Sports have a way of bringing people together. When you’re rooting for the same team, you have a shared camaraderie with friends, family, and strangers alike. If sports bring people together, social media can help keep them together, especially in the case of the top sports teams on social media.
Perhaps it’s that shared camaraderie that made the sports industry our top industry in terms of engagement rate on Facebook and Twitter and the second-best-performing industry on Instagram and TikTok, according to our Social Media Industry Benchmark Report for 2023. The sports industry knows just how to excite their audience, with the top teams on social media using unique tactics to garner high engagement.
However, these tactics don’t just benefit the sports sector. These takeaways can go to work to earn engagement even if you’re not out here shooting hoops or scoring goals. Check out these top trends for ideas on how to boost your own engagement.
7 Trends From the Best Sports Teams on Social Media
1. Celebrate your stars
Soccer team (or football team if you’re not from the U.S.) Inter Miami had a thrilling 2023, something that was mirrored in their social media success. Of all the sports teams studied to determine the list of the top sports teams on social media, Inter Miami had the highest engagement rate on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
So, what led to their social media supremacy? One could argue that one man played an integral role. In early June of 2023, Lionel Messi announced that he’d joined Inter Miami. Messi is one of the best players in soccer today and is credited as being one of the greatest of all time. By the time the award-winning player joined Inter Miami, he’d already been playing for nearly two decades professionally.
Securing a superstar like Messi is a big deal, and Inter Miami knows it, which is why many of their posts throughout 2023 talked about Messi joining the club. One of the team’s top posts by engagement rate on Facebook in 2023 was a video announcing Messi coming to Inter Miami, which earned an engagement rate of 106%, about 440x the average engagement rate of the sports industry on Facebook, according to our Social Media Industry Benchmark Report.
One look through the comment section confirms why talking about Messi boosted Inter Miami’s engagement rate for the year. With a career like Messi’s, he has his own fanbase, which he brought with him when he came to Inter Miami. These types of posts cater to that audience, encouraging them to become not just Messi fans but also Inter Miami fans. As one fan succinctly put it in the comments, “Wherever the [Greatest of All Time] goes, we follow. Inter Miami, here we come!”
2. Grow your audience with multiple languages
With Inter Miami having such great success in 2023 and establishing themselves as industry leaders, they had quite a few takeaways that made them one of the top sports teams on social media, such as their multi-lingual content. Using multiple languages in your social media can help you reach a larger audience, but it’s vital to choose languages that make sense with your followers.
Inter Miami often uses both English and Spanish in their posts, sometimes even in the same post, which helps them cater to their international audience. Spanish is only the fourth most spoken language in the world, according to Rosetta Stone. However, soccer is incredibly popular in places with Spanish speakers, even if it’s not called soccer there.
According to Nielson, three of the top 10 countries that are most interested in soccer speak Spanish as a primary language. The team is also based in Florida, where about 19% of the population speaks Spanish, according to World Population Review. Through writing content in both English and Spanish, Inter Miami is connecting with the audience in their own backyard, as well as international followers who are soccer fans.
Inter Miami’s top Facebook post by engagement rate in 2023 announced Messi’s first goal with Inter Miami, celebrating in both English and Spanish. The post earned an engagement rate of 221%, about 917x the average engagement rate of the sports industry on Facebook in 2023.
3. Find content off the field
One might think that the biggest things to happen to the NFL team Kansas City Chiefs in 2023 were winning the Super Bowl and the incredibly successful season that followed, but arguably, what helped them receive far more press was the relationship between tight end Travis Kelce and singer Taylor Swift. The budding romance was on everyone’s lips throughout the year, as the songstress was a frequent fixture at games.
MediaRadar tracked Swift’s appearances at the Chiefs games to find that their relationship was driving more advertising spending and higher game viewership, particularly among female viewers. With those sorts of numbers, it makes sense why the Chiefs’ social media might promote Swift, but there’s something to be said about the concern that Swift’s popularity might overshadow the team.
Instead, the team’s social media accounts embraced creativity by not directly addressing their relationship and finding a clever way to mention Swift without directly talking about her. One post, which was one of the team’s most popular by engagement rate, simply featured a photo of Kelce captioned with a reference to Swift’s music. The post earned an engagement rate of 18.8%, about 12.6x the average engagement rate for the sports industry on Instagram in 2023.
This tactic allowed the Chiefs to capitalize on what was going on off the field without turning the attention away from the team and the overall league. It also allowed the Chiefs to tease the audience a bit, to hint at Kelce and Swift’s relationship without actually having to weigh in on it.
4. Demonstrate your values
There’s a great deal of debate over whether or not companies should weigh in on important issues. While some say that taking a stance will be divisive and alienate audiences, that sort of thinking may be outdated, according to Sprout Social’s research. The social media management company found that younger generations, in particular, want to support companies that talk about their values and stand for something. If you want to connect with younger audiences, taking a stand on a meaningful topic can help you get their attention.
Consider the year that WNBA team Phoenix Mercury had. In 2022, center Brittney Griner was detained in Russia, which became a highly controversial topic. Some believed that she had broken the law and deserved to be detained, and many others thought that she’d received too severe a punishment and deserved to be home in her own country. At the end of 2022, Griner was able to leave the Russian prison and return to the U.S., where she received a great deal of pushback. The Phoenix Mercury also received some flack as they kept their audience updated with the latest developments on when Griner would come back to play.
The 2023 WNBA basketball season was the first in which Griner was able to play after her release. The decision to allow her to play was again marred by controversy, but the Mercury didn’t hesitate to tell audiences their feelings on the matter. The Mercury’s top tweet by engagement rate reaffirmed that they’d stand behind their player as they celebrated her return to the court.
The tweet earned an engagement rate of 18.6%, about 238x the average engagement rate for the sports industry on Twitter. While some of the comments are from naysayers, many more are from people excited to see her playing basketball once more.
5. Spark joy with your content
What types of feelings are you eliciting from your audience? According to a study by Nielson, one of the top reasons people turn to TikTok is to “lift their spirits.” Content that sparks joy can help you up your engagement on this video-sharing platform.
Another interesting piece of the study showed that 88% of TikTok users say that they discover new content they enjoy while using the app, and 52% went even further to say they discover new products or brands thanks to the app. If you’re creating content that blends in with what people want to see on TikTok, like joy-building content, you may find that using the platform results in growing your audience and, potentially, ticket sales.
The NHL team New Jersey Devils utilized this tactic effectively in 2023, creating content that amuses their target audience and encourages engagement, securing their spot as one of the top American sports teams on social media. Rather than directly promoting the Devils, the hockey team found success by posting comedic content that showed off their brand voice and the personalities of the players in their day-to-day lives.
Several of the team’s top posts by engagement rate on TikTok talked about what they dubbed Toothgate after center Jack Hughes’s tooth went missing. One of the top posts by engagement rate by view memorialized the tooth, with photos of Hughes before the tooth went missing set to a sad song. The post earned an engagement rate by view of 17.4%, 1.77x the average engagement rate by view of the top sports teams on TikTok.
6. Keep the camera on
According to the Nielson study, another of the top reasons people use TikTok is because they view the content on the app as being authentic, which is in line with how TikTok’s biggest demographic looks at content today. According to Statista, people aged 18 to 24, who would be considered Gen Z, make up 36.2% of TikTok’s audience.
According to a study by Ernst & Young, authenticity is key when targeting Gen Z. The study found that 92% of Gen Zers said that authenticity is more important than any other personal value. Being true to oneself is something that Gen Z holds dear, and they’re more likely to want to connect with brands that are showing off their authentic selves.
One way to stay authentic on the app is to keep the camera going. Candid moments can help your account look more realistic and relatable. This tactic is in line with the idea that posting behind-the-scenes content can help you garner engagement, something that Rival IQ has seen in numerous studies, like our look at the top beauty brands on social media.
One of the top TikToks of the year for soccer team Leeds United came about from a candid moment. Rather than showing something that the players did on the field, the TikTok showed something happening just off the field by the team’s manager, Daniel Farke.
Caught on film was a moment in which the manager showed incredible ball control, something that made the crowd go wild, a sentiment that was mirrored in the comments of the TikTok video. The video earned an engagement rate by view of 10.3%, which is on par with the average engagement rate by view of the top sports teams on TikTok.
7. Utilize Reels
Despite the fact that static photos were the type of content posted most often by the sports industry, according to our Social Media Industry Benchmark Report for 2023, Reels received far more engagement on Instagram. On average, photos received an engagement rate of just under 1.425%. Meanwhile, Reels scored nearly 1.9%, which is about 1.28x the average engagement rate of the sports industry on Instagram.
One team that truly embraced Reels in 2023 was the NFL team Philadelphia Eagles. The team posted 642 Reels, compared to 402 photos and 394 Carousels. The NFL franchise’s top two posts by engagement rate for 2023 were both Reels, with both earning an engagement rate of more than 50%.
However, it’s worth noting that of the team’s top 10 posts by engagement rate in 2023, five were Carousels, three were Reels, and two were photos. This diverse collection of content goes to show that, while it’s valuable to utilize Reels, it’s vital to make them just one part of your content strategy. Trying out multiple forms of content helps you test and reinvest in what’s working, which allows you to optimize your social media strategy better.
To find the top sports teams on social media, we first looked at the largest sports teams in the world and the ones with the biggest online followings. We then compared their average engagement rates from January 1, 2023, to December 31, 2023, to the average engagement rates of the sports industry, according to our Social Media Industry Benchmark Report for 2023.
Beyond their engagement rates, we also took a look at their posting history. Only sports teams that posted more than once a week could be chosen as top sports teams on social media.
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Wrapping Up the Top Sports Teams on Social Media
Throughout 2023, sports teams utilized many different trends and takeaways to boost their online engagement. Over on TikTok, teams found success by focusing on bringing joy and authenticity to the forefront. Meanwhile, on Instagram, teams saw that diversifying content and giving Reels a try gave them an engagement boost.
However, some trends are spreading all throughout the top social media platforms. Celebrating your stars, standing for something you believe in, and finding ways to make your content more inclusive can all help you grow your following and encourage more conversation and connection over your posts.