Why the NBA is the League to Follow (Literally)

This week is one of the biggest weeks for the the upcoming NBA season as it is the first week of this season! This Tuesday night marks the inaugural game featuring the reigning champion, Cleveland Cavaliers versus the New York Knicks, making my blog post aptly timed. So as you follow your favorite team over the coming 82 games, pay attention to these three factors: the players, the teams, and the league as whole. These three elements are why the NBA is king of social media. So what exactly are you going to find?

The Players

As I mentioned in my presentation, one big advantage that the NBA has over the NFL is pure numbers. There are 15 men on an NBA roster versus 53 men on NFL roster. This gives the average NBA player an inherent brand value greater than that of an average NFL player. Unless you prefer one sport over the other, you probably know more NBA players than NFL players. Even perennial fringe roster player Nick Young has cultivated a brand for himself. And this isn’t purely because of the limited spots on an NBA team. NBA players are better at social media than NFL players. Nothing epitomizes this more than the most followed athlete in each sport. If you had to guess which NBA player had the most Twitter followers, you’d probably guess Lebron James and you’d be right. Currently, Lebron tops the NBA with about 33 million followers. Now if you had to guess the most followed NFL player, who would you guess? Tom Brady? Nope, doesn’t have a Twitter. Reigning Super Bowl MVP and Dancing with the Stars Contestant Von Miller? Nope, he actually has less followers than Steph Curry’s wife. Reggie Bush? If you guessed Reggie Bush well then you’re lying, but you would be right. Reggie Bush is currently the most followed NFL athlete with a little over 3 million followers.


Nets Social Media Manager editing a picture

“Young basketball stars today are ingrained in culture and fashions and life in a way that the stars from other sports here are not.” Basketball players have truly turned the NBA into something bigger than a sports league. It’s essentially a lifestyle. The NBA has become synonymous with pop culture and the players are aware of this. Whether it be perennial all stars or the glue guy, players are wearing the latest Givenchy, Tom Ford, and Prada on their Instagrams. The NBA fan’s appetite isn’t limited to the hardwood. While many ballers have found themselves on the cover of Vogue and GQ, russell-westbrook-playoff-outfits-05.jpgRussell Westbrook has taken it up a notch. The father of modern NBA fashion, Westbrook has mesmerized (for better or worse) the public with his unapologetic style. Through his style Westbrook has become a regular at New York Fashion Week, launched his own brand through Barney’s, and his eyewear startup landed a deal with NBA (who also realize the depth and breadth of content the NBA fan wants). It doesn’t just end at fashion. The adage of ballers want to be rappers and rappers want to be ballers is true. Portland Trailblazers’ Damian Lillard, known for his hip hop affinity, released his first album and it’s currently sitting at number 3 on the Hip-Hop charts of iTunes. Conversely, both basketball as a sport and basketball players are far and away the most referenced sport when it comes to music. It’s far more likely that your favorite song is going to have a Lebron James lyric than a Gronk one.

The Teams

Now while the NBA teams may not have the luxury to take risks like Russell Westbrook, the NBA gives each team a fair share of freedom with their social media platforms. This allows the teams to have organic profiles that aren’t just a company forcing merchandise down your throat. Although this past month was only the preseason for the association, many NBA social media accounts were in regular season mode. Just take a look at some of these some posts from the Trailblazer’s accounts.

The Managing Editor of Team Content of the the Portland Trailblazers, Kris Koivisto, breaks down their social media success into 3 factors. The first factor are the content creators. They have a beat writer, a digital designer, interns, and a photographer all working to bring the best and most relevant content to the fans. The second factor is empowerment. The Trailblazers take pride in social media and have recruited the right people to fit their culture. According to Koivisto, the culture starts from the top with the Chief Marketing Officer, Dewayne Hankins. “ He goes to bat for us time and again; when we tweet something that could be considered off-putting, he fights to get us better access, he allows us to spread our wings, and he provides the resources needed to create top-notch content.” Even the President of Basketball Operations, President of Business Operations, and head coach Terry Stotts understand the importance of social media in this era of sports. The third factor is himself, the operator. The content needs to be published at time when the most fans will see it and the fans need to feel like they are part of a community. This can be done through pop culture references, witty tweets, or even a reply to a fan. These three factors have led to the Trailblazers being voted the best Twitter account in the NBA by Complex Magazine on back to back occasions. 

The Teams

Now while there are no certain requirements as to how much staff each team should have dedicated to social media or how to use each platform, teams have generally taken similar approaches. According to one study involving members of 9 different teams’ social media personnel, the general consensus was that:

“the growing digital space has become valuable in developing a community for fans, and promoting online and offline fan engagement. Additionally, NBA teams are looking to utilize social media as a customer relationship management tool. NBA organizations have found that digital platforms can efficiently provide customer service and handle questions, concerns, problems, and related issues.” 

Each team uses Facebook as an extension of their website that is updated not as frequently as Twitter. Facebook serves more as medium to connect to other websites or outside content. On the other hand, Instagram and Youtube serve as outlets for quality and exclusive content. Behind the scenes and direct access to players would often be found here. Teams are also looking outside the box when figuring out how to incentivize fans to connect through social media. For example, the Houston Rockets had a social media night in 2012 where they had exclusive ticket offers for the people who followed Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee, and Patrick Patterson, all Rockets players. People who bought the tickets had the opportunity to spend time with the players after the game.socialnightfix0217.jpg 

The League

Now we take step back and look at the league as a whole. None of this would have been possible had the NBA not embraced the social media revolution. The people in the league office knows that the more quality content that is out there, the better the numbers will be across the board. While the average age of the NFL and MLB ESPN viewer has increased in age, the NBA viewer has remarkably remained at the same age.



What does this mean? The NBA is attracting millennials (aka new fans) at better rate than the NFL and MLB. And these new fans aren’t passive about their passion. When Vine was in its early days, the number of posts tagged “NBA” was greater than the combined number of “NFL” and “MLB” posts. Part of this could be due to the NBA’s uptempo gameplay being more amiable to the desires of highlight hungry social media users.


Almost any 6 second clip of the last two minutes of the past Game 7 would have been frontpage worthy material but the NBA isn’t leaving its popularity up to chance. Along with posting its own high quality videos and GIFs, the NBA teamed up with Verizon to create go90. This app “allows fans to stream games on the go as well as cut and paste high quality footage to post to their personal accounts.” The NBA credits its social media savvy for the 45% increase in viewership of Facebook videos during the 2008-2009 season, which spills over into increased TV viewership. So what are the quantifiable results of all this?

So you could say the NBA “is running a three-on-none fast break across social media.




  1. polmankevin · ·

    Great post! I think you hit the nail of the head with a few key points. First, the brand power of NBA players. With the small number of players on each team, NBA players get substantially more camera time than NFL players. Also, they don’t wear helmets. Their expressions, mannerisms, and personality have the ability to shine both on and off the court. The NBA also plays more games, and they play more frequently than the NFL. So fans have more opportunities to develop a connection with their favorite players, and players have a greater opportunity to express themselves. A great example of this is the explosion of fashion in the NBA. Although it also exists in the NFL, we only see it once a week. With the NBA, players have multiple opportunities a week to attract attention with flashy clothing. Even bench players are known for their sideline celebrations in the NBA, you rarely see that in the NFL. Lastly, I agree that NBA franchises are doing an amazing job of marketing their brands. Most teams have very engaging accounts that post interesting and funny content. This is helping the NBA by continuing the conversation about the sport. The conversation doesn’t just flow through fans, players, and analysts. The organizations have a voice of their own.

  2. Amazing post and analysis of how the NBA maximizes social media and digital content! I love the NBA and am a huge fan of it. You brought great points about NBA players being their own brands and how as fans we get to see their unique personalities on and off the court. That is honestly the best part and the NBA that I don’t think you get in any other sports. You have a greater chance to learn about who the players are, what they love, and everything inbetween. The league does a great job with letting players be who they are and in turn, built a strong and great fan base because of that.

  3. So I’m not an NBA fan by any stretch but your post has actually made me want to go follow some of their stars. Your point about the NBA becoming more of a lifestyle than other sports is pretty interesting. Increasingly, I see NBA stars like Steph Curry and Lebron James in commercials and my newsfeed. It does seem as though the construct of the league favors NBA stars. Clearly the small roster gives players far more facetime on the television screen, but also in a less crowded social media space. At times it seems like a single football team has an endless number of fringe players who never see the field – or if they do, I didn’t even notice. In the NBA on the other hard, you’re always aware of which 5 players are on the court. Kevin made an interesting note in his comment above about helmets in the NFL. Even if I did recognize a name from the back of a NY Giants jersey, it’s highly unlikely I can recall his face or have seen much of his facial expressions on tv.

  4. adawsisys · ·

    This was a fantastic post. Really enjoyed reading it and learning more about the NBA’s social media presence. I was shocked to read about the difference in followers that NBA players have compared to NFL players. Its not even close. I wonder if some of this has to do with the different mindsets of the players and the locker rooms in each sport. The NBA is a very individualistic sport. When you have the ball you are the man and it is your job to score or to make the play. If you make the play its all on you, and if you mess up its also all on you. The NFL is much more team centered, and a successful or broken play is the result of a number of different players. This difference may be why NBA players have been able to develop individual brands and strong social media presences with the encouragement of the team and the league. I believe we are beginning to see an “NBA like” social media presence develop in the NFL with the younger star wide receivers, and the electric playmakers… On another note the MLB does not even post full highlights of plays on twitter. They post a “half highlight” and a link to their website. On the website there is usually an Ad before the highlight, that is longer than the highlight itself. It is a Ridiculous business model, and it makes the highlights not worth the watch.

  5. michaelahoff · ·

    That’s wild that Reggie Bush has the most followers in the NFL and he hasn’t been relevant in five years. Pretty telling. Still, though the NBA is at somewhat of a peak and the NFL at a nadir in PR, the NFL having older fans may not be a bad thing, because old people have money. It’s why baseball still makes so much money. In 20 years though, the key will be whether or not now-NBA fans gravitate to those slower sports.

  6. Nice followup to your presentation.

  7. magicjohnshin1 · ·

    Great post, especially since it was about basketball. It’s a super exciting time and I hope you were able to watch the game openers this week. This is so awesome how you broke it down and really saw how every component (players, teams, league) functions with social media. I’ve definitely seen how much NBA has impacted my social media. Through all platforms, I follow NBA players, teams, videos, etc. Thanks for sharing and can’t wait to read more, cheers!

  8. mikeknoll98 · ·

    Really enjoyed your presentation a few weeks ago and I really like this post. I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about the star power of the NBA compared to the NFL. I think NFL careers are just so much more short lived (being 2-3 years on average) compared to that of an NBA star like LeBron James. Along with this I can personally attest to the NBA teams being much more active than the nFL teams on twitter, as I follow the Cav’s twitter which is constantly talking trash to other NBA team’s twitters. Keep up the great content.

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