The 2018 NFL season, the 99th in the league’s illustrious history, was another one for the record books. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes continued to emerge as one of the league’s brightest young stars, becoming the first Chief to win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award. The resurgent Cleveland Browns won their first game since 2016, finishing one win short of bagging the team’s first winning record in more than a decade. Three years removed from having no NFL franchise, Los Angeles saw both of its teams reach the playoffs. And the New England Patriots won their third Super Bowl in the last five years, becoming the second franchise to win six Super Bowls.
It was a successful season on the business front, as viewership ratings bounced back after declines in previous seasons. In social media NFL teams continue to see engagement rate (defined as followers divided by number of engagements) increase. Engagement rates for organic content by NFL teams during the 2018 season enjoyed a 5% bump compared to 2017. This has interesting implications as teams continue to understand better how to harness the power of their social media audiences.
As is the case with other sports, Instagram continues to be the major driver of engagement for both NFL team accounts as well as the league’s own social accounts. While accounting for only 13% of posts by NFL teams and the league itself during the 2018 season, Instagram drove 81% of engagement value across the NFL. By comparison, Facebook comprised 29% of content while driving 10% of engagement value, while Twitter comprised fully half of NFL content during the 2018 season but drove only 8% of engagement value. Teams and the league itself should be mindful of Instagram’s value proposition for partners and prospective partners, and price its content accordingly.
The Dallas Cowboys: America’s Team and Social Media’s As Well
The Dallas Cowboys, driven by their second NFC East division title in three years and their first postseason win since 2014, had the highest social value among NFL teams last season. Cowboys’ social handles generated $135.2 million in social value, up 40% from 2017. The Cowboys edged out the Super Bowl champion Patriots; the champions’ social content generated $133.7 million in social value last season. Rounding out the top five: the Pittsburgh Steelers ($76.2 million); the Philadelphia Eagles ($66.7 million); and the New Orleans Saints ($57.2 million).
While the Cowboys drove the most value on social media, the Cleveland Browns grew their social value the most, increasing it by an astounding 159% compared with the 2017 season. The Browns had a number of humorous, creative, and clever pieces of content around their most successful season in more than a decade, driving a tremendous amount of engagement (and, consequently, value). Overall, the Browns’ social handles drove $24.4 million in social value, up from $9.4 million during their winless 2017 campaign. As their on-the-field prospects climb ever higher, the sky is the limit with the Browns’ potential on social media as well.
Cowboys, Packers Activations Among Most Valuable in 2018 Season
Due to the high amount of social value they drove, the Cowboys not surprisingly had four of the ten most valuable brand activations among NFL teams during the 2018 season. The Cowboys drove $1.6 million in brand value for AT&T, driven largely by the brand’s naming rights partnership with the team. The Cowboys’ activations for Salvation Army drove nearly $700,000 in brand value for the charity, capitalizing almost entirely upon Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott’s touchdown celebrations. Meanwhile, the Cowboys used short, animated video in sponsored score updates to drive $551,000 in brand value for casino partner Winstar World Casino. Finally, the Cowboys featured a pre-game “Blueprint” with keys to each game, presented by partner Xerox. The campaign generated $522,000 in Attributed Value, accounting for 70% of all value driven for the brand on social media during the NFL season.
Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers generated over $900,000 in brand value for partner Cenex. The convenience store chain sponsored an “Insiders Inbox” campaign via Facebook and Twitter, featuring answers to fan questions. The campaign’s success was due in large part to the high frequency of posts (221 posts during the season), but because of the high frequency, engagement rate was not as high as some other highly successful campaigns.
Nothing goes with football quite like an ice-cold beer, and the New York Giants had the most valuable activation for a beer sponsor during the 2018 season. Coors Light sponsored the Giants’ “Refreshing Facts” campaign, which recapped fast facts for the team in a popular countdown longform video. This campaign generated $575,000 in brand value for Coors Light during the season.
As the NFL moves through its off season, there are a number of key questions. Will the Patriots make the key moves to remain at the top of the league? Will the Browns finally (finally) be a contender? How big of a splash will this year’s draft class make? These and more storylines will continue to make the NFL America’s premier sports league. In the world of social, it will be interesting to see if teams continue to increase engagement rates as social media becomes ever more entrenched. At the same time, teams seem well positioned to better monetize their tremendous fan following on social media. Looking across the totality of NFL team content from the 2018 season, the rules for what content resonates seems clear. Content that drives the most engagement, and hence is most valuable, is content that is authentic, team-focused, compelling, fun, and simple.