Batter Up! How does Major League Baseball fare on social media?

Spring is in the air and that means one thing in the world of sport: America is buttoning up its jersey, grabbing its catcher’s mitt, and getting ready for the start of the new baseball season.

Last time out, Atlanta Braves took home the Commissioner’s Trophy, beating Houston Astros 4-2 in a hard-fought World Series to gain their first win since 1995, when they saw off Cleveland Indians. 

Both the Braves and the Astros are looking strong again after Spring Training, but the only guarantee as we embark on the 2022 season is that the battle won’t just be fought on the ball field: it’ll rage on digital as well.

So batter up, because here DataPOWA breaks down all the numbers you need to know.

Followers are low, but engagement is high

When we stack Major League Baseball up against the other three significant US sports properties (NBA, NFL and NHL), it’s clear that baseball struggles to compete in terms of raw following.

While the MLB’s official Twitter and Facebook channels are ahead of those for the NHL, they lag far behind those of the NBA and NFL. In fact, the NBA has five times as many followers on Facebook as MLB and four times as many on Twitter.

This doesn’t mean baseball struggles for traction though. Across both platforms, MLB vastly outperforms both the NBA and the NFL in a key metric: engagement per post. The fast-paced, community-focused elements of the two platforms give ball fans the opportunity to get up-to-the-minute news direct from the league itself and discuss opinions with other fans in real-time.

It’s only on Instagram that MLB struggles across all major metrics. This is likely due to the sport’s lack of global superstars. While basketball fans can get behind the scenes access to LeBron James (27m Instagram followers) and football fans to Odell Beckham Jnr (15m) through their Insta posts, MLB can’t rely on this level of strong visual content.

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A lack of global visibility hurts the brand

A major feature of American sport in recent years has been its expansion beyond the States. The NFL’s International Series has seen games played in London and Mexico City, with Munich and Frankfurt set to follow soon, while the NBA has a rich history in international, most recently visiting Paris in January 2020.

Those games have been hit hard by COVID and MLB’s London Series has suffered a similar fate. Hosted by the London Stadium and scheduled in for June 2019 and 2020, the series was cut short by the pandemic. Events in Puerto Rico and Mexico went the same way.

The 2020 games have yet to be rescheduled, and they could be vital in helping expand MLB’s reach as it struggles for the kind of global visibility of its competitors.

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While NFL, NBA and even NHL can boast follower bases that stretch far beyond the Americas and into Europe, Oceana and Asia, MLB is rooted very much in its own continent. The highest-ranked country outside of North, Central or South America is Japan, which has its own thriving baseball league.

If Major League Baseball wants to compete in terms of followers with its counterparts, it needs to start by increasing its global footprint and generating excitement for the game beyond the Americas.

MLB teams struggle for both followers and engagement

While the primary Major League Baseball social channels can rely on strong engagement figures, the same isn’t true of teams’ channels. We compared the data of all thirty MLB teams to the thirty NBA teams and found that across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, baseball teams typically struggle.

Below, you can see the NBA and MLB broken down by the number of followers and engagement per post rate across these channels. We have then separated out the top five teams for each metric.

As with the followings on the main channels, baseball simply can’t compete with the NBA. On Twitter, the most followed basketball team (the LA Lakers) has three times the number of followers as the most followed baseball team (the New York Yankees), while there’s a similar gap on Facebook between the same teams.

On Instagram, different sides rise to the top, with the Golden State Warriors topping the Instagram league in the NBA and the LA Dodgers ranking first for MLB, but the story is very much the same with the Dodgers (2.9 million followers) lagging far behind the Warriors (21.82m).

As you’d expect considering the strong rates of the primary MLB channel, engagement per post tells a better story, but ball teams still lag behind their NBA counterparts. The Yankees again lead the way on Twitter (3.10k engagements per post), but that’s less than half the number of the Lakers (7.94k).

The Golden State Warriors leapfrog the Lakers on Facebook, but the difference between NBA and MLB is less sizeable: 16.70k compared to 14.58k (Boston Red Sox). The Warrior and the Red Sox are ahead again on Instagram and again there’s a much smaller difference: 0.21m (Warriors) versus 0.11m (Red Sox).

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As you’ll have noticed by now, the NBA owes its social strength to two teams who constantly top these charts – the Lakers and the Warriors – and so the strength is owed to two specific players: LeBron James and Steph Curry.

James and Curry are the most followed players in the NBA and among the most followed in world sport. Even LeBron’s current injury has done nothing to harm his popularity, while the Warriors continued success in the Western Conference, in which they finished third this season, has only accelerated Curry’s.

Talk of the two megastars joining the same team persists, and whoever is lucky enough to land both players would explode in commercial potential, perhaps even rivaling Barcelona, who continually top our POWA index global rankings.

Major League Baseball lacks a figure on a par with LeBron and Curry and that undoubtedly harms the sport’s commercial potential. If it can develop one, however, with the strong engagement base it already has, there’s no telling how far the sport can go.