The Leading Athlete-Driven Leagues of 2018


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.

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Pure madness, We were rocking at Ambience Mall!!! Thank you @chelseaFc , @yokohamachelseafc and everyone who turned up today ??? #DriveForMore #CFC

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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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Run that back turbo.

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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, MLBPGA TOURWNBA, 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.

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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 follower
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

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