Zlatan has arrived in Los Angeles, the regular season is over, and the MLS playoffs are upon us.

Throughout the regular season, soccer’s top players took to social to build their brands beyond the pitch. With his charisma, relentless confidence, and on-field success, Zlatan was able to captivate a following that surpasses any other MLS player and continues to outpace the league in terms of engagement and audience.

The MLS’s biggest winners may have been its stars who previously played overseas, but the league’s up-and-coming talent was also able to capture momentum from the regular season to build strong followings and share their experiences with their audience. There’s no denying that athletes are a force on social and MLS players presented a perfect example of that influence this season. Their collective audience size, activity, and engagement significantly outrank that of their teams and the league itself.

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We can do whatever we want #venom

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We analyzed Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram data from the MLS’ owned channels, all 23 teams, and the top 50 players on social throughout the regular season (3/3/2018-10/28/2018). Below, we show how the players compare with their teams and league, then share the league’s regular season MVPs on social.
Audience
  • MLS players  — 227.1 million followers
  • MLS teams  — 22.4 million followers
  • MLS  — 7.3 million followers
Twitter
  • MLS players — 58.8 million followers
  • MLS teams  — 7 million followers
  • MLS  — 3.2 million followers
facebook
  • MLS players  — 84.6 million followers
  • MLS teams  — 11.6 million followers
  • MLS  — 3.1 million followers
instagram
  • MLS players  — 83.6 million followers
  • MLS teams  — 3.8 million followers
  • MLS  — 1.1 million followers
Activity
  • MLS teams  — 114.7 thousand posts
  • MLS players  — 40.9 thousand posts
  • MLS  — 15.3 thousand posts
Twitter
  • MLS teams — 69.7 thousand posts
  • MLS players  — 15.1 thousand posts
  • MLS  — 9.7 thousand posts
facebook
  • MLS teams  — 28.1 thousand posts
  • MLS players  — 12.6 thousand posts
  • MLS  — 3.8 thousand posts
instagram
  • MLS teams  — 17 thousand posts
  • MLS players  — 13.2 thousand posts
  • MLS  — 1.8 thousand posts
Engagement
  • MLS players  — 193 million engagements
  • MLS teams  — 79.8 million engagements
  • MLS  — 26.1 million engagements
Twitter
  • MLS teams  — 10.19 million engagements
  • MLS players — 10.17 million engagements
  • MLS  — 2.6 million engagements
facebook
  • MLS players  — 12 million engagements
  • MLS teams  — 9.2 million engagements
  • MLS  — 3.8 million engagements
instagram
  • MLS players  — 170.8 million engagements
  • MLS teams  — 60.4 million engagements
  • MLS  — 19.7 million engagements
Engagement Rate
  • MLS players  — 7.62%
  • MLS teams  — 0.40%
  • MLS  — 0.15%
Twitter
  • MLS players — 4.31%
  • MLS teams  — 0.05%
  • MLS  — 0.01%
facebook
  • MLS players  — 2.78%
  • MLS teams  — 0.08%
  • MLS  — 0.03%
instagram
  • MLS players  — 15.99%
  • MLS teams  — 2.37%
  • MLS  — 1.19%
Growth
We discovered one outlier in the data involving MLS player growth rate on Facebook. This is the only category displaying a decline in numbers on any social channel.

The cause of this decrease can be traced back to the players who came to the MLS from European professional leagues. Once these players transitioned from their Premier and Champions League clubs, a small percentage of their Facebook fanbase (presumably European fans) elected to unfollow their pages. The four most followed MLS players — Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, David Villa, and Bastian Schweinsteiger — are all former European players who saw a slight decline in Facebook follower growth rate.

However — with a collective follower growth of 11.9 million followers, MLS players continue to outpace their teams and league by nearly seven times.

  • MLS players  — 11.9 million followers
  • MLS teams  — 1.8 million followers
  • MLS  — 437.4 thousand followers
Twitter
  • MLS players — 2 million followers
  • MLS teams  — 374.3 thousand followers
  • MLS  — 62.3 thousand followers
facebook
  • MLS teams  — 583.5 thousand followers
  • MLS  — 191.2 thousand followers
  • MLS players  — -494.5 thousand followers
instagram
  • MLS players  — 10.4 million followers
  • MLS teams  — 873.1 thousand followers
  • MLS  — 183.6 thousand followers
Growth Rate
  • MLS teams  — 8.92%
  • MLS players  — 6.35%
  • MLS  — 5.53%
Twitter
  • MLS teams  — 5.67%
  • MLS players — 3.44%
  • MLS  — 1.98%
facebook
  • MLS  — 6.66%
  • MLS players  — 5.30%
  • MLS teams  — -0.58%
instagram
  • MLS teams  — 29.92%
  • MLS  — 21.78%
  • MLS players  — 14.25%

The athlete-driven MVPs of the MLS

Below is the performance analysis for the top 50 most-followed MLS players on social. We break down the data by audience, activity, engagement, and growth on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram from March 3, 2018, to October 28, 2018. These are the strongest brands on social from the MLS regular season.

Audience
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 67.4 million followers
  • Wayne Rooney  — 55.1 million followers
  • David Villa  — 28.2 million followers
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger — 23.7 million followers
  • Giovani dos Santos  — 7.7 million followers
Twitter
  • Wayne Rooney — 17.1 million followers
  • David Villa  — 8.9 million followers
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 5.5 million followers
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger  — 5.1 million followers
  • Giovani dos Santos  — 3.5 million followers
facebook
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 26.5 million followers
  • Wayne Rooney  — 25 million followers
  • David Villa  — 14.1 million followers
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger  — 9.3 million followers
  • Giovani dos Santos  — 2.7 million followers
instagram
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 35.4 million followers
  • Wayne Rooney  — 13 million followers
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger  — 9.3 million followers
  • David Villa  — 5.2 million followers
  • Jonathon dos Santos — 1.7 million followers
Activity
  • Kendall Waston  — 531 posts
  • Calos Vela  — 479 posts
  • David Villa  — 446 posts
  • Tim Howard  — 324 posts
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 315 posts
Twitter
  • Nick Rimando  — 188 posts
  • Kendall Waston  — 187 posts
  • David Villa  — 164 posts
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 121 posts
  • Tim Howard  — 110 posts
facebook
  • Carlos Vela  — 456 posts
  • Haris Medunjanin  — 167 posts
  • Kendall Waston  — 128 posts
  • David Villa  — 118 posts
  • Tim Howard  — 109 posts
instagram
  • Román Torres  — 239 posts
  • Claude Dielna  — 211 posts
  • Kendall Waston  — 185 posts
  • David Villa  — 164 posts
  • Ronald Matarrita  — 125 posts
Engagement
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 96.9 million engagements
  • Wayne Rooney  — 24 million engagements
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger  — 13.1 million engagements
  • David Villa — 10.8 million engagements
  • Jonathan dos Dantos  — 3 million engagements
Twitter
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 4 million engagements
  • Wayne Rooney  — 1.5 million engagements
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger  — 678.5 thousand engagements
  • David Villa  — 340 thousand engagements
  • Omar Gaber  — 287.9 thousand engagements
facebook
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 6.9 million engagements
  • Wayne Rooney  — 2 million engagements
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger  — 1.2 million engagements
  • Carlos Vela  — 341.4 thousand engagements
  • David Villa  — 259.1 thousand engagements
instagram
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic — 85.9 million engagements
  • Wayne Rooney  — 20.5 million engagements
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger  — 11.3 million engagements
  • David Villa  — 10.2 million engagements
  • Jonathan dos Santos — 2.9 million engagements

Engagement Rate

*min 18 posts

  • Chris Wondolowski  — 15.73%
  • Sebastian Lletget  — 9.40%
  • Yoshimar Yotún  — 7.14%
  • Josef Martínez  — 5.75%
  • Sebastian Giovinco  — 4.73%
Twitter
  • Carlos Vela  — 1.01%
  • Aly Ghazal  — 0.84%
  • Clint Dempsey  — 0.74%
  • Omar Gaber  — 0.74%
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 0.65%
facebook
  • Yura Movsisyan  — 1.42%
  • Kendall Waston  — .42%
  • Clint Dempsey  — .34%
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — .27%
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger  — .16%
instagram
  • Carlos Vela  — 14.77%
  • Josef Martínez  — 10.03%
  • Sebastian Lletget  — 9.40%
  • Clint Dempsey  — 9.30%
  • Miguel Almirón  — 9.09%
Growth
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 5.4 million followers
  • Carlos Vela — 734.3 thouand followers
  • Wayne Rooney  — 585.2 thousand followers
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger  — 582.6 thousand followers
  • Giovani dos Santos — 572.4 thousand followers
Twitter
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 601.7 thousand followers
  • Omar Gaber  — 487.7 thousand followers
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger  — 219.7 thousand followers
  • Aly Ghazal  — 171 thousand followers
  • David Villa  — 150.6 thousand followers
facebook
  • Giovani dos Santos  — 287.7 thousand fans
  • Carlos Vela  — 69.5 thousand fans
  • Kendall Waston  — 28 thousand fans
  • Ronald Matarrita  — 9.1 thousand fans
  • Aly Ghazal  — 6.6 thousand fans
instagram
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 4.9 million followers
  • Wayne Rooney  — 938.3 thousand followers
  • David Villa  — 603.2 thousand followers
  • Carlos Vela  — 556.6 thousand followers
  • Bastian Schweinsteiger  — 533.8 thousand followers
Growth Rate
  • Aly Ghazal  — 56.18%
  • Sebastian Lletget  — 47.55%
  • Carlos Vela — 41.22%
  • Josef Martínez  — 39.27%
  • Miguel Almirón  — 31.45%
Twitter
  • Aly Ghazal  — 76.15%
  • Omar Gaber  — 55.69%
  • Nick Rimando  — 24.69%
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic  — 12.38%
  • Carlos Vela  — 11.45%
facebook
  • Kendall Waston  — 15.71%
  • Giovani dos Santos — 12.05%
  • Aly Ghazal  — 7.44%
  • Ronald Matarrita  — 7.11%
  • Alberth Elis  — 2.11%
instagram
  • Carlos Vela  — 69.84%
  • Román Torres  — 60.17%
  • Josef Martínez  — 48.39%
  • Sebastian Lletget  — 47.55%
  • Ronald Matarrita  — 47.16%