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Baseball and Football Leading the Social Media Charge? Not According to this Study

2 May, 2018

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

While the USA might want to think sports like baseball and football have the lock on social media engagement, the sad fact is they didn’t even crack the top 20 worldwide. Not even close, in fact.

That’s the word that comes from a report entitled #SportOnSocial2018, compiled by data collection company RedTorch. The report, which ranks social media engagement of various international governing bodies of sports, analyzed more than 155,000 posts that generated more than 171 million engagements. According to an article in Inside The Games, the report looked across the social media platform, taking into consideration Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

So who does have game on social media? World Rugby, for one. It is this year's best-performing governing body in terms of engagement, followed by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA).

That’s right: rugby and ping-pong trounced baseball and football. And according to the report, which covers performance on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, the effects can be traced back to international competitions in which the governing bodies put up a strong social media game and encouraged fans to do so as well – something event owners can use locally. After all, thinking beyond the ‘Like’ button is an enormous step toward making social media work. Developing hashtags and encouraging use of them when checking in, mentioning, sharing and counting, is an easy – and free – way of marketing the event from the ground up.

Here are some case studies across multiple channels of social media, and how sports leveraged social media to improve engagement in the sport and in the event.

The 2017 World Rugby Under 20 Championship in Georgia and 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland generated substantial engagements, with viral content created from both tournaments. The ITTF ranked No. 2 in the Rankings Table, climbing eight places from 2017. Second on both YouTube and Facebook, it benefited from major tournaments including the 2017 World Table Tennis Championships and 2017 ITTF Men’s & Women’s World Cups.

Another big climber was curling. The World Curling Federation’s statistics jumped 10 places since 2017. It scored the third-highest engagement rate on Facebook, helped by the sport’s popularity during the 2018 Winter Olympics.

When it came to Facebook, there wasn’t an organization with a stronger social media game than bobsled and skeleton (IBSF) which had the highest engagement rate as a result of strong video content which included interviews with legendary skeleton racers and a first-person perspective taken from a bobsled. The IBSF posted an average 2.8 times a day, with the most engaging content published on Fridays and related to the 2017/18 BMW IBSF World Cup in Switzerland.

FIFA, which just barely squeaked into the top 10 in terms of social media engagement, had the strongest Instagram presence. With the highest following of all governing bodies -- 5.8 million – FIFA has gained 1.6 million fans since March of 2017 – 14 percent of them in December. December 1 saw the largest increase (50,000 fans) which coincided with the draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Twitter continues to be a popular platform for sports. On average, international federations sent 6.9 tweets per day, with FIVB (volleyball’s international governing body) posting an average of 41.2 times a day. This was due to high-profile events such as the 2017 Beach Volleyball World Championships in Austria, the 2017 FIVB Volleyball World League in Brazil, and the 2017 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix in China.

On YouTube, the international equestrian federation (FEI) ruled the day. FEI had the highest engagement rate on YouTube as a result of having the largest proportion of Reactions and Comments to Video Views. Dressage and Jumping events generated higher engagement rates than other disciplines, while #FlashbackFriday videos resulted in an uplift in reactions.

The full report, showing 20 IGBs and the growth or decline of each in terms of engagement, is available at this link.

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