While soccer is the world’s most popular sport, how well does that translate to online, particularly social networks? Basically, what’s the most popular sport on social media?
To determine this, I took at North America’s “Big Four” of baseball (MLB), football (NFL), basketball (NBA), and hockey (NHL), plus a few soccer leagues: Major League Soccer (MLS), England’s Premier League, and Spain’s La Liga.
Numbers are as of September 26, 2022, and taken from their individual social network pages and Wikipedia. I’m also not counting the WWE, as it falls under “sports entertainment” versus traditional sports.
The leagues’ Facebook pages:
- La Liga: 80.9 million followers
- Premier League: 51.4 million followers
- NBA: 45.2 million followers
- NFL: 18.9 million followers
- MLB: 8.7 million followers
- NHL: 4.7 million followers
- MLS: 4.5 million followers
Top five sports-related Facebook pages:
- Cristiano Ronaldo, soccer player, 152 million followers
- Real Madrid CF, soccer team, 113 million followers
- FC Barcelona, soccer team, 107 million followers
- Lionel Messi, soccer player, 106 million followers
- Neymar, soccer player, 88 million followers
As shown above, soccer dominates on Facebook by a wide margin. La Liga alone eclipses every North American sports league combined.
Similarly, the most popular athletes and team accounts are all soccer-related. Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo also holds the distinction of being the most followed person on Facebook, and third-most-popular page, after Facebook’s own page and Samsung’s.
Out of the North American sports leagues, basketball is easily the most popular, with the NBA having more followers than baseball, football, and hockey combined.
The leagues’ Twitter accounts:
- NBA: 39.7 million followers
- Premier League: 35.8 million followers
- NFL: 31 million followers
- MLB: 10.1 million followers
- La Liga: 9.8 million followers
- NHL: 6.6 million followers
- MLS: 3.3 million followers
- La Liga’s English and Arabic language accounts: 1.7 million followers each
Top five sports-related Twitter accounts:
- Cristiano Ronaldo, soccer player, 103 million followers
- Neymar, soccer player, 57.8 million followers
- LeBron James, basketball player, 52.1 million followers
- Virat Kohli, cricket player, 50.1 million followers
- Real Madrid CF, soccer team, 44.2 million followers
The NBA’s account is the most followed sports league on Twitter, though the Premier League is close behind in second place, followed by the NFL in third.
Individually, things are more mixed. Ronaldo is the most followed athlete on Twitter, and sixth most followed Twitter account overall. He’s followed by Brazilian soccer player Neymar, NBA and “Space Jam: A New Legacy”/”MultiVersus” star LeBron James, Indian cricket player Virat Kohli, and Spain’s Real Madrid CF soccer team.
Overall, soccer wins; among just the individual leagues’ accounts, basketball wins.
The leagues’ Instagram accounts:
- NBA: 71 million followers
- Premier League: 59.6 million followers
- La Liga: 43.4 million followers
- NFL: 25.4 million followers
- MLB: 9 million followers
- NHL: 5.6 million followers
- MLS: 2.1 million followers
The top five sports-related Instagram accounts:
- Cristiano Ronaldo, soccer player, 481 million followers
- Lionel Messi, soccer player, 361 million followers
- Virat Kohli, cricket player, 214 million followers
- Neymar, soccer player, 178 million followers
- LeBron James, basketball player, 131 million followers
The NBA is the most followed sports league on Instagram. Its popularity is such that among North American sports, it eclipses all the other leagues’ followings combined.
Still, once again, soccer overall is the most followed sport, with three of the top five sports-related accounts tied to soccer. Ronaldo is also the most-followed individual on Instagram, and the second most-followed account (after Instagram’s own account). Argentinian soccer player Lionel Messi is the third most-followed Instagram account. Elsewhere, Virat Kohli also has a strong Instagram following, as does LeBron James.
So similar to Twitter, overall, soccer wins (Ronaldo alone is just that popular), but among individual sports league accounts, basketball wins.
The leagues’ YouTube channels:
- NBA: 19 million subscribers
- NFL: 9.82 million subscribers
- La Liga: 8.47 million subscribers
- MLB: 3.92 million subscribers
- Premier League: 3.04 million followers
- NHL: 1.77 million subscribers
- MLS: 782,000 subscribers
The most popular sports league on YouTube is the NBA, which leads all the other leagues, including the soccer ones, by quite a bit. I’m not sure why the NBA has such a strong showing on YouTube.
The leagues’ TikTok accounts:
- NBA: 16.2 million followers
- La Liga: 10.7 million followers
- NFL: 9.1 million followers
- Premier League: 5.6 million followers
- MLB: 5.3 million followers
- NHL: 2 million followers
- MLS: 798,000 followers
Similar to YouTube, the NBA leads the other leagues on TikTok. I couldn’t find much else about TikTok numbers-wise (the biggest soccer stars like Ronaldo don’t seem to have an actual presence there?), so I’ll deem basketball the winner.
Overall, soccer is the most popular sport on social media, followed by basketball. While baseball, American football, and hockey are popular in North America (and baseball’s popular in Japan/parts of the Caribbean and Latin America), those sports lack the more globe-spanning appeal of soccer and basketball.
Basketball’s social media popularity is also interesting, though probably for good reason. As a sport, basketball has some advantages over other North American sports: the game only requires a hoop and a ball (versus more expensive equipment or skills, such as hockey gear/ice rinks/needing to know how to ice skate); it can be played indoors or outdoors; the rules are relatively simple (unlike baseball or American football); the game’s fast paced (again, unlike baseball or American football); and the NBA’s players are a diverse group (versus the heavily-White NHL).
Image by Tomislav Jakupec from Pixabay