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Volume 23 No. 13
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Playoff teams drive value, affinity on social

It’s long been said in sports that there’s no promotion like winning. While that may be true, improved fan avidity, increased ticket sales, effective sponsor activations and partner retention are just some of the key performance indicators that teams can analyze to more fully understand how they performed over the course of a season.

The average NFL team has more than 6 million followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. With a significant portion of a franchise’s fan base likely following the team on social media, observing follower behavior and interest provides deep and meaningful insights that can drive strategy and help measure success. Using data from Zoomph, a company specializing in social audience intelligence and sponsorship measurement, teams can discover how much value they generated for their partners and how likely a fan base is to show affinity toward each team’s partners.

The Patriots led all playoff teams in value generated for their partners with more than $12 million earned from September to December. Despite posting less frequently than some teams, the Patriots drove partner value by including sponsors in posts related to game day. For instance, scoring updates (Bose), inactive reports (Massachusetts General Hospital), pregame (Dunkin’), expert predictions (Microsoft Surface), and other content all were presented by Patriots partners. Tying sponsors to content that fans craved, combined with the Patriots’ large follower base, generated substantial value. Lower values tallied by the Vikings, Packers and Titans were driven by less frequent postings, fewer sponsored activations and limited follower engagement.

Every social media user creates a unique footprint through the accounts they interact with and follow. By observing these accounts, each team’s footprint can be compared to the rest of the league to see where followers over-index. Franchises are able to gauge how strong of a connection exists between their followers and sponsors.  

Ravens followers display the strongest affinity toward a team’s stadium naming-rights partner (M&T Bank) compared with this year’s other nine playoff teams with stadium naming-rights partners. The strong affinity between Ravens followers and M&T Bank can be attributed to a combination of the length of the partnership (16 years) and the location of the bank. With M&T Bank exclusively operating along the East Coast, it is less likely that followers of other teams, especially those located in other parts of the country, follow and engage with M&T Bank on social media.   

Conversely, naming-rights partners with a national reach such as Mercedes-Benz (Saints), Gillette (Patriots), Nissan (Titans), and Levi’s (49ers) have relatively lower affinity levels among the sponsored team’s follower base. At $6 million, M&T Bank’s annual investment as the Ravens’ naming-rights partner ranks near the bottom of the pack compared with naming-rights partners for the other playoff teams. The affinity shown toward M&T Bank demonstrates how financial investment must match a strong partner-fit to maximize investment.

The disparity in value earned among the playoff teams shows that on-field success must be accompanied by consistent branded content and strong follower engagement to maximize value for partners on social. While publicity and awareness — which sponsorship value helps encapsulate — are important metrics, many companies enter partnerships with NFL teams with the ultimate goal of improving loyalty toward their brand. 

Strong brand affinity of a playoff team’s followers toward a naming-rights sponsor helps illustrate the connection that a well-crafted partnership can create and the loyalty that can be gained through these key partnerships.

Will Cavanaugh is a market analyst at SportsAtlas, a new business intelligence platform powered by Sports Business Journal. To find out more, go to www.sportsatlas.com.