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If 2019 becomes the year of athlete-driven marketing on social, 2018 was the year that built the foundation to make it happen.

The leading leagues, properties, and publishers in sports have made significant strides to empower their talent with technology, strategy, and premium content. This effort is founded in proof  — lots of proof  — that athletes drive incredible impact when provided access to the right assets.

The shift is evident within the major U.S. leagues. While the metrics of the leagues vary, each has made a push to build their brands alongside their most powerful partners — athletes.

In this report, we aim to provide a look at the U.S. sports ecosystem on social by breaking down the performance of athletes from eight of the country’s top leagues.
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The data offers a glimpse at how each league’s athletes perform as a whole and on average, measuring their audience, activity, engagement, and growth.

With over 721 million followers on social, NBA players comfortably lead all leagues in total athlete audience size. NFL players held onto second place ahead of the up-and-coming MLS, who earned a big bump from transfer stars including Zlatan and Rooney.

There’s no denying the athlete-driven capabilities of NHL players, who boast the highest collective engagement rate of any league on social at over 10 percent. Hockey’s best are less active than their peers in other sports, but their passionate fans are clearly hungry for more content from the players.

While PGA TOUR, LPGA, and WNBA athletes lack the sheer audience size of the larger leagues, each posts a strong rate of growth and engagement, and rank near the top in terms of quality content (posts including photos or video). 

2018 Athlete-driven Leaderboard

Below is the performance analysis for athletes’ social performance from eight of the leading sports leagues in the United States; the NBA, NFL, MLS, NHL, MLB, PGA TOUR, WNBA, and LPGA Tour.

Each section (Audience, Activity, Engagement, and Growth) first shares how the athletes in each league rank cumulatively, then how the leagues compare on a per player basis. This analysis includes data from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for 5,352 total athletes from January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018.

Get the full report

Athlete audience by league
  • NBA players  — 721.1 million followers
  • NFL players  — 330.3 million followers
  • MLS players  — 229.3 million followers
  • MLB players  — 116.3 million followers
  • NHL players — 59.6 million followers
  • PGA TOUR players — 56.5 million followers
  • WNBA players — 11.7 million followers
  • LPGA Tour players — 6.1 million followers
Audience per athlete
  • NBA players  — 1.5 million followers
  • MLS players  — 350.1 thousand followers
  • NFL players  — 185.5 thousand followers
  • MLB players  — 177.6 thousand followers
  • PGA TOUR players — 159.2 thousand followers
  • WNBA players — 81.8 thousand followers
  • NHL players — 75.1 thousand followers
  • LPGA Tour players — 32.4 thousand followers
Athlete activity by league
  • NFL players  — 254.2 thousand posts
  • NBA players  — 102.3 thousand posts
  • MLB players  — 60.3 thousand posts
  • MLS players  — 57.1 thousand posts
  • WNBA players — 35.7 thousand posts
  • PGA TOUR players — 35.3 thousand posts
  • LPGA Tour players  — 22.5 thousand posts
  • NHL players  — 18.9 thousand posts
Activity per athlete
  • WNBA players — 250 posts
  • NBA players  — 206 posts
  • NFL players  — 143 posts
  • LPGA Tour players  — 120 posts
  • PGA TOUR players — 99 posts
  • MLS players  — 87 posts
  • MLB players  — 64 posts
  • NHL players  — 24 posts
Athlete engagements by league
  • NBA players  — 1.4 billion engagements
  • NFL players  — 1 billion engagements
  • MLS players  — 258.1 million engagements
  • MLB players  — 208.5 million engagements
  • NHL players  — 80.3 million engagements
  • PGA TOUR players  — 52.4 million engagements
  • WNBA players  — 37.9 million engagements
  • LPGA Tour players  — 17.5 million engagements
Engagements per athlete
  • NBA players  — 2.8 million engagements
  • NFL players  — 561.5 thousand engagements
  • MLS players  — 394 thousand engagements
  • WNBA players  — 265 thousand engagements
  • MLB players  — 221.8 thousand engagements
  • PGA TOUR players  — 147.6 thousand engagements
  • NHL players  — 101.1 thousand engagements
  • LPGA Tour players  — 93.1 thousand engagements
Athlete growth by league
  • NBA players — 84.8 million followers
  • NFL players  — 47.5 million followers
  • MLS players  — 15.2 million followers
  • MLB players  — 13.6 million followers
  • NHL players — 5.8 million followers
  • PGA TOUR players — 4 million followers
  • WNBA players — 1.2 million followers
  • LPGA Tour players — 755.4 thousand followers
Growth per athlete
  • NBA players — 171 thousand followers
  • NFL players  — 26.7 thousand followers
  • MLS players  — 23.2 thousand followers
  • MLB players  — 14.5 thousand followers
  • PGA TOUR players — 11.3 thousand followers
  • WNBA players — 8.4 thousand followers
  • NHL players — 7.3 thousand followers
  • LPGA Tour players — 4 thousand followers