By Andrew Gilstrap
Early into the free agency period of the newly opened NBA season, some news broke about the league’s most popular team. Not only did this news re-establish which is the NBA’s most popular team, but its details additionally revealed that no other American sports franchise can stack up.
According to several sites, even mediabistro.com, the Los Angeles Lakers are the first North American sports team to garner 11 million Facebook fans — or, more specifically, Facebook “likes.” Even though numerous NBA fans claim to loathe the Lakers, this news gave basketball advocates some bragging leverage over other sports fans.
It’s common knowledge that the NFL is top dog among American sports fans and that the MLB is a far second and the NBA is currently third — among professional sporting leagues. Therefore, you wouldn’t be foolish to assume that an NFL team would be the most popular sports franchise in North America. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a huge fan base, as do the Dallas Cowboys. What about the Philadelphia Eagles? Green Bay Packers? New England Patriots? Yeah, there are many candidates. So which has the biggest fan base in America?
None of them, according to Facebook team pages, at least. None of those NFL teams mentioned has reached even 5 million Facebook “likes.”
So, what’s the deal? Do football fans sparingly use Facebook, or are the Lakers that pervasive?
I live in Phoenix, and I know my share of Lakers fans. Whenever the “Lake Show” comes to town, there certainly is an influx of fans in the Suns’ home arena. The Lakers have had many successful runs and dynasties to give their fans something to brag about. But how are they this beloved? (I still have yet to figure out why 11 million is the magic number. I haven’t found another North American team with 10 million.)
One fact to consider is basketball’s global engagement, as opposed to American football, which is mainly relegated to, well, America. The Lakers could be drawing “likes” from any of the Asian countries that go crazy for basketball, or from any other country that embraces basketball and looks to the NBA (there are hundreds). By comparison, the Boston Celtics have amassed 5-and-a-half million Facebook “likes,” which is 2 million more than the hallowed Red Sox.
You must also consider that NBA fans are territorial: They really stick to their teams. By my observations, NFL fans are more likely to watch a game with any two teams from their league, as opposed to only sticking to their favorite team. Whatever the behavior is, the fact remains NBA teams do a good job of engaging fans on Facebook.
It’s just on Facebook. Who cares about that number? That’s the best you can do? I imagine this is the opposing argument from football fans and others. And they’re right: It is just a Facebook number. But, we basketball fans will take it. We will take it. Our ticket sales and television ratings may not always stack up, but we will take this as a consolation!