Although it is not the be-all and end-all of a team’s success or popularity, social media is a good barometer of how well a team connects with fans and keeps its best interests, marketing and otherwise, front and center.
A look at the most-followed teams and sports organizations on Twitter and Facebook show that they use the platforms to engage fans, immerse them in team activities, offer relevant information and provide special and sometimes exclusive offers.
It also makes the platform a valuable property for team marketing partners.
According to Twitter and Facebook, soccer clubs do this better than any others.
Real Madrid FC is the No. 1 pro team in the world with 23.9 million followers on Twitter and 104.5 million on Facebook (128.4 million total)
Its star player, Cristiano Ronaldo, is the most-followed athlete in the world on social media, with 53.4 million followers on Twitter and an overwhelming 119.4 Facebook followers.
By no coincidence, Real Madrid has a jersey sponsorship deal with Emirates Air that is among the most lucrative in sports: $25.3 million annually through the end of 2018. Negotiations are currently underway for an extension that would see either Emirates or another international company up the ante.
FC Barcelona is second in the world with 21.5 million Twitter followers and 102.5 million on Facebook (124 million total).
Its star player, Lionel Messi, has more than 90 million followers on Twitter and Facebook combined.
The club this year began a four-year jersey sponsorship with Tokyo-based tech and Internet company Rakuten valued at more than $59.5 million annually through 2021. That nearly doubled Barcelona’s previous deal with Qatar Airways, which came in at $33 million annually.
Ronaldo and Messi are also ranked No. 1 and No. 3 as the highest-paid athletes in the world. Ronaldo earns $93 million, including $35 million from endorsements; Messi takes in $80 million, including $27 million from endorsements.
Coming in at No. 2: LeBron James, who earns $86.2 million, including $55 million from endorsements.
James is the third-most popular pro athlete in the world on social media, with 37 million Twitter followers and 23.3 million on Facebook.
No. 3 on the team list is Manchester United, which has 11.4 million followers on Twitter and 73.6 million on Facebook. ManU also has the most lucrative jersey sponsorship deal in the world, more than $67 million annually through 2021 with Chevrolet.
A team doesn’t even have to be playing well to build a massive social media presence as long as they have a high-profile and keep their fans engaged.
Case in point: The Los Angeles Lakers have won 16 NBA titles as a franchise, the last in 2009-10.
But the team has been anything but title caliber recently, compiling a 91-237 record over the last four seasons.
Nonetheless, the Lakers, with a Hollywood-image fanbase, are the most popular NBA team on Twitter (6.4 million followers) and Facebook (21.8 million followers).
It doesn’t hurt that the NBA is successful on social media, with 25.5 million Twitter followers and 33.8 million on Facebook.
By comparison, the NFL has more than 40 million followers (23.8 million Twitter, 16.4 million Facebook), UFC has 27.4 million followers (5.8 million Twitter, 21.6 million Facebook) and MLB 14 million followers (7.4 million Twitter, 6.6 million Facebook).
But it is WWE that rules the social media roost. The company said it currently has 750 million followers across its various platforms — Facebook and on Twitter including WWE, WWE Network, WWE Universe, WWE Smackdown Live and WWE Raw Tour — and could top 1 billion total social media followers in 2018.