Just after the 2013 draft, our @BloggingTheBoys Twitter account reached 10,000+ followers through the heroic efforts of our Social Media Man-At-Arms KD Drummond, who runs the BTB Twitter account and bravely defends the realm from the wildlings. A year later, KD is closing in on 16,000 followers. Three years ago, in May 2011, we had 2,729 Twitter followers, and a year earlier, in May 2010, those numbers stood at 1,631 followers.
In four years, we have increased or Twitter followers by a factor of ten, and what we are doing on a small scale, the NFL teams are doing on a much larger scale. In May 2010, the Dallas Cowboys had 622,239 fans on their official Facebook page. A year later, in May 2011, that number had more than quadrupled to 2,817,415. Two years later, in May 2013, the total stood at 5,386,136, and today that number stands at 6,766,616 fans. Just like our tally on Twitter, the Cowboys increased their number of Facebook fans by a factor of a little over ten in four years.
Social media has changed the way fans interact with the NFL and its players. Social media has ramped up the NFL experience to an entirely different level. Twitter, for better or worse, is now the number one source of breaking news in the NFL. Adam Shefter, for example, has 2.94 million followers. That's three times more than any single NFL team, but still less than the leading (former) NFL player Chad OchoCinco Johnson with 3.6 million Twitter followers.
But even those numbers pale compared to some of the global sports heavyweights. Cristiano Ronaldo of Spanish soccer club Real Madrid alone has 26.4 million followers, the most of any professional athlete. Midfielder Kaká of Italian side AC Milan is second with 18.9 million followers in a top ten of global athletes that features eight soccer players and two basketball players - LeBron James (12.5 million) and Shaquille O'Neill (8.4 million) - but no NFL players.
All 32 NFL teams combined have about 12.8 million followers on Twitter. Add NFL.com with 6.8 million Twitter followers and the combined NFL entities have less followers than Ronaldo. And for some added perspective: The New England Patriots lead all NFL teams with 860,000 followers on Twitter, while the Cowboys lead all NFL franchises with 6.8 million Facebook fans. Compare that to the leading soccer club FC Barcelona with 22.5 million Twitter followers and 65.9 million Facebook fans and you may begin to understand the global appeal of soccer and the imminent World Cup.
But since this is a post about the NFL, let's now look at where the individual NFL teams rank in terms of their social media reach, and we'll use the following metrics to gauge that reach.
Facebook Likes: Number of Fans on each teams' official Facebook page.
Twitter Followers: Number of Followers as shown on a team's official Twitter site.
Home Page Traffic Rank: Traffic rank among all US internet sites for the official team homepage according to Alexa.com, a site that computes the average daily visitors and pageviews over the last three months to arrive at their ranking.
Aggregate Rank: Average NFL rank across Facebook, Twitter and Internet Traffic. (E.g. Cowboys are ranked No. 1 on Facebook, No. 1 in Internet Traffic and No. 2 on Twitter for an aggregate rank of 1.3)
|Social Media Reach by NFL team (click blue column headers to sort)
The NFL is one of the most popular sports leagues in the world. Last season, 34 out of 35 of the fall’s most watched TV shows in the US were NFL games. The average game got 17.6 million viewers and 205 million Americans watched at least one game. The most watched NFL game was the Thanksgiving Day Game featuring the Raiders and the Cowboys, which drew 31.7 million viewers.
The NFL has always been a heavily TV-centric league, and is still generating the bulk of its earning from its TV contracts. So why has the league so enthusiastically embraced social media and begun to transform itself into a multimedia force with a significant digital presence?
What the league has realized is that there is even more money to be made by engaging its audience beyond the traditional Sunday, Monday and now Thursday game windows. The NFL and many of its teams have started looking outside of traditional media and embraced alternative media as an additional vehicle to "increase fan experience".
You may romantically think of the NFL as a sports league, but the NFL sees itself primarily as a content owner. As such, the NFL's primary objective is to promote and then monetize its content. A four-day draft, an 18-game schedule, 14 playoff participants, 16 Thursday Night games (launched in 2006 with an eight-game package, increased to 14 contests in 2013 and 16 in 2014), international games - look closely enough and you'll see that all of these initiatives are about increasing the amount and reach of NFL content available, and then raking in the associated advertising revenue or broadcasting fees.
Nothing wrong with that per se, as long as the NFL understands that providing ever more content could at some point lead to the dilution of that very same content.