Which NFL Team is Hottest on Social Media?


By   |   November 18th, 2015   |   Reading time: 6 minutes Brands

We’re already revving up for the Super Bowl at NewsWhip.

In our sector breakdown of social vs search traffic, we saw that the sports industry had built deep and wide from social channels. Sports franchises are part entertainer, part publisher, part traditional brand.

The NFL has one of the most preeminent fan bases of American sports. From 2013 to 2014, fantasy football number unique users grew by nearly 500% on desktop and 850% on mobile devices (Nielsen). Clearly, football fans consider themselves part of the game. And that means being connected to the action on social media.

Noting that over the past six months, the NFL’s official website saw nearly 11% of its traffic come from social media, and 18% from search, we explored a bit further, to see what search and social traffic percentages the major franchises enjoy.

Below is our view of the top ten NFL teams with the largest social channel, in relation to their search channels. The data comes from SimilarWeb. For a look at all teams and the data used in this blog, click here.

Social vs Search Traffic in the NFL

Social vs Search Traffic for NFL Teams

NFL teams search social traffic

Three teams have more social media traffic than search traffic: the New England Patriots, the Oakland Raiders, and the Detroit Lions. Eleven of the teams have a less than 5% difference between search and social traffic. Only two teams received less than 10% of traffic from social, the Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars.

If we take a look at our publishers’ social vs search traffic chart, we can see that the traffic of the NFL teams is on a near equivalent range with major publishers.

Social vs Search Traffic for Publishers

Publisher Traffic from Search and Social

The nature of sports as both a product and entertainment makes the sector able to really score for  social media engagement. Add to that a built-in fanbase around the each team, and well, the engagement feeds on itself.

The NFL teams all already have a steady stream of content going without having to create entirely new content for social channels. Their product is content!

[bctt tweet=”‘@NFL teams all have a steady stream of content without creating more for social. Their product is content!'” via=”no”]

Footage from matches and games can be shared on Facebook, Youtube, and other video platforms. Updates to game scores can be posted to Twitter for real-time, in-the-moment tweets.

What Platforms Make up These Social Channels?

The average percentage of traffic across the major social platforms was surprisingly universal.

nfl team social traffic breakdown

Almost two thirds of traffic came from Facebook – lower than many publishers. Reddit and Twitter end up tying each other in second place, though interestingly Reddit is the #2 social channel. Reddit also accounts for about a third of the traffic for both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Despite our earlier thoughts about video content, YouTube accounts for only 1% of social media traffic hits.

Does More Fans = Larger Social Channel?

Let’s see how it all plays out. At the time of writing, this is a ranking of NHL franchises, comparing relative size of social channels, to numbers of fans on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.

NFL Teams, Highest Social to Search Traffic Ratio, and Largest Social Media Fan Bases

nfl teams social ranking

The New England Patriots are the social media champions. The biggest on Twitter and Reddit, they come second to only the Dallas Cowboys on Facebook. The team’s spot in the rankings doesn’t differ too much platform to platform generally.

nfl teams biggest fan bases

Five of our top teams in terms of relative social channel size also make our top ten for Reddit community (subreddit) fans. The New England Patriots are still number one, with over 35,000 Reddit subscribers to their community. Interestingly, the Oakland Raiders, with the second most impressive social channel relative to search, falls all the way to 24th place with their Reddit fanbase.  

The Oakland Raiders and the Detroit Lions both have bigger social media traffic than search traffic, but their fan base sizes are substantially smaller than most of the other teams in our top ten. The Oakland Raiders only have half the amount of Facebook fans as the Patriots, 3 million to their 6.2 million.

The teams with the smallest social communities are the St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans, all three of which are considered to be in southern states.

How the NFL Champions Get Their Social Traffic

Let’s take a look at our all-around winners, The New England Patriots. They top our lists in everything except their number of Facebook fans. Every brand has to establish a voice on social media, and the Patriots take a fun, bold, and sassy approach in theirs.

[bctt tweet=”‘@Patriots are our #1 social media champion of the @NFL teams. Go Pats!'”]

The Patriots respond and acknowledge their fans on social media, encouraging participation and rewarding their dedication. This real-time engagement keeps fans aware of their brand and promotes discussion and redistribution of the team’s content. The Patriots’ social media posts are short, snappy, and simple, making them easy to digest and share.

patriots social media examples

patriots social media examples

Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter all show the Patriots’ witty and confident approach to their social media

Some of the Patriots’ tactics include posting both timely and reactive content. The Patriots Facebook page had an entire photo album dedicated to combating the heaps of snow covering their home city Boston in previous winters. The Patriots respond to holidays both with respect (lighting up Gillette Stadium in green for Veterans Day) and goofiness (their Valentine’s Day card was tongue-in-cheek fun at the Patriots’ coach, Bill Belichek).

On Reddit, team members like Julian Edelman regularly engage with their fans and host tell-all discussions known as Ask Me Anythings. On Twitter, the Patriots use hashtags like #tomtuesday to inspire love for team favorite Tom Brady. According to Nielsen, sports events are some of the most-tweeted tv broadcasts every year. In 2013, 50% of the tweets about TV, were about sports events.

[bctt tweet=”‘Sports are social media gold — 50% of tweets in 2013 were about sports events!'”]

None of their social media platforms are primarily for pushing products or selling tickets. Their social channels strive to bolster their rapport with their fans.

tom brady deflategate facebook
Showing that they’re not shy on the field or in social media, the Patriots respond with unabashed bravado to scandals surrounding their team. After beating the “Deflategate” suspension of Tom Brady, the Patriots’ official Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram channels all posted ecstatic updates. The above picture was posted to their Facebook channel following the court’s ruling on Tom Brady.

Why are the NFL and Social Media so Good Together?

As we noted earlier, part of it is the nature of the industry, as sports are both entertainer and publisher. They have a built-in fanbase, and football fans especially are ravenous about their teams. Fans don’t want to be left out of the conversation.

Social media lets NFL teams give their fans a heightened sense of involvement and their football stars can directly interact with fans on a personal level. With newer platforms emerging, teams can get even more personal. On Snapchat, the Philadelphia Eagles share locker room hang-out sessions. That real-time engagement resonates.

Next time, let’s dive into the most engaging NHL content on Facebook to see what’s driving this social media marketing performance in detail.

What Next?

1) Get a free trial of Spike, to see the biggest conversations, in real-time about your team

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