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2016’s Top Sports Teams on Facebook

As 2016 draws to a close, we look at the top teams and moments in sports on Facebook, across soccer, football, baseball, basketball, and hockey.

Amid a year of algorithmic changes on social, emerging formats, and blank, this has been a tumultuous year for content creators and social media managers. Vine and Meerkat shut down, as video in general became more important.

For sports teams, this was the year that social media strategy became more sophisticated, even as there was room for experimentation.

Live video, disappearing content, interactive campaigns — the biggest sports teams toyed with it all. We identified our picks for top sports teams on social last week, calling out the Chicago Cubs, NBA, and Manchester United.

This week, we decided to look at the top teams of major leagues on Facebook, for a closer look into 2016 and sports on social.

 

Soccer

 

For the world’s most popular sport (and probably with the most teams as well), we focused on the top teams as identified by Forbes. We took a look at their Facebook pages from January 1st to December 15th, 2016. The data comes from NewsWhip Spike.

top soccer 2016

Though we differentiated Manchester United in the Whippies, the titanic engagement for soccer teams came from Spain’s most famous teams. Real Madrid and Barcelona both saw over 300 million engagements for their Facebook content this year.

Liverpool FC followed Manchester United in fourth place, and Turkey’s Galatasaray clinched fifth place. But if we look at the top 100 most engaging posts, we don’t see either team. Instead, Real Madrid was responsible for an astounding 83 of those posts.

Photo posts accounted for 93 percent of the top 100 posts. The above photo from Real Madrid saw nearly 2 million engagements. The photo combined two of the team heroes with their victory in the 2016 Euros.

Of course, we have to consider the size of Real Madrid’s fanbase on Facebook, over 93.7 million followers. If we look at the most-shared content instead, other teams join the top 10 most engaging posts.

Soccer 2016 shared

Looking at the most shared posts, FC Barcelona dethrones Real Madrid, and other teams make an appearance. Shares can be more valuable than likes, since they indicate a more in-depth action from the user, and can then reach that users’ own social network.

The most shared post was this Live video from FC Barcelona, showing the team huddling together to celebrate a win.  Viewed over 11 million times, the video allowed fans to join in with their team’s victory in real time.

 

NFL

 

The United States’ most watched sport, it’s not surprising that the Denver Broncos took the gold from the Dallas Cowboys this year. Teams with a winning streak tend to see increased engagement on their content as momentum builds.

NFL top teams

Seeing as the Broncos last won a Super Bowl in 1998, this could lead to the big burst in engagement for an already popular team. Another fan-favorite, the New England Patriots, were the third most engaging in 2016. They were followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers, each with 25 million engagements.

In a bit of an upset, the Chicago Bears were responsible for the top engaging NFL team post of 2016. This creative video drove over 501,000 shares, 246,000 likes/reactions, and 37,000 comments.

Despite this video amassing 33 million views, the Chicago Bears weren’t high up in our rankings. Instead, they placed at 19. Still, this video had enormous reach, showing that even less popular teams can deliver content with a serious impact. Another team lower in the rankings (#13), the Arizona Cardinals, had the third most engaging post for this video.

Many of the top posts for the NFL were photos that celebrated a team’s victory, marked with the score and the team’s logo and colors.

It’s become second nature for fans to flock to social to laud their team’s wins. By creating these team-branded graphics, teams create a virtual “meeting ground” for fans to cheer their victory.

 

MLB

 

Is it any surprise that our top Whippie winner is also the top MLB team on Facebook? Ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox by leaps and bounds, the Chicago Cubs have amassed over 38 million Facebook engagements this year.

mlb top teams 2016

The San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees took fourth and fifth place, respectively.

The Cubs were responsible for the six most engaging posts on Facebook for MLB teams. While we can (and already have before) wax poetic about the Chicago Cubs, we’ll keep it short here. One of the Cubs best tactics is that they make fans feel like they’re part of the team’s journey to victory.

This was their second most engaging video in 2016, of fans rallying to the stadium on the day the Cubs broke their 108-year losing streak. The video made it evident how much the Cubs value their fans and their support. Followers commented on the post with anecdotes and pictures of their memories as Cubs fans over the years.

Of the top 25 posts from MLB teams, 17 were videos, 6 were photo posts, and one was an external link. The top videos primarily were around team wins or epic plays from the athletes. The Cubs also saw big engagement for a video featuring Bill Murray supporting the team in 1988. Quite a whammy, the video combined a celebrity endorsement with the nostalgia effect.

 

NBA

 

Another Whippie winner, NBA has seen success for dynamic and interactive content league-wide. But when it comes to teams, there is one that is a solid slam dunk on Facebook.

nba top teams

The Golden State Warriors drove an amazing 141 million engagements this year. The other top four teams didn’t even come close. The Cleveland Cavaliers saw 57 million engagements and the San Antonio Spurs, 44 million engagements. The LA Lakers and Chicago Bulls, legacy favorites, came in fourth and fifth.

This was a year for breaking losing streaks across sports, football, baseball, and basketball. The Cavaliers had the the top engaging NBA team post, celebrating their first championship win in 52 years. Like FC Barcelona, the Cavaliers also used Facebook Live to bring fans into the moment of a team’s win.

A highly individualized sport, many of the top posts also centered around specific athletes, like the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry. Legacy heroes like Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant were also hugely popular, along with some celebrity endorsements. Posts around Kobe Bryant’s retirement spurred engagement, as fans took to social media to say goodbye and share their favorite memories of the athlete.

 

NHL

 

Last thought not least, we looked at NHL’s top teams of 2016. Though there were fewer engagements than the other leagues, NHL fans are just as impassioned and zealous on social media.

nhl top teams

One of our picks for last year‘s Whippies, the Pittsburgh Penguins were the most engaging team on Facebook for 2016. The Penguins had nearly double the engagements of the second place team, the Chicago Blackhawks. The Detroit Red Wings took third, followed by the New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks.

Out of the top 25 posts from NHL teams, the Penguins were responsible for 17. As we often see for sports, visual content was king for the NHL. The top 25 posts came from 22 photo posts, and three videos.

These sharable victory graphics saw the most success for the Penguins. As we said for NFL’s teams, when your favorite team wins, taking to social media to celebrate has become just another part of the experience.

The Penguins were also the funniest NHL team on Facebook. They were only team to score over 1 million ha-ha reactions, while the Blackhawks with 424,000 were a distant second.

Having a personality on social media is a winning tactic, as long as it’s true to a team’s already existing tone. Fans want to feel like they’re part of the action on social, not like they’re separated by any formalities.

 

Facebook and Sports in 2017

 

Looking at all of these sports, we can see that the top stories tend to be positive. Fans flock to social media to celebrate their teams’ wins, and relive the thrill of the game, sometimes even Live. They follow the journey of specific heroes over social, sharing memories of players and the team. And when fan-favorite players, or even announcers, retire or move on, sports fans can converge on social to wish them a final goodbye.

Social media has become an integral part of a sports fan’s experience. As new innovations continue to emerge, teams and fan sites can experiment with how to keep bringing their fans up close and personal to their favorite teams.

 

Read our new 2017 Predictions Report for what’s ahead on social in the new year