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Volume 21 No. 1
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Survey spots social media trends among fans

Facebook is the social media site avid sports fans generally use most often to follow their favorite teams, according to a survey conducted by Catalyst Public Relations on behalf of SportsBusiness Journal, but when game time rolls around, fans prefer to tweet.

NBA fans flock to YouTube after games.
Twitter’s popularity rises on game days.
More than three-quarters of avid sports fans who use social media to keep up with their favorite teams use Facebook to interact with their favorite clubs, according to the survey results. In the survey, more than 500 avid fans from each of four sports properties — college basketball, college football, MLB and NFL — and more than 300 avid NBA fans were asked about their use of social media (see methodology).

About the survey

From May 25 to June 2, Catalyst Public Relations conducted a national online consumer research survey among a sample of 2,111 adult sports fans who are members of Vision Critical’s Springboard America U.S. panel. The results here represent data from the 1,579 respondents who use social media to follow a college basketball or football, MLB, NBA, or NFL team.

Fans were able to participate in a separate survey for a maximum of two of those sports. Fans were asked “How big a fan are you of the following sports leagues? Please respond using a 1-5 scale, where 1 means you are not a fan and 5 means you are an avid fan of that sport.” Fans who selected a 4 or 5 qualified for the survey. As an additional qualifier, those fans were later asked to indicate how many games they watch or listen to during the course of a typical season. A response of less than 25 percent of games played terminated the survey.

The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for each survey is +/- 4.4 percent.

This is the second year Catalyst has conducted a survey on behalf of SportsBusiness Journal. Last year’s survey was conducted April 17-24 and targeted only MLB and NFL fans. Because of this year’s larger survey scope, and the different timetable, the results cannot be statistically compared.

Catalyst’s sports clients (including brands with a heavy presence in sports) include ESPN, NASCAR, Subway, Vitaminwater, Under Armour, EAS, Timex, Powerade and Callaway Golf.

from the survey

•   NFL fans are least likely to use social media while attending a game.

•   NFL fans are most likely to use television as their primary source of sports information.

•   MLB fans are less likely than fans of the NBA and NFL to use social media on mobile devices.

•   NBA fans have the highest rate of trusting social media as a primary source of sports information.

•   MLB fans who follow their favorite teams via social media are most likely to live in the same market as that club.

•   College football and college basketball fans are more likely to say that they are a bigger fan of their favorite team now than they were prior to following that team via social media.

Facebook was the most popular social media site among the fans in the study for following their teams, with usage rates ranging from 74 percent by college basketball fans to 86 percent for NFL fans. One-third of the fans surveyed use YouTube to keep up with their favorite teams, usually immediately after a game, with college basketball (41 percent) and NBA (35 percent) fans the most likely to use the video-sharing site. Twitter is used by one-quarter of fans, but it is the site most likely to be used before and during an event on game day.

The study shows that social media use increases as game time draws near, and it usually peaks with postgame activity.

About one-third of MLB and NFL fans surveyed, for example, access Facebook or Twitter for team information before the game. NBA fans surveyed visit Facebook about that same rate, but nearly half of them use Twitter before tipoff.

Once the game begins, there is little change in Facebook activity among MLB and college sports fans. The NFL’s Facebook users cut back on usage during the actual game, and NBA fans increase their use.

Twitter users, on the other hand, generate a surge of activity during MLB and NFL games. Roughly half of the college sports fans surveyed use Facebook, Twitter or both before and during the game.

The biggest postgame activity comes from avid NBA fans, with 79 percent of them turning to YouTube. Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, NBA vice president of marketing, said more than 650 million videos have been viewed on YouTube since the league signed a content deal with the site in 2005.

The game-day breakdown of social media use matches trends followed by MLB Advanced Media. “These conversations really mirror conversations you see in the real world,” said Andrew Patterson, new media product manager at MLBAM. “Twitter is more of an information network for fans, so it makes sense that things like stats are discussed before and during the game. Our Facebook fans seem to be more social and like to talk about the game itself more.”

Patterson said Volvo and Sprint have had subtle appearances embedded on MLB’s Facebook page this year.

The study also found that 40 percent of fans report that they are bigger fans of any given sport since they started using social media to follow their favorite team.

Brenner said internal data provided by the NBA confirms that increased fan avidity. According to Brenner, the league has aggregated one of the largest social media communities in the world, with more than 120 million fans or followers across 30 teams and its players.

FACEBOOK MLB NBA NFL College football College basketball
Before game 36.3% 35.5% 38.0% 45.8% 42.5%
During game 37.7% 42.6% 30.4% 46.0% 44.0%
After game 62.4% 57.1% 68.5% 68.9% 61.9%
TWITTER MLB NBA NFL College football College basketball
Before game 39.8% 49.1% 36.4% 53.8% 57.1%
During game 52.1% 51.5% 42.0% 51.5% 51.0%
After game 59.3% 53.3% 62.5% 53.1% 53.1%
YOUTUBE MLB NBA NFL College football College basketball
Before game 16.5% 23.3% 15.9% 23.1% 29.7%
During game 14.9% 14.8% 14.8% 29.6% 18.9%
After game 59.2% 78.8% 56.6% 65.7% 55.4%
FACEBOOK PLACES MLB NBA NFL College football College basketball
Before game 16.9% 25.4% 14.8% 26.5% 33.3%
During game 32.9% 28.9% 8.4% 33.3% 25.0%
After game 31.8% 42.9% 25.8% 47.0% 41.7%
OFFICIAL TEAM MESSAGE BOARDS MLB NBA NFL College football College basketball
Before game 8.2% 8.0% 4.4% 11.6% 12.8%
During game 7.2% 8.4% 3.6% 15.7% 13.9%
After game 17.8% 15.8% 12.2% 22.4% 22.8%
SITE MLB NBA NFL College football College basketball
Facebook 83% 77% 86% 79% 74%
YouTube 22% 35% 17% 33% 41%
Twitter 21% 27% 17% 25% 27%
Facebook Places 16% 21% 15% 26% 33%


Source: Catalyst Public Relations survey

“Fifty percent of our enrolled Facebook fans interact with our page in any given 30-day period,” Brenner said. “And Facebook is No. 2 only to Google in terms of referrals to”

Although the NHL was not part of the survey, data provided to SportsBusiness Journal by the league shows that its fans that follow a team through Facebook, Twitter or both spend up to 51 percent longer on each referred visit to, watch three times as many videos, and are more likely to visit the NHL online store than fans who come straight to

“The transactional behavior of these fans overindexes in every way, by a wide margin,” said Mike DiLorenzo, NHL senior director of social media. “And in the partner marketplace, there is robust interest in leveraging our social media interest.”

Forty-three percent of the survey respondents claimed that the ads and promotions they see on social media are more relevant to them than the ads they see on TV or hear on the radio.

MySpace, Flickr, Foursquare and Scavenger were also included in the survey, but overall, use of these sites was not high enough to register statistically reliable results.

Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of corporate communications, said in an email that the study validates the league’s internal data.

“More consumption and conversation centered around content leads to fans staying longer on our websites, buying more merchandise and viewing more games,” he said.