    “We have had to be a digital-first sport from day one,” said Tim Greenberg, World Surf League chief community officer. Greenberg’s role last year shifted from senior vice president of digital to his current following the creation of a community department focused on real-time marketing, with social media the fundamental piece of that. A team of three dedicated to the World Surf League’s social media operations is only a quarter of the size of the NBA’s.

    “A lot of this, obviously, is the nature of our sport and that we don’t necessarily know day-to-day whether we’re going to be able to run, if conditions are favorable, and what our start times are going to be. So it’s always a challenge to manage tune-in. But our core audience is living on these social platforms,” he said.

    The World Surf League enjoys a fan base with an average age of 32, far younger than most other established properties. Greenberg acknowledges there is an accessibility to the surfing content that others can’t necessarily claim.

    “You don’t need to really know surfing to appreciate our content,” he said. “There’s a fundamental connection with the ocean that people have, and we definitely lean into that.”

    Real Madrid, the world’s most-followed team on social media and the top-ranked team in the Hookit research, bluntly believes the club is in fact a content creation factory.

    “We’re a football club; we dedicate our activity to football, but in reality what we are is a content company,” Rafael de los Santos, Real Madrid’s global head of digital, told Digiday. “The big challenge for us is to become content producers.”

    Technology has helped properties take their content around the world, increasing appeal and influence. The NBA began to work with Israel-based WSC Sports in 2015 to develop auto-generated video content that allows the league to create customized, country-specific player content more efficiently than devoting staff time to the effort.

    “Content for players like LeBron [James] and Steph [Curry] are going to be popular anywhere. But in a place like Australia, content about Australian players is typically going to be just as popular, if not more so, and the same goes for many of our other territories,” Brenner said.

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  • Social study: How leagues, teams stack up

  • How the research was conducted, surprises you may find

    Hookit launched its data and measurement platform in 2013, and continuously tracks the posts, content and engagement of more than 500,000 entities. For this study, Hookit analyzed the more than 6.7 million social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that were made by 1,255 leagues, federations and teams from June 16, 2016, to June 15, 2017, and the 60.5 billion interactions and video views that resulted.


    No. of teams: 1,000 (No. 1: Real Madrid)
    No. of leagues/associations/federations/confederations: 255 (No. 1: NBA)
    Total posts: 6.7 million (No. 1: Ecuador men’s national soccer team)
    Total interactions and video views: 60.5 billion (No. 1: NBA)
     Total comments: 219.3 million (No. 1: NFL)
    Total shares: 604.5 million (No. 1: NBA)
    Total followers: 3.1 billion (No. 1: Real Madrid)

    A first-of-its-kind composite score was then created that took into account a number of factors, such as how often fans viewed those posts, how often they shared them, average number of likes, the number of new followers that each property gained and many more.

    The NBA had the highest score of the 225 leagues measured, leading the way in several key categories. For example, the study-topping 7.7 billion views and interactions that its posts generated were 1.5 million more than the combined similar efforts of the NFL, MLB, NHL, UFC, PGA Tour, MLS, NASCAR and WNBA.

    However, simply posting a lot of content did not guarantee the NBA a No. 1 ranking among leagues. Many other factors went into the calculations.

    For example, the English Premier League (which finished No. 2 in the league ranking) has 66.9 million followers, more than every property measured except the NBA, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United. The EPL did not top any category measured but was consistently among the top-seven properties no matter how Hookit sliced the data. Similarly, La Liga (No. 8) averaged more likes per each Facebook post than the NBA.

    At the team level, Real Madrid finished on top, with Barcelona No. 2. In terms of social media followers, the two clubs were evenly matched across the three platforms (177.9 million overall for Real Madrid, 174.3 million for FC Barcelona). But Real Madrid’s 8,257 posts averaged 118,688 interactions. Barcelona’s 15,017 posts averaged less than one-third of that.

    Domestically, the team rankings mirrored the recent NBA Finals, with the Golden State Warriors topping the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors (who finished No. 5 overall in the team study) averaged 3.8 million Twitter followers during the study, compared to Barcelona’s 21.5 million. However, the reigning NBA champion’s tweets averaged nearly 2,112 likes, 30 percent more than those made by the Spanish club.

    You’ll see smaller properties ranked higher than you might expect. The World Surf League, for example, enjoyed 1.4 billion Facebook interactions and video views, two and a half times more than the EPL, despite having just one-sixth of the followers that the EPL boasts. Plus, a WSF video shot near the organization’s annual Western Australia event was the world’s most-watched video over the past year, drawing more than 121.3 million views.

    Likewise, USA Gymnastics may seem out of place until you look at how well it does on each platform in interactions per post. For example, the NGB averaged 5,460 interactions per post, more than triple what the PGA Tour received.

    The measurements are based on activity from each organization’s English-language accounts only. If a team or league has multiple accounts for various languages, only the English handle was used.

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  • Hockey’s partners put up historic stats

    NHL sponsors scored a hat trick in the league’s 11th annual Sponsor Loyalty study, fielded recently for SportsBusiness Journal by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.

    Goal No. 1: For the second year in a row, NHL fans knew who the league’s official partners were in all 10 of the categories measured.

    Goal No. 2: The official partner in each category enjoyed its highest overall recognition level in the history of the league’s survey.

    And goal No. 3: 47 percent of the 400 fans surveyed correctly identified Gatorade as the league’s official sports drink, the highest recognition rate any NHL partner has ever received.

    Gatorade’s recognition rate as a sponsor, 47 percent, was the best ever for an NHL partner.

    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

    Gatorade has been a league sponsor since 2006, and the surge in its recognition level coincided with a season that saw the brand increase its advertising presence during hockey telecasts. Gatorade spent $4 million advertising during NHL telecasts last season, according to data from, up 150 percent compared with the 2015-16 season. Its activation included a spot called “Patrick Kane’s Smooth Finish” featuring the Chicago Blackhawks star, which debuted in April and ran 2,451 times during the playoffs.

    The PepsiCo brand also continued to benefit from its 13-year relationship with Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, whom Gatorade signed when he was 16 years old. Crosby gave the brand significant exposure when he participated in the All-Star Game’s ancillary festivities for the first time since 2007, including the Gatorade NHL Skills Challenge Relay. He also helped guide the Penguins to their second straight Stanley Cup championship.
    Gatorade replaced Bridgestone as the league’s most recognized brand.

    The isotonic wasn’t the only brand under the PepsiCo umbrella to fare well in the study: 40 percent of fans also knew Pepsi was the league’s official soda. That rate is nearly double what it was following the 2006-07 season, which not only was Pepsi’s first season as a league sponsor but also when we fielded our first Sponsor Loyalty study.

    Since then, Pepsi’s hockey deal has become as recognized as its NFL partnership, which dates to 2002 (see chart).
    Like Gatorade, Honda saw a big jump in awareness levels during a season when the brand significantly increased its ad spending.

    Thirty-one percent of fans knew that Honda is the league’s exclusive automotive sponsor. That recognition level is double what the carmaker received in the survey fielded after the 2008-09 regular season, Honda’s first as a sponsor.

    Honda has seen a big jump in awareness levels since increasing its ad spending.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

    Last season, Honda spent $27.3 million to advertise during NHL programming, 60 percent more than it spent during the 2015-16 season. Hockey represented 10 percent of the brand’s total TV ad spend last season, versus 7.5 percent during the same eight-month span a year earlier. The company title-sponsored the All-Star Game for the third year in a row and presented a 2017 Ridgeline truck to Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, the game’s MVP. In conjunction with the game, Honda also put its name on the Honda Four Line Challenge, a new Skills Competition event.

    Additionally, the Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Ducks, hosted nine nationally televised playoff games, compared with just four postseason games in 2016.

    Keeping Its Fizz

    Pepsi's deal with the NHL has become one of the soda maker's most recognized partnerships

    League (partner since) 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
    MLB (1997-2016) 29.1% 25.7% 28.7% 28.0% 37.5% 39.8% 31.7% 27.8% 32.5% 43.5%
    NFL (since 2002) 28.4% 34.8% 26.7% 31.1% 37.5% 34.5% 34.6% 36.9% 33.5% 38.8% 39.1%
    NHL (since 2006) 20.5% 20.8% 21.7% 18.9% 25.8% 23.7% 22.2% 24.8% 18.5% 24.0% 39.5%

    Note: Surveys are conducted during each property's postseason. Therefore, the 2017 MLB Sponsor Loyalty survey will be fielded in October. Pepsi ended its MLB deal after the 2016 season.

    For this project, Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, through its Turnkey Intelligence operation, conducted national consumer research surveys among a sample of 400 members of the Toluna online panel who were at least 18 years old.

    The 2017 survey was conducted May 18-23, a period that coincided with the NHL conference finals. The 2015 and 2016 surveys were fielded during similar points in those postseasons.

    Respondents were analyzed based on their avidity levels. “Avid” fans are those who responded “4” or “5” to the question “How big a fan are you of the NHL?” and claimed to “look up news, scores and standings several times a week or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 10 games per season” and “have a favorite team.” Fans categorized as “casual” responded “3” to the same initial question, then claimed to “look up news, scores and standings several times a month or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 3 games per season” and “have a favorite team.”

    When asked to identify official sponsors, respondents selected from a field of brands that was provided to them for each business sector. Only the top-scoring companies and brands are listed in the results published here. The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for the surveys is +/- 4 percent.

    Turnkey Intelligence performs research for more than 70 North American major league teams, league offices and brands. More than one-third of the NHL’s teams are among Turnkey’s clients.

    What Brands Do NHL Fans Consider Buying?

    To Read: 72 percent of NHL fans said they would be more likely to consider buying the NHL's official beer sponsor if they knew which brand had that designation. The rate decreased to 26 percent when considering only those NHL fans who did not know that Coors Light holds that partnership distinction as one of the brands of NHL sponsor Molson Coors Brewing Co.

    Beer (Coors Light*) 72% 26% +46 pct. points
    Tire (Bridgestone) 80% 41% +39 pct. points
    Rental car (Enterprise) 76% 40% +36 pct. points
    Credit card (Discover**) 55% 23% +32 pct. points
    Sports/energy drink (Gatorade) 86% 56% +30 pct. points
    Quick-service restaurant (McDonald's) 86% 56% +30 pct. points
    Automotive (Honda) 63% 33% +30 pct. points
    Soft drink (Pepsi) 78% 49% +29 pct. points
    Insurance (Geico) 67% 38% +29 pct. points
    Hotel (Westin^) 40% 21% +19 pct. points

    What Brands Do Fans Think Are NHL Sponsors?

    To read: 55 percent of NHL fans said they think Gatorade should be an NHL sponsor, compared with 20 percent who think Powerade should have an NHL deal. Those numbers became 66 percent and 18 percent, respectively, when considering only those NHL fans who correctly knew that Gatorade is the NHL's official sponsor in the isotonic beverage category.

    Gatorade/Powerade 55% / 20%  +35 pct. points 66% / 18% +46 pct. points
    McDonald's/Wendy's 63% / 33% +30 pct. points 78% / 31% +39 pct. points
    Geico/Allstate 42% / 26%  +16 pct. points 60% / 26% +36 pct. points
    Bridgestone/Michelin 38% / 36%  +2 pct. points 58% / 27% +32 pct. points
    Enterprise/Hertz 29% / 22%  +7 pct. points 46% / 17% +30 pct. points
    Honda/Ford 38% / 42% -4 pct. points 55% / 35% +30 pct. points
    Westin^/Wyndham 13% / 11%  +2 pct. points 40% / 20% +30 pct. points
    Discover/Visa** 25% / 62% -37 pct. points 40% / 55% +29 pct. points
    Coors*/Bud Light 26% / 33% -7 pct. points 53% / 40% +29 pct. points
    Pepsi/Coca-Cola 51% / 66% -15 pct. points 66% / 65% +19 pct. points

    Notes: Fans could select both the official sponsor and the competitor if they chose to do so. The one specific competing company listed was selected by Turnkey for consideration in the survey file.
    * As part of the NHL's Molson Coors partnership, Coors Light and Molson Canadian are both considered official beers of the NHL in North America, but Molson was not part of this survey.
    ** Discover holds the category rights in the United States; Visa holds the rights in Canada.
    ^ Westin is one of the brands of NHL partner Starwood Hotels & Resorts.


    Impact on Sampling and Support

    Are you more or less likely to consider trying a product/service if that product/service is an official sponsor of the NHL?

      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    More likely 66.8% 47.7% 51.5% 65.7% 39.8% 34.0%
    Unaffected or less likely 33.2% 52.2% 48.5% 34.3% 60.2% 66.0%

    Are you more or less likely to consciously support a company by purchasing its products/services if the company is an official sponsor of the NHL?

      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    More likely 69.3% 48.7% 54.0% 64.7% 35.8% 35.0%
    Unaffected or less likely 30.6% 51.2% 46.0% 35.3% 64.2% 65.0%

    Are you more or less likely to recommend a product/service to a friend or family member if that product/service is an official sponsor of the NHL?

      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    More likely 69.8% 44.2% 54.5% 62.6% 29.8% 34.0%
    Unaffected or less likely 30.1% 55.8% 45.5% 37.3% 70.2% 66.0%

    Which of the following is an official sponsor of the NHL?

      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    Gatorade* 41.2% 28.6% 30.0% 52.2% 22.9% 18.5%
    Red Bull 17.1% 11.1% 8.5% 10.0% 10.9% 11.5%
    Powerade 5.0% 11.1% 9.0% 7.5% 8.0% 4.0%
    Monster 6.0% 2.0% 4.5% 2.5% 7.0% 8.0%
    Amp Energy* 4.5% 3.0% 5.0% 1.5% 2.5% 4.0%
    I'm not sure 24.6% 41.2% 36.5% 24.9% 46.8% 49.0%
      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    Pepsi* 38.7% 28.1% 19.5% 40.3% 19.9% 17.5%
    Coca-Cola 27.1% 17.6% 19.5% 22.4% 15.4% 19.5%
    Mountain Dew 4.0% 3.0% 4.5% 3.5% 6.5% 3.5%
    Dr Pepper 1.0% 3.5% 3.5% 3.0% 3.0% 4.0%
    I'm not sure 25.6% 42.7% 38.0% 25.9% 50.7% 46.5%
      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    Bridgestone* 36.2% 34.2% 28.5% 34.8% 22.9% 18.0%
    Goodyear 15.6% 8.0% 11.5% 14.9% 9.0% 12.5%
    Firestone 11.6% 7.0% 11.5% 11.4% 7.0% 6.0%
    Michelin 9.0% 3.0% 6.0% 6.5% 7.5% 8.0%
    I'm not sure 22.6% 42.2% 37.5% 27.9% 49.3% 48.5%
      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    Geico* 32.7% 33.2% 28.5% 32.8% 19.9% 22.0%
    Allstate 10.6% 4.5% 6.0% 7.5% 7.5% 6.5%
    Progressive 9.0% 6.0% 9.5% 4.5% 6.0% 5.5%
    State Farm 8.0% 5.5% 7.0% 5.0% 5.5% 6.5%
    Liberty Mutual 7.5% 2.5% 4.5% 5.5% 1.5% 4.0%
    I'm not sure 26.1% 42.2% 36.0% 38.8% 56.7% 51.0%
      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    Visa* 32.2% 19.6% 26.0% 32.3% 17.9% 18.0%
    Discover* 18.6% 19.6% 14.5% 13.9% 10.9% 11.0%
    MasterCard 16.6% 12.1% 11.5% 15.4% 10.0% 12.0%
    American Express 12.6% 8.0% 10.5% 10.0% 7.5% 11.0%
    I'm not sure 18.1% 39.2% 33.0% 26.9% 50.2% 46.0%
      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    McDonald's* 28.6% 32.2% 28.5% 32.8% 20.9% 19.5%
    Subway 10.6% 8.0% 8.5% 9.0% 7.5% 12.0%
    Burger King 10.1% 3.0% 3.5% 7.5% 4.0% 5.0%
    Taco Bell 6.5% 3.5% 4.5% 4.0% 2.0% 5.0%
    KFC 4.5% 3.5% 5.0% 4.0% 2.5% 3.5%
    I'm not sure 31.7% 43.2% 40.5% 38.3% 54.7% 50.0%
      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    Honda* 27.6% 23.1% 22.0% 33.8% 12.9% 14.0%
    Toyota 14.6% 10.6% 8.0% 12.9% 9.0% 9.5%
    Ford 13.6% 5.5% 13.5% 7.5% 6.0% 8.0%
    Chevrolet 9.5% 9.5% 10.0% 9.0% 10.0% 8.0%
    I'm not sure 21.1% 39.2% 36.0% 24.4% 53.2% 50.5%
      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    Enterprise* 31.7% NA NA 28.9% NA NA
    Hertz 14.1% NA NA 12.9% NA NA
    National 11.6% NA NA 7.0% NA NA
    Budget 6.0% NA NA 3.5% NA NA
    I'm not sure 27.1% NA NA 39.3% NA NA
      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    Coors Light* 21.6% 20.6% 27.0% 20.9% 19.4% 12.5%
    Bud Light 20.6% 20.6% 15.5% 19.4% 15.9% 17.0%
    Corona 10.1% 3.0% 6.5% 7.0% 1.5% 4.0%
    Miller Lite 8.5% 5.5% 6.5% 8.5% 5.5% 5.0%
    Labatt 8.0% 6.5% 6.5% 7.0% 5.0% 6.0%
    I'm not sure 20.6% 34.7% 31.0% 27.9% 45.3% 46.0%
      Avid Casual
      2017 2016 2015 2017 2016 2015
    Sheraton* 12.1% 10.1% 14.5% 19.9% 5.5% 10.0%
    Hilton 18.6% 9.0% 3.0% 12.4% 5.5% 5.0%
    Marriott 15.1% 8.0% 9.5% 12.4% 8.0% 7.5%
    Holiday Inn 4.0% 3.0% 9.0% 7.0% 6.5% 7.0%
    Best Western 4.5% 2.0% 4.0% 4.0% 3.0% 8.0%
    I'm not sure 35.2% 62.8% 49.0% 41.3% 66.2% 54.5%

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