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?
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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?
- The NBA is the first sports league to reach 1 billion likes
- The Los Angeles Clippers sold for about $2 billion, which is greater than the sale of any NFL team
- 20 NBA Players made ESPN’s most recent most famous athletes in the world ranking
- According to Forbes, 3 NBA teams are in the Top 10 most valuable social media presences among sports teams compared to 0 NFL teams
So you could say the NBA “is running a three-on-none fast break across social media.”