Team Marketing Report compiled and compared each NFL team’s social media followers for the first half of the season (through nine weeks of play, comparing Wednesday, September 1 to Wednesday, November 10, 2021), to give us a look at how NFL teams are performing across key social media platforms. Our breakdown of key numbers is below.
As we hit the homestretch of the the 2021 NFL season, the Shield’s first 17-game slate has certainly provided its ups and downs for teams, both on the field and in the social media sphere.
For some clubs, such as the Dallas Cowboys, it has been nearly all highs.
The Cowboys are on the up-and-up and, despite a sluggish November, boast an 8-4 record to stand alone atop the NFC East. The Big D social media crew also stands alone — at the top of TMR’s latest NFL social media rankings, averaging well over a million followers across the measured platforms: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.
Dallas has nearly 17.4 million aggregate followers across the five platforms, which stacks up very well compared to the average NFL team’s aggregated followers of 6,936,980.
EVERYTHING IS BIGGER IN TEXAS
Their numbers continue to climb as the season goes on, showing that, yes, Jerry Jones, your ‘Boys are still America’s Team.
Before the season, the Cowboys’ were closing in on the impressive mark of becoming the first NFL franchise to hit eight million Facebook follows, climbing within 100,000 of the milestone. As of December 1, Dallas continued their progress, at just 53,453 followers away.
For perspective, their 7,946,547 Facebook thumbs-ups gives the team three times more than the league average of 2,656,496.
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) December 3, 2021
And if Dak Prescott and the Cowboys are still playing in mid-Feb at SoFi Stadium — meaning under the global glare of Super Bowl LVI — you can bet the team will safely sprint past that benchmark.
Yes, the Cowboys have a built-in advantage by playing in one of the league’s largest markets. The sprawling DFW Metroplex is the country’s fourth largest MSA and the home to more than 7.6 million residents. The major cities of Dallas (population 1.3 million; the ninth largest U.S. city) and Fort Worth (927,720; 12th) anchor the football-mad market.
But market size is not the only key to social success. There are other smaller market teams who excel on social media.
SIZE DOESN’T MATTER — TO CHEESEHEADS
At the complete other end of the size spectrum is Green Bay. The Packers play in the NFL’s smallest market with a metro area population of 320,050 — anchored by the city Green Bay with a population of only 107,395. Despite having a fraction of the population of the Dallas area, Green Bay still gets it done on social media, boast a spot in the top 5 of TMR’s social media rankings right alongside Dallas.
Thanks to their rabid fans, known for selling out Lambeau Field, rain, snow or tundra, every year since 1960, the Packers crack the top 10 across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. TikTok and YouTube accounts do lag a bit, however, those numbers still continue to rise. Packers’ TikTok follows have risen a strong 11 percent over the past three months, while their YouTube account is up similarly, at +10.8 percent.
IF YOU CAN MAKE IT THERE, THAT’S IMPRESSIVE
Being in a larger market does not guarantee large numbers of followers. Just ask either of the New York teams who, despite being in the largest market in U.S. sports, are ninth (Giants) and 25th (Jets) in total followers.
The Giants definitely have stronger numbers than their MetLife Stadium “roomies,” but that’s still not saying much.
In fact, the G-Men have actually decreased Facebook followers (10th most in Facebook followers) by 0.2 percent since the beginning of the season. On Instagram (7th) and Twitter (11th), numbers have stayed flat. Now, New York’s Football Giants do show promising signs on TikTok (16th) and YouTube (14th), with their numbers up 10.6 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively.
The Jets are historically known as an underperforming team on the field. This season is no exception, with their 3-9 record “good” for last place in the AFC East.
Accordingly, their social media presence reflects that. Despite playing in a huge market—New York City has about 80 times Green Bay’s population—their rankings among their peers are 22nd on Facebook and Twitter; 24th on YouTube; and 28th on Instagram and TikTok.
As we’ve reported, the Jets’ have enlisted lifestyle influencers to some success, but not even J-E-T-S Super Fan — and Super Influencer — Gary V has tipped the rankings in his favorite team’s favor. At least the team continues to have a great sense of humor about their struggles:
— New York Jets (@nyjets) December 5, 2021
On the other side of the coin are the Tennessee Titans. Playing in Nashville, Tenn., they are in the country’s 28th largest market and a pedestrian 15th largest among the NFL’s 32 clubs.
The Titans, steadily on the rise over the past few years on the field, do remain Bottom 5 in terms of social media rankings (see Five Largest/Five Smallest Followings table above). However, just as Nashville is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, the Titans’ numbers continue to climb.
Since September, their Facebook followers have climbed 1.1 percent, Twitter is up 2.8 percent and Instagram is up 6.1 percent, but the healthiest gains come from YouTube, gaining 11.3 percent and TikTok, which rose an impressive 14.7 percent. Expect their social media numbers to climb as play improves and the metro area continues to boom.
CERTAIN SECRET SAUCE SPEEDS SOCIAL SUCCESS?
A lot goes into all 32 franchises’ social media pages and social-driven outreach. Every team is encouraged to show some unique personality compared to their 31 peers.
Then within each team’s social media department, most work to have different approaches across the platforms, meaning that their Instagram account doesn’t just re-post Tweets or their Facebook posts, but the posts are customized to Instagram’s focus on striking visuals.
This is where developing a coherent strategy that sticks to the messaging plan is essential.
Who are these teams trying to reach? A younger audience by using references from current trends? Or are they trying to stay neutral and please all audiences by sticking to their team’s play and other important info about the team? It varies for each team and each platform.
In addition to that, how are these teams gaining followers? Is it from game highlights or off the field, behind the scenes or perhaps “sponsored irreverence” (see the Carolina Panthers’ Miller Lite incorporation below)? Or is one of their current players bringing in followers for them?
Market size and team success are important foundations. And then there are star players, though none guarantee social media growth.
We’ll be back next week… pic.twitter.com/lQHif0ZysE
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) December 5, 2021
DO SUPERSTARS MOVE THE TEAM NEEDLE? MAYBE
To gauge the star player effect on a team’s social standing, we take a look at two teams which have added megastars recently: the Super Bowl LV victor Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Rams. They are also the top two teams in terms of percentage gains for new followers, showing 9.9 and 9.2 percent gains, respectively.
Headlined by the team’s acquisition of Tom Brady in March 2020, the Bucs have arguably made the most massive changes on the field, adding numerous big names to their organization over the last two off seasons.
The quickest benefactors have been the team’s ticket sales staff — attendance is up almost 20 percent compared to 2019 — and corporate partnership department.
The dividends have come much slower to the Bucs’ social media crew. Thanks primarily to a decade of terrible teams, Tampa’s on-field irrelevance buried them at the bottom of social media presence. A head coaching merry-go-round of Raheem Morris–Greg Schiano–Lovie Smith–Dirk Koetter that posts 55 wins against 105 defeats for a .337 winning percentage over 10 seasons will do that to anyone.
Tampa currently ranks 24th in overall social media following with pedestrian ranks of 27th on Facebook, 25th on Twitter and 17th on Instagram.
The Bucs social media crew appears to have zeroed-in on the visual-based platforms. Their strongest showing is on TikTok, also the fastest growing social platform globally, where the team is eighth in the NFL.
With snappy, short videos of Brady and other recognizable — and animated — players on the roster such as Rob Gronkowski or Leonard Fournette, the team also ranks 10th on YouTube, and is increasingly reaching larger audiences from both platforms.
On the other side of the continent, the Los Angeles Rams are seeing a much quicker boost to their social accounts thanks to the Nov 11 addition of one Odell Cornelious Beckham Jr. OBJ presents a tremendous opportunity for the Rams off the field to capture some of Beckham’s massive followers list. On Instagram alone, Beckham has over 14.8 million followers.
In spite of deactivating his IG multiple times, most recently this past March, OBJ boasts far more followers than the bottom 15 teams combined. You have to add the top six teams together to match his total.
Accordingly, the Rams’ IG account has gained 10 percent since the start of the season and the team overall is up the second largest percentage of all teams with a 9.2 percent jump in aggregated followers.
Just as with the Bucs, the Rams have been hindered by their on the field struggles that from 2004 (in St. Louis, Mo.) through 2017 (first season in L.A.) saw them go 72-151-1. That .324 winning percentage was even worse than Tampa’s stretch.
The Rams currently rank 29th in overall social media following with platform ranks of 31st on Facebook, 28th on Twitter, 25th on YouTube, 20th on Instagram and 18th on TikTok.
With less than a month and a half left in the regular season, it will be interesting to see any team’s social media accounts ascend in followers or decline. Then the teams that make the playoffs will take advantage of the extra week(s) of content to help grow their socials.
OPPORTUNITY MISSED: YOUTUBE
The most glaring miss by NFL teams, by far, is with their YouTube channels. Or rather, their near complete ignoring of the platform.
The average NFL team’s YouTube subscribers? A paltry 110,998. Eighteen teams do not even tally 100,000. Only the top two even surpass 200,000 subs — Dallas (254,000, sporting an impressive growth of 2.5X from last pre-season) and the Cleveland Browns (243,000).
To help understand the missed opportunity for teams, we spoke with Nick Lawson, co-founder of SQWAD, Portland, Ore.-based digital sponsorship sales and activation company that works with numerous NFL clubs as well as teams across the NBA, WNBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and NCAA.
Lawson remains floored by the lack of effort teams have put forth on their YouTube channels.
“If I was put in charge of an NFL team, the first thing I would do is hire a YouTube influencer to build my team’s following,” says Lawson. “The individual team that does this will sell more tickets, more sponsorship and ultimately becomes the most valuable team in the world.”
Lawson sees YouTube as literally the game changer.
“In the past, sports team values essentially came from adding stadium size plus cost,” he notes. “Future sports team value is going to be heavily based on YouTube following.”
Not to mention that by not establishing themselves on YouTube, it has created a content void and allowed imitators to rise up and become vacuum-fillers like Deestroying (4M), Ding Productions (1.2M) Highlight Reel (613K)
Challenge accepted, NFL teams? TMR will continue to track as we go forward and we shall see.
TMR Contributor Colby Marchio contributed to this article.