As the 2017 NFL season kicks off, we’ve taken a look at the landscape of American professional sports. Four leagues – NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL –grab the attention of audiences on screens everywhere during their respective seasons. To help marketers understand the ins and outs of each league, we’ve compared how the audiences of each stack up against one another.
While baseball may be known as “America’s pastime,” the NBA earns the most social media engagements of the 4 leagues and has the most socially engaged professional team in the US. However, the MLB was the only league that earned fewer overall engagements than its most engaged team, pointing towards a trend in online behavior where baseball fans are more likely to engage with a team than the league itself. The teams earning the most engagements for the recently completed seasons were the reigning league champions, with the exception of the NFL, where the Dallas Cowboys remain America’s team – at least on social media.
Unique about the NFL and MLB is social engagement performance during their respective offseasons. While the NBA leads in terms of total offseason engagements, the NFL and MLB drove 49% and 48% of their total engagements during the offseason, demonstrating highly interested audiences even while games are not being played.
The social media audiences for each of the 4 leagues are, perhaps unsurprisingly, mostly millennial males. However, at 52%, the MLB skews just barely male, giving baseball the largest percentage of female audience. With only 50% of its social audience ages 18-34, the MLB also skews older in comparison to the other leagues. The NHL, on the other hand, has the most polarized audience at nearly 90% male and 84% millennial.
Tom Brady, quarterback for the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots, leads the NFL as the most socially engaged player. Despite its championship, the Patriots was third place in terms of engagement behind the broadly popular Cowboys and Packers.
The social audiences for the top three NFL teams were each just over 50% male, slightly under the average for the NFL as a whole. While the Green Bay and Dallas social audiences align with the NFL in terms of typical age, the audience for New England skews older, with 47% being 55 or older.
For advertisers looking to capitalize on the overall NFL audience, the 4C Insights Affinity Graph™ shows that people engaging with the NFL are also engaging with Amazon Video, Fox News’ Your World, and Washington Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper. We also used the 4C Insights Affinity Graph™ to evaluate sponsorship opportunities for the top TV advertisers for the NFL. Last year’s most frequent advertiser, Toyota, has a strong connection with Carolina’s Michael Oher and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When it comes to hockey, people who engage with individual teams on social media also tend to engage with hometown brands. The top brand for the reigning Stanley Cup champion, the Pittsburgh Penguins, is Heinz, while Nathan’s Famous comes out on top for the New York Rangers.
People engaging with the NHL as a whole are also engaging with Canadian telecom company TELUS, FX’s hit comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and wide receiver-turned Dancing with the Stars contestant Terrell Owens.
While the NHL’s social audience skews heavily male, the top teams themselves have more evenly split social audiences, with the Chicago Blackhawks’ audience being 53% female.
Based on data from the 4C Insights Affinity Graph™, Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman is a good fit with any of the top 3 NHL TV Advertisers.
DirecTV, the top TV advertiser for the NHL, NBA, and MLB’s most recent seasons, has its best team sponsorship opportunity with the NHL. The Arizona Coyotes show high interest in the satellite service.
With the third consecutive Warriors-Cavaliers matchup taking place during the 2017 NBA Finals, it’s little wonder that the teams took the top spots in terms of social media engagement. While his team didn’t bring home the trophy this year, Cleveland all-star LeBron James was the most socially engaged player, amassing nearly the same amount of social media engagement as the Cavaliers.
Casino-owner and NBA Summer League sponsor, MGM Resorts, is the top brand for the NBA according to the 4C Insights Affinity Graph™, which aligns with the popularity of the NBA Finals with sports-betting aficionados.
The Chicago Cubs made history last year when they won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. The historic run led the Cubs to be the most socially engaging MLB team with over 38 million engagements for the 2016 season. That momentum has carried over into this season, driving over 12.9 million engagements so far in 2017.
The Cubs also carry the distinction of being the only other team in the top teams across the 4 leagues to have a majority-female social audience at 52%. Chicago women have higher interest in sports as the Chicago Blackhawks social audience is predominantly female.
Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper is still pulling in the most social media engagements for players this year, despite his recent gruesome knee injury that has kept him out since August 12. Harper’s high affinity with Chevrolet also makes him a good candidate for sponsorship by the brand, which has aired 1,600 spots during MLB programming so far this season.
While sports programming in its entirety captures American attention on TVs, phones, and computers around the country, the audiences engaging with each sport differ. As one of the gold standards of must-see-TV, live sports present sponsorship and advertising opportunities for brands that are sure to put their name in front of millions. Understanding the affinities and behaviors of those who engage with each sport and team is paramount for brands who are looking to make these investments.
We’re always keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s happening across screens with sports, news, and pop-culture at 4C. Stay tuned for more as the NFL season heats up, and subscribe to our newsletter to get updates in your inbox.