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Baseball and social media

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As social media continues to grow in use, how teams use Twitter, Facebook and other platforms will be crucial in communicating with the next generation of fan.

The person on the left has the most Twitter followers among baseball players. No one knows why.
The person on the left has the most Twitter followers among baseball players. No one knows why.
Michael Tran/Getty Images

I'm old enough that I started going online using AOL back in 1994 on my company-issued Mac laptop (expressly prohibited, by the way). There was no avenue to the Internet, so poking around the AOL-controlled content became boring fairly quickly, until I stumbled across . . . chat rooms! Very specifically, a subset of chat rooms dedicated to trivia, with set schedules and hosts. After spending some time acclimating myself, I became one of the hosts, running trivia games on Friday and Saturday evenings. As I spent time in these rooms, I noticed a core group of around 300-400 people, depending on date, time and game type. This served as my introduction to proto-social media.

Today, social media serves as both a means for people with similar interests to interact, and a marketing tool for corporations, sports teams, and other entities. It can inform, entertain, and enlighten, and it can really be fun when watching a game and seeing the reactions, all the way from the emotion to the informative. In a sense, we're not watching games alone anymore.

I don't claim to be a social media expert (I am older than 15), but as of this writing, teams are using Facebook and Twitter as their primary social mediums. This data from Fan Page List shows how the major league teams rank in Facebook and Twitter followers:

Team Jan 2015 FB rFB Jan 2015 TW rTW
Yankees 8,680,929 1 1,308,903 2
MLB 6,280,292 2 4,113,239 1
Red Sox 5,169,634 3 941,917 3
Giants 2,927,030 4 741,581 5
Dodgers 2,881,456 5 649,833 6
Cubs 2,367,892 6 447,730 13
Cardinals 2,251,953 7 575,809 10
Rangers 2,240,204 8 478,069 12
Tigers 2,224,117 9 580,440 9
MLB Fan Cave 2,132,981 10 526,397 11
Braves 2,108,948 11 586,855 8
Phillies 1,737,855 12 918,569 4
White Sox 1,622,861 13 254,037 22
Angels 1,200,491 14 256,476 21
Reds 1,142,944 15 366,065 14
Mets 1,136,062 16 310,743 17
Twins 1,118,656 17 262,754 20
Blue Jays 1,085,727 18 616,585 7
Orioles 1,024,216 19 299,443 18
Brewers 1,023,828 20 244,736 24
Indians 1,023,266 21 276,733 19
Mariners 1,013,571 22 249,707 23
Pirates 991,668 23 316,214 15
Royals 908,251 24 315,228 16
Rockies 846,943 25 168,712 30
Astros 766,191 26 185,068 28
Athletics 739,692 27 231,189 26
Rays 692,190 28 213,450 27
Padres 682,386 29 154,127 31
Diamondbacks 645,218 30 175,033 29
Marlins 547,228 31 143,054 32
Nationals 526,876 32 236,436 25

Click on column headings to sort

Using the Yankees as an example, they're #1 in Facebook likes ranks and second in Twitter followers.

I remember being shocked when I first saw these figures about a year ago. Granted, I've spent little time on Facebook (we don't own a cat) and thought Twitter was destined to turn Facebook into the next MySpace, but clearly I'm incorrect in that regard. The roughly 5:1 ratio of Facebook to Twitter followers should scream out at anyone involved with team social media at any level.

There's legitimate reason to wonder how many of these likes and followers are real, and the article to the right by Beyond the Box Score contributor and editor Ryan Morrison addresses this. Since I started tracking this data, teams have roughly doubled their social media presence, so clearly it's not just a blip that's going away. I showed this chart at the end of my last post on game length, and it's worth showing again — the median age of the typical viewer for national telecasts of pro sports:

Sport Median Age
NBA 39
NHL 45
NFL 48
MLB 55
Golf 58

Compare and contrast this with how baseball ranks with the other sports in terms of Facebook and Twitter followers, using the MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL and MLS followers:

Sport Facebook Twitter
NBA 27,164,223 12,825,940
NFL 12,389,836 9,098,904
MLB 6,280,292 4,113,239
NHL 3,776,668 3,088,375
MLS 1,454,864 284,175

I show Major League Soccer to show just how far it's come in taking over this country as the #1 sport (this is a joke —feel free to laugh). I will definitely state I was shocked when I saw the NBA numbers, but there's a decent correlation between the age of the audience and the use of social media. I never would have guessed a difference by a factor of four between baseball and basketball in social media engagement.

This last chart is a bit more speculative and shows the baseball players with the most followers:

Player Facebook Twitter
Nick Swisher 248,930 1,732,063
David Ortiz 1,827,008 778,696
Jose Bautista 288,676 626,988
Mike Trout 347,345 602,469
Justin Verlander 179,181 569,347
Miguel Cabrera 186,696 546,187
Jose Canseco 13,154 515,257
Matt Kemp 316,779 430,184
CC Sabathia 252,904 413,361
Dustin Pedroia 191,322 316,594
Curtis Granderson 270,893 312,390
Andrew McCutchen 201,943 311,796
Hunter Pence 301,783 300,070
Jacoby Ellsbury 74,630 296,932
Mark Teixeira 262,229 296,917
Ozzie Guillen 26,060 295,923
Buster Posey 565,960 257,064
Felix Hernandez 35,272 243,121
Evan Longoria 134,807 237,657
Jason Heyward 131,557 237,570

This was done manually, so there's a chance a player may have slipped through the cracks. I'm fairly confident of the Twitter numbers, the Facebook numbers include pages set up for and about players and may not necessarily be under the player's control. I'm reasonably certain I ferreted out the fake Twitter accounts (Ryan Ludwick has a fake Twitter account. R-y-a-n L-u-d-w-i-c-k.), so I trust these numbers more. I don't want to brag, but Jose Bautista follows me — and a mere 390,030 other people. He must be impressed with my hot takes.

We do things a bit backward at Beyond the Box Score, with 16,418 Twitter followers and 2,117 Facebook likes, almost the exact opposite of sports teams. Part of it is the special nature of our followers who probably feel more drawn to Twitter than Facebook (our followers don't own cats either). The male/female ratio of our audience approaches the proportion of Catholic priests that are male, but we're working on that.

I've been granted access to the BtBS Facebook page and have been conducting tests of engagement, placing charts and graphs on both Facebook and Twitter to gauge the response. For example, I recently posted a slightly different version of the player chart on both — on Twitter, it got three favorites, one retweet and an extremely valid comment:

On Facebook, it generated 26 clicks, 19 likes and a couple of comments, one of which I even understood.

This Google Docs spreadsheet has information for all the professional sports teams, and digging around the Fan Page List shows other types of sports, entertainers and politicians to see what kind of social media presence they have.

Social media in one form or another is here to stay. I use it to alert people when I have something new up here, but it is total chance between a person seeing that tweet the very second it crosses his timeline (I think I have three female followers) or taking advantage of the slower-moving Facebook to give it a better chance to be seen. Like everything, it's not an either/or proposition as much as an and, in that people interested in getting the message out to as wide an audience as possible will use every medium at their disposal. If baseball is to continue to be relevant to the next generation of fan, it needs to know how to communicate to them.

A friend of mine is the communications director for a Fortune 50 company, and had social media added to his portfolio around a year or so ago. He told me "Our customers are on Facebook, and the people we want to hire are on Twitter." The important thing is he recognized he needs to be on both platforms, because there is no one way to communicate to a broad audience. Communication is a two-way street, and if the audience doesn't receive the message for whatever reason, communication isn't occurring. That's why it's so important for teams to use every tool available to reach and grow their audience.

The driver of increased revenues in baseball is increased eyeballs across multiple platforms, and if those eyeballs begin to decrease, it could cause some serious shifts in the revenue landscape. The fact that baseball audiences tend to skew older make it even more incumbent on baseball to broaden their outreach to younger fans as well as keep the game interesting, entertaining and relevant to their lives.

Just for fun, answer a brief poll at the bottom of this post. The poll will be open for two weeks, so vote early, vote often and tell your friends. And then like us on Facebook.

Data from Fan Page List and gathered on January 29th, 2015. Any errors in gathering the data are the author's.

Scott Lindholm has a Facebook page and last used it in 2011. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.