Social Media Case Study: NBA

The NBA (National Basketball Association) has the most comprehensive social media following out of any American sports league, its official platform boasting over 26 million Facebook likes and 11.6 million Twitter followers. The NFL (National Football League), by comparison, has four million fewer Twitter followers and over 14 million fewer Facebook likes.

Melissa Rosenthal Brenner
Senior Vice-President of Digital Media, NBA

What is the league’s main aim when using social media?

The main goal, as outlined by our commissioner Adam Silver, is to use social media to bring fans courtside. We have fans around the world, so we need to replicate the experience felt in our 29 arenas, for them, through digital technology. That fan access and intimacy with the game, players and teams is the primary focus of our social efforts.

Which social media platforms works best for the NBA in terms of reach?

Each platform serves a very distinct role for us, and together they form a complete ecosystem. So we might have a live chat on Facebook but live scoring on Twitter. We programme the platforms very differently, but we also synchronise them according to how our fans use them.

We do, however, spend the most time on the platforms that our fans engage on, which doesn’t necessarily mean the same platforms we have the most followers on. The main four, in no particular order, are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

How do you measure the success of using social media?

Defining ‘success’ is difficult, because our business is not linear – we’re not selling a soda or cereal. Also, as these social media platforms grow and become more mature, ‘success’ on Facebook looks very different to success on Pinterest.

The NBA, however, is very methodical in how we evaluate our success on different platforms. We are using a body of third-party websites to measure our social media success, as well as Facebook’s back-end analytics platform, and we measure traffic on our own website.

Do you make a financial return directly via social media?

We are seeing double-digit growth in respect to ticket sales, merchandise, as well as sales of League Pass [the NBA’s broadcast subscription service] through social media. If you are growing a highly-engaged audience around your brand and telling the right content stories, you’d hope that the natural by-product is fans consuming more of your products.

Though we are seeing growth, it’s not something that happens overnight – this is a long game.

What are the main challenges you face with your social media strategies?

The challenge is that the internet is 24/7, and there’s always a new social media platform to be on. But to paraphrase a Steve Jobs quote, it’s as important to say no to opportunities as it is to say yes. There are a lot of ideas out there, and you have to be very focused on your own strategy and what’s important to your own business.

With regards to trying to tailor our content to overseas NBA fans, we think globally and act locally, meaning we heavily rely on our regional offices around the world to determine the right content strategy, and a lot of the time fans will tell us what content they want.


To read case studies detailing leading sports rights-holders' social media strategies, please click the links below.

Social Services Introduction
Case Study 1: Past Event – 2014 FIFA World Cup
Case Study 2: Future Event – ATP World Tour Finals
Case Study 3: Team – Dallas Cowboys
Case Study 4: Athlete – IMG Golf
Case Study 6: Sponsor – Puma

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