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
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.