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 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.
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.
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.