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When Consumers Talk, It’s the NBA, Not the NFL, that Dominates

Published by Engagement Labs May 30, 2017

The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are heading toward a much-anticipated third-in-a-row showdown in the NBA Finals. But, off court, the NFL and the NBA are vying to become the world’s top sport. Although the NFL is the dominant sports league in America – it’s projected to bring in $14 billion in revenue next season, compared to the NBA’s projected $8 billion – the NBA has become the talk of the town.

In one of the earliest signs of a pending shift in popularity, the NBA now ranks number one among sports leagues over the last 12 months in TotalSocial®, a new first-of-its-kind analysis of combined offline and online consumer conversations. The rankings are based on Engagement Labs’ proprietary TotalSocial® data, which continuously measures the most important drivers of brand performance with respect to social media and word of mouth conversations.

The NFL takes the number two spot, with the MLB almost tied at third. As Engagement Labs has previously reported, interest in the professional football league as measured by word of mouth was down 26% during the 2016 season over the prior season.

Top TotalSocial® Professional Sports Organizations

  1. NBA
  2. NFL
  3. MLB
  4. NHL
  5. PGA

The idea that the NBA might surpass the NFL in popularity isn’t as crazy as it sounds, the Wall Street Journal suggested last fall in an article entitled “Can the NBA Catch the NFL?”

In light of our latest findings, this possibility certainly seems much stronger. The NFL still ranks first in volume of online and offline conversation, but our TotalSocial solution goes beyond this single metric because we know that it takes a more rounded view to best predict business outcomes. Sentiment is also important, and the NBA leads in this metric both online and offline. Meanwhile the NFL is dead last, a position that likely reflects its controversies over head injuries, domestic violence, and freedom of speech.

Most tellingly, the NBA leads the NFL in offline influence. Despite today’s celebrity culture, everyday influencers and their recommendations have a greater impact on brand outcomes. With a “social value” four times the average consumer, they are the most persuasive form of marketing. That the NBA is winning at this metric says volumes about its potential success.

In looking at the relative strengths of each of other sports organizations, the MLB has an advantage in sentiment over both the NFL and the NBA. But it’s the PGA that leads all in sentiment both online and offline – and by a fair distance.

We’ll soon know who will pick up the trophy from this year’s championship run, but the battle between the leagues will take longer to play out. In the meantime, we have courtside seats and will continue to monitor and report on the trends in consumer conversations about these two brands.