While social media doesn’t always add value to your brand (especially not if you are “President T”), the NBA has used a variety of social media platforms to bolster their brand and ratings. It is clear when it comes to viewership the NFL is king, but the NBA’s strong social media presence is helping to close that gap. Impressively, they are doing this at a time when the competitive balance throughout the league is nearly non-existent.
The NFL viewership on a week to week basis is comparable to the NBA playoff viewership. Comparing the two isn’t necessarily apples to apples (the NBA’s regular season is about 5 times longer than the NFL’s) but with the NFL regular season competing with the NBA’s playoffs, there is a sizeable gap to close. To close this gap, the NBA started their social media domination.
What strategy is the NBA utilizing that the other leagues can’t seem to figure out or duplicate? How do they get their players to participate across various platforms so consistently? How do they get the players to be themselves? To behave like they are on an unscripted reality tv show?
They did something the NFL would never dream of doing…
The NBA trusted their product… They trusted in the players they pay millions…
In 2016, the NFL started putting restrictions on the social media usage of their teams and players. NFL teams weren’t allowed to post videos of themselves. Contrary to the NFL’s strategy, official NBA twitter accounts post live action throughout games and fans love it. Ian Karmel, writer of The Late Late Show with James Cordon, is a huge Blazers fan and loves the personality their Instagram and twitter accounts have created, “They tweet like a fan, they tweet the way I tweet.”
The ability for the NBA teams to connect with their fans on such a personal level makes it so the fans want to constantly check in on the team’s social media. They want to be a part of the team and feel the connection. When it isn’t the teams creating this connection, the players are out and about doing it themselves…. And the league loves it. Joel Embid recently posted a picture of him moving bricks as part of the NBA Africa Game promotion with the caption “Laying out these bricks before the season starts so I don’t miss game tying shots in the playoffs.”
While Embid is known for being a great trash talker towards others, he turns the table on himself here and keeps fans interested even in the offseason. You can’t take for granted the comfort level Embid and other players feel to poke fun at themselves due to the freedom the NBA has given them across their platform of choice.
As the NBA has watched their popularity grow in correlation with their player’s social media presence, they have begun giving fans even more access. Teams have recently began posting videos of their players arriving to the arena before the game. Fans have the opportunity to see the player’s cars, clothes, accessories, and personalities shine as they walk in to get ready for work. We all can relate to picking out clothes, grabbing our favorite accessories, and walking into work. So seeing the players, who we generally only know from being high-flying, giant humans, doing everyday things makes them drastically more relatable.
How is this all working? Last Christmas, even with a plethora of injuries, ratings were up 39% from the prior year according to SBNation. Local ratings were up across the league as a whole even with the same finals match up happening for the fourth year in a row. Only one team out of the 8 biggest markets actually made the playoffs and ratings were still up. This season we are slowly starting to see a healthy competitive balance again, which should indicate another year of ratings growth.
If the NBA continues to be the innovator they have proven to be, the NFL’s claim to being “America’s Sport” could be running out of time.
Want more social media don’ts? Follow the NFL or check out this article