Monday, July 8, 2013

Professional Team Twitter Followers

First and foremost, my heartfelt condolences to the family of Gary Gerstein, known as Gary from Evanston on 670 The Score's Boers and Bernstein Show. Their show is special in that they make real connections with their listeners, and Gary would be the #1 inductee into a B&B Listener Hall of Fame with 100% of the vote and no one else elected. His weekly submissions on Thursday's "Who You Crappin'" segments were priceless and will never be duplicated and always be missed. R.I.P., Gary, I wish I had introduced myself to you in Niles a couple of weeks ago.

I was watching the Cubs-Pirates game yesterday and had the idea to follow all the Chicago team's Twitter feeds. Let me be clear on this--I have 307 Twitter followers and follow 57, and the ONLY REASON anyone should follow me on Twitter is to find out when I post new content. I update my Mistake Index daily, and it contains information you just won't find in one place so it's your fault if you don't check it daily. I also try to publish a research piece daily (like this one), and while they're not everyone's cup of tea, they attempt to research a question and give solid objective evidence to buttress my position. Don't  follow me on Twitter to know what I think--I'M bored by what I think. No, follow me to find out what I KNOW, because I'm not just a numbers guy, I'm a STORY guy who uses numbers to tell a story.

So get on with the story already! I was intrigued to see the number of Twitter followers each of the Chicago pro teams had (figures accurate as of approximately 3:30 pm on Sunday, July 7th):
I did NOT see this coming. There's a PhD thesis or 20 in this phenomenon, and I need to state up front that I do not even remotely consider Twitter representative of a fan base, but I contend it is reasonable to view it as a way to measure interest and intensity. If you were to ask 100 Chicago sports fans who their favorite team was, I suspect it would be something along the lines of Bears 50%, Blackhawks around 30% due to their recent Stanley Cup victory, and I can't really place the other three given their success or lack thereof (this Harris Poll shows interesting national data). I will unequivocally state that there is NO WAY I would have said that nearly 50% of the Twitter followers of the Chicago teams (and I know there's significant overlap) followed the Bulls. There's no doubt that the fandom for baseball and hockey is older than football and basketball (there's interesting data here), and younger fans are certainly more involved in Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Younger fans Tweet--older ones pay money for a seat.

I put out that information and received a tweet back asking if this was replicated in other markets with four teams. I found that to be an intriguing question and checked it out, with all data taken from Fan Page List. I have no clue regarding the accuracy of the data, but it matches up well with what I found for the Chicago sports teams. One EXTREMELY IMPORTANT caveat:
As an example, Twitter showed the Bulls with 905,222 followers as of yesterday. Fan Page List has them with 905,199. I have no idea how often the site is updated--as I write this, the number is up to 906,937, so it must be fairly dynamic. THE NUMBER ISN'T IMPORTANT, but the relative rank is.
It would appear that Chicago is not unique--here are the Twitter followers by sport:

Again, I leave it to other smarter than me to make the grand pronouncements, but the NBA almost doubles the NFL in the number of Twitter followers. For completeness sake, Fan Page List also has Facebook followers, but since I'm a man I don't use Facebook and don't really care about it. Facebook followers number about 5-7 times greater than Twitter followers, but the ranks stay the same.

This table ranks the Twitter followers by sport:

There are some surprises, but in general, the more successful the team, the more Twitter followers it has. I'm new enough to these Twitter feeds to not have a feel for what they're putting out--for all I know, they're not being used at all, but if teams are smart, they're using them to give in-game updates, announce trades, roster moves and other information that fans want to know. If all I get from the Cubs is "Another beautiful day at Wrigley," it'll be useless--and dropped. And that number for the Winnipeg Thrashers--NOT a typo.

This table answers the question I was asked--how do teams rank in the 4-team markets? I'll use two tables to illustrate this--the first will be the teams:

This second substitutes the league and the percentage of Twitter followers:

There are 13 of these markets (I also includes Los Angeles since it does have 6 professional teams)--in those 13, the NBA team was #1 in Twitter followers 5 times, the NFL 4 times, MLB 3 times and the NHL once. None of these #1s in baseball, football or hockey are any great surprise--they're among the most popular teams in sports. Los Angeles without a football team is clearly a basketball town, which the Lakers prove by having over 70% of the Twitter followers in a 6-team market. Miami is about as close to a one-team town and will be until the Dolphins turn around (I'll assume the Marlins and Panthers will be bad forever). Phoenix manages to be apathetic across the board, and the Suns have been there the longest, but Chicago and Boston puzzle me. The Patriots will become bad again at some point but have been one of the most successful teams of the 2000s. The Celtics have a proud tradition, but still, and for the Bears, I really don't know what it means.

It's important enough to state again--I'm NOT suggesting that Twitter followers are a lockstep gauge of fan interest, but it does suggest an interesting change. I believe it can be confidently stated that football has been America's game since around the 1970s, but certainly is today--the TV ratings and the dollars paid for their broadcasts say all that needs to be said, but a real battle between basketball and baseball continues. The NBA as recently as 1980 had its finals on tape delay, but Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and particularly Michael Jordan, among others, ushered in a new era of fans. LeBron James continues the tradition. Here are the top players by Twitter followers:

You have to get down all the way to #54 to reach the first baseball player and it's...Nick Swisher!?!! And the other player referenced is Jose Canseco, so current players aren't racking up large Twitter followers. I have no clue where Ovechkin ranks because I stopped counting, but it's clear Twitter followers skew toward the sports where the audience skews young.

I'm generally not a fan of any communication mode that requires truncation of thoughts into 140-character or less bytes, and it begins a serious discussion as to what communication really is, but it is fair to say that Twitter users are on the cutting edge. I have 24 and 21-year-old daughters, both technologically proficient but one much more interested in social media than the other. They both think it's hilarious that I'm on Twitter and they simply can't understand my rationale--I essentially use Twitter as advertising. I'll be intrigued as technology improves to see if sports interest begins to mirror these trends and shifts in interest from baseball to basketball increase. From a TV perspective, it's not even close as it's far easier to consume baseball than basketball, but will the demographic trends that Nate Silver and others are trumpeting apply to professional sports as well? They certainly have in the past as teams migrated from the northeast into other parts of the country as the population shifted, but improvements in travel were just as important. Will soccer FINALLY conquer America as the favorite sport? Is basketball poised to overtake baseball as the #2 behind football? Who knows, but Twitter following could very well be a leading indicator. The Harris Poll referenced above shows football as the favorite sport of 31% of the respondents, baseball 17%, basketball 6% and hockey 5%. That's today--the times, they might be a-changin'.


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