Winning NFL teams have winning social media strategies too

winning nfl teams

By Ralph Cipolla, {grow} Community Member

We are approaching Super Bowl Sunday here in America … the biggest excuse to eat junk food, drink beer, and celebrate with friends at this time of year!

But even before the big game, we can learn something about winning and losing by comparing our team’s social media presence with on-the-field performance. I wondered if there was any correlation between winning and social media success, and it turns out that there is.

pittsburgh steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers. America’s Team. Also Mark Schaefer’s favorite team. Their logo is featured because it is his blog and he does whatever he bloody wants.

All 32 NFL teams have Twitter and Facebook accounts. Each of these billion-dollar franchises is serious about tearing up the social media turf, but the numbers tell a dramatic story of haves and have-nots.

Why are some so much stronger than others? Let’s take a closer look at the correlation between social media and winning football teams.

The playing field

  • Football in America is big business: 34 of the 35 most-watched fall TV shows were NFL games; 205 million Americans watched at least one 2013 regular season game
  • 2012 league revenue eclipsed $9 billion
  • League marketing efforts are aimed at younger Americans who represent a potential fan-base who could pay for tickets, TV packages, and merchandise for decades to come. For an NFL team, a weak social presence isn’t an option.

The game plan

I wanted to compare social media effectiveness with game performance. I gathered social media statistics for each team as of this week. Data used to determine team rankings:

  • Number of Twitter followers, Facebook Page Fans, and Facebook “Talking About” Stats
  • Klout Score (an indicator of team content that is being shared)
  • Size of local “fan pool” or immediate “sphere of influence” – the population within a 75-mile radius of a team’s location.
  • Regular season team winning percentage 2011-2013.
  • Playoff appearance stats 2011-2013.  The number of seasons a team made the playoffs, total number of playoff games played, and number of playoff wins.
  • Finally, the dreaded “drought” factor.  The number of years since a team has reached the playoffs and years since a playoff win (painful, yet familiar territory for this Buffalo Bills fan)

Game time results

After further review, the game film seems to point to three common strengths among the league’s top social media performers and three shortcomings shared among the bottom teams.

1) When you win, you win at everything.

The Top 10 social media teams have won 31 of the 47 Super Bowls, and over the last three seasons:

  • Nine of the 10 teams have have not had a losing record in those years.
  • Eight of the 10 teams made the playoffs at least once and four made the playoffs every year

The Bottom 10 teams hold just three of the 47 Super Bowl trophies. Over the last three seasons:

  • Eight of the 10 teams had losing records all three years.
  • Only three teams made the playoffs at least once; none have won a single playoff game

2) Your audience size matters

The winners take advantage of an opportunity to convert a large fan base:

  • The Top 10 social media teams collectively have more than 85 million people within 75 miles of their stadiums
  • They tend to draw fans from a large regional area like The Dallas Cowboys or Green Bay Packers

The social media losers have a smaller fan base:

  • The Bottom 10 collectively have just over 36 million people living within a 75-mile radius.
  • Tend to draw fans from only a local geographic fan base.

3) The power of an emotional connection

The Top 10 social media teams have a  long history and a stable relationship with fans.  All Top 10 teams are located in the same city in which the franchise was established³

The Bottom 10 have unstable or even controversial histories with their fans:

  • Three teams (Arizona, Tennessee, and St. Louis) “jilted” their fans and relocated to new home cities
  • Cleveland “broke off” a relationship with fans by moving to Baltimore, until the brand was re-established years later
  • Two teams – Carolina and Jacksonville – were founded in the ‘90s

The post-game show

As a die-hard football fan it was fun to conduct this study and discover the fundamentals of social media success:

  • A strong brand that promises “winning” content
  • Maximizing opportunities to connect with a large audience
  • Building long-term emotional connections

Great teams are not built by gimmicks or fads. Likewise, these social media powerhouses don’t have to rely on buying followers or contests. To build a winning team on the field or in social media you have to work from a strong foundation.

I have some detailed stats about every NFL team so if your favorite team isn’t represented in the chart you can find more data at on my site. Beyond the lesson in fundamentals, is there a data-driven gem of insight among these stats? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Game on.

ralph cipollaRalph Cipolla is President of Michigan-based Cipolla Analytics and a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan. you should follow him on Twitter. He’s hilarious.

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  • shaneoleary1

    Wow, some serious ‘insights’ in this piece.

    So you’re saying the teams that are most successful and have the biggest potential fan base are the biggest on social? Wow, who’d have thunk that?

  • MaureenMonte

    Hi Ralph! I’m in Michigan, too. Not as social as you and Mark, but trying! Is a long suffering Bills fan worse than a long suffering Lions fan (won only a single playoff game since the Ford family purchased the team in 1963!) Yet the Ford Field stadium sells out year after year after year. Even a great social media strategy can’t overcome that play off history. But, we do have Megatron. I’ll be rooting for Peyton – love the comeback story. Enjoyed all your data. Nice post.

  • Ralph Cipolla

    shaneoleary1 A point to make – when starting to sift through all these stats, you never know quite what you’re going to see. And while there’s no surprise with respect to many franchises that are successful and/or in large markets (New England, NY Giants, et al), you do see the 2 Super Bowl teams ranked no higher than 10th of 32, a team with a .500 record over the last 10 years ranked #1 (Dallas), and strong legacy teams in smaller cities in the top-5 (Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New Orleans). My biggest takeaway; it supports Mark’s points regarding the need for consistently strong ‘content’ (winning) and ‘relationship-building’ (established franchises, stable ownership).

  • Ralph Cipolla

    shaneoleary1 A point to make – when starting to sift through all these stats, you never know quite what you’re going to see. And while there’s no surprise with respect to many franchises that are successful and/or in large markets (New England, NY Giants, et al), you do see the 2 Super Bowl teams ranked no higher than 10th of 32, a team with a .500 record over the last 10 years ranked #1 (Dallas), and strong legacy teams in smaller cities in the top-5 (Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New Orleans). My biggest takeaway; it supports Mark’s points regarding the need for consistently strong ‘content’ (winning) and ‘relationship-building’ (established franchises, stable ownership).

  • Ralph Cipolla

    Maureen – I enjoy the worst of both worlds; a Buffalo native and life-long Bills’ fan, who moved to SE Michigan 21 years ago and has seen the similarly painful plight of The Lions. But hey, fired Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz was just hired by The Bills as their Defensive Coordinator, and Schwartz is a Twitter fiend. This must bode well for the Bills’ social efforts (presently 30th-ranked in my stats).

  • shaneoleary1

    I would have taken a good guess that the bigger, successful, established franchises in larger markets would have the biggest and best social communities to be honest now Ralph! As I say, hardly mind blowing stuff.

  • Thanks Ralph. Interesting blog entry and it shows very nicely how NFL teams use social media.

    What surprises me a bit is that using followers and fans starts off the post as being the indicator for success.

    I always thought that the biggest thing would be engagement and having a conversation.

    == CyTRAP BlogRank: Top 100 NFL blogs click to see and explore these rankings

    Some of these teams do much better than others….. and some like the Seattle Seahawks seem to have abandoned their blog.

    Thanks for sharing
    Urs @ComMetrics:twitter

  • Pingback: Let's get the Lions to the Super Bowl! - SCN Encourager 2/3/2014 | The Encourager()

  • @?NatSchooler

    Thanks Ralph for posting such an awesome article for me to share…enjoy the rest of your week 🙂

  • Ralph Cipolla

    NatScholer – Thanks for the kind words. I’ve updated and expanded upon the original post at my site: http://ralphcipolla.com. There, I’ve included stats for all 32 NFL teams and trended the social media data for Denver & Seattle – before and after the SuperBowl. Those stats are not surprising, but pretty amazing. Particularly, the Seattle Facebook “People are Talking About” 135% increase.

  • Ralph Cipolla

    Urs – I don’t disagree. For the sake of employing a single metric that provides the best overall sense of reach and engagement, the total Fans + Followers was used. However, I have also trended the social media data for all the playoff teams, and just this morning – for Denver & Seattle, from before to after the SuperBowl. Those stats are not surprising, but pretty amazing. Particularly, the Seattle Facebook “People are Talking About” sees a 135% increase. Thanks for the thoughts. -RC.

  • Dear @ralphcipolla:disqus
    Thanks for the feedback.
    Of course, I have no clue what you got the data for but basically we are talking about correlating some factor with another.
    Just because there is a lot of social media noise out there for Denver and Seattle can mean many things. As we showed last year, the teams playing Super Bowl do get more action for two reasons:
    1. they win more often than others (gets their fans excited), AND
    2. they play the Super Bowl the biggest sports event the US has as far as I can tell 🙂
    Have you accounted for such factors? That would be fantastic data.
    We just look at how teams engage – content strategy – how their content ripples through social media.
    Ralph, thanks so much for sharing.
    Urs
    @ComMetrics:twitter

  • Ralph Cipolla

    Urs – I’ve updated and expanded upon the original post at my site: http://ralphcipolla.com. There, I’ve included stats for all 32 NFL teams – on-field and on-line: 3-year regular season performance win% & playoff performance, population within a 75-mile radius of team stadium, and trending: all 12 playoff teams before and after the playoffs, and then Seattle & Denver before & after the SuperBowl. Let me know if this is what you mean. Where can I see your work?

  • Pingback: Let's get the Lions to the Super Bowl! - SCN Encourager 2/3/2014 | School Communicators Network()

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