The social Super Bowl: Ranking the NFL on Twitter

It’s Super Bowl time! The year’s biggest event in TV, sports and marketing arrives in just a few days. And we’re here to update you on all the interesting social aspects of the big game. First, let’s talk about the NFL and how they do on Twitter. In particular, what can we learn about Twitter’s favorite teams and how that has changed over the season? What teams do the best on Twitter?

Ranking NFL teams by followers

To start the NFL season last fall, the top five teams on Twitter (ordered by followers) were:

  1. New England Patriots: 1.51M followers
  2. Dallas Cowboys: 1.44M
  3. Green Bay Packers: 1.08M
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers: 1.06M
  5. San Francisco 49ers: 1.04M

As the season winds down, the top five NFL teams on Twitter are now:

  1. New England Patriots: 2.28M
  2. Dallas Cowboys: 1.58M
  3. Denver Broncos: 1.48M
  4. Green Bay Packers: 1.21M
  5. Carolina Panthers: 1.20M

The Carolina Panthers gained the most followers as a percentage over the season, growing more than 144% since October from fewer than 500k to more than 1.2M. The Arizona Cardinals were a close second, growing 112% to 420k from less than 200k. The Broncos and Patriots also saw significant follower gains over the season, growing to 1.5M and 2.3M, respectively.

Ranking NFL teams by tweet volume

In terms of tweet volumes, the top five teams starting the season were (figures are tweet volumes for the month of September 2015):

  1. New England Patriots, 2.3M
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1.4M
  3. Dallas Cowboys, 1.2M
  4. Seattle Seahawks, 1.1M
  5. Green Bay Packers, 1.1M

Interestingly, the Dallas Cowboys, which started the season as one of the strongest team on social media, have fallen to the bottom of the pack. Their account only grew by 9% during the season, one of the slowest growth rates in the league (the only slower growth teams were the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets). They have almost 1.6M followers now, but are in danger of losing their lead as other teams catch up. They finished the season with 2.7M total tweets.

In the past month, the teams that have received the most tweets during the post season are:

  1. Carolina Panthers, 3.9M
  2. New England Patriots, 2.9M
  3. Denver Broncos, 2.7M
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers, 2.6M
  5. Seattle Seahawks, 2.0M
NFL late season ranking by tweet volume

The teams that have received the most tweets during the entire season are:

  1. New England Patriots, 10.5M
  2. Carolina Panthers, 9.6M
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers, 7.2M
  4. Denver Broncos, 6.0M
  5. Green Bay Packers, 5.7M

Tweet volumes about the Patriots were high throughout the season, ranging from 1.7M to 2.3M per month until January, when those volumes increased during the playoffs. The Patriots generated on average 35k tweets per day over the course of the season.

Tweet volumes about the Panthers increased dramatically each month during the season as NFL fans across the world seemed to discover the team for the first time. In September, there were just 700k tweets about the team, but there were more than 3.6M in January. Over the course of the season, the Panthers generated 26k tweets daily,

The Broncos saw several ebbs and flows in interest on Twitter as the team played well and then not-so-well. They started the season with 800k in September, dropped down to 600k in October, spiked up to 1.3M in November, back down in December, then up again in January.

What else can we learn from NFL Twitter data?

Interestingly but maybe not surprisingly, tweet volumes correspond pretty directly to a team’s success on the field. For example, when Peyton Manning was out for a few games in November, the number of tweets posted about the Broncos declined significantly. On November 15, the day the Broncos faced off against the Kansas City Chiefs, Peyton Manning was removed from the game in the third quarter and the Broncos went on to lose the game. That day, the Broncos only earned about 90k total tweets, which is less than half what they earned on a day they won. You can see these declines reflected in many teams’ tweet volumes throughout the season, like the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys. For many of these storied franchises, fan excitement starts high early in the season, but when playoff hopes fade away, so does a lot of the Twitter chatter.

Finally, as we ramp for to the Super Bowl, it’s fascinating to look at the differences between the Broncos and the Panthers on social media. The Panthers fans have become more active on social media than Broncos fans. On Sunday, January 24, the day of the NFC and AFC championship games, there were 25% more Panthers tweets than Broncos tweets. The Panthers audience has grown healthily over the course of the season, and the Panthers seem to have finally convinced Twitter that they’re good enough to be in the Super Bowl.

And the Cardinals never even came close on social media; they earned just 200k tweets on January 24, a small fraction of what the game-winning Panthers earned.

Come back later this week for more Super Bowl social data analysis! We’ll be breaking down our favorite ads and much more. And if you want these kind of analytics for your brand, learn more here.

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