Getting social
by Callum Murray
There was a Fifa World Cup last year, so Fifa topped the rankings in RedTorch’s #SportOnSocial table for 2018. Simple? Well, there’s a bit more to it than that. Author
4th April 2019, 11:17

Fifa, the international governing body for soccer which topped the latest edition of the table ranking the best-performing International Olympic Committee-recognised international sports federations on social media, clearly benefited from social media activity related to last year’s Fifa World Cup in Russia.

Fifa moved up nine places since the previous edition of the annual table produced by RedTorch, the independent digital communications agency. The governing body ranked as number one on both Instagram and YouTube, with its performance in all metrics peaking during the World Cup.

In the report, Ollie Davis, RedTorch’s head of insights, wrote: “Fifa was the best performing IF, largely as a result of the Fifa World Cup 2018 in Russia. Fifa ranked number one on Instagram and YouTube, having experienced significant growth on both platforms. On Instagram, Fifa doubled their follower count to 12.4 million, while on YouTube they grew by 5.4 million fans.”

Fifa climbed from 10th place in the 2018 table (which mainly covered 2017, a non-World Cup year), displacing World Rugby, which slipped to third place (despite neither 2017 nor 2018 featuring a Rugby World Cup – the next edition is later this year).

Rounding out the top three, FIBA, the international basketball federation, climbed from third place to second, with Davis commenting: “FIBA climbed from number three to number two in the overall rankings due to being number one on Facebook and its significant improvement on YouTube. This success can be attributed to international events including the FIBA 3x3 World Cup and the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.”

The report quoted Rina Rasolofoniana, FIBA’s digital content manager, who said: “In 2018 alone, FIBA livestreamed more than 1,700 games for free on social media. Video is definitely the preferred format of our fans so we have shaped our content strategy in that direction.”

The biggest climbers in this year’s table were the Badminton World Federation, which ranked first for Twitter, and the International Triathlon Federation, which both climbed 14 places, to 12th and 20th respectively.


" This year took into account more metrics, such as growth rate and follower growth "

Ollie Davis, head of insights, RedTorch  

 

The highest-ranked federation in charge of a predominantly winter sport was the International Skating Union, as a result of its number-two ranking on Twitter throughout the year. Its figure skating channel experienced the most engagement during the 2018 World Figure Skating Championships, and the 2018-19 Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in December. 

But in fact, as World Rugby’s first and third places in non-Rugby World Cup years shows, there’s more to scoring high on social media than simply holding a world championship and waiting for the social media engagement to flood in.

World Rugby’s high placings can be attributed in part to interest in competitions that are not normally regarded as belonging in the mega-event category, and in part to newly-included metrics, according to Davis, who tells Sportcal Insight: “World Rugby had huge success on social with the 2017 World Rugby Under 20 Championship in Georgia and 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup - mainly down to viral content.

“This year took into account more metrics, such as growth rate and follower growth which benefited World Rugby. The autumn internationals always prove incredibly popular on social, and this year we looked at the World Rugby sevens pages too, so the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens had a positive impact on their overall ranking.”

Meanwhile, the International Tennis Federation, climbed from 34th place to 20th place in the table, making it the joint highest climber, despite staging no event in 2018 that it did not also stage in 2017. Davis says: “The launch of ITF’s Instagram page was instrumental in their rise in the rankings, as was its merging of all ITF circuit accounts into the main page.”

#SportOnSocial 2019 rankings table: top 20 across all platforms

Sport

International federation

Ranking 2019

Ranking 2018

Change

Soccer

Fifa

1

10

9

Basketball

FIBA

2

3

1

Rugby union

World Rugby

3

1

-2

Table tennis

ITTF

4

2

-2

Volleyball

FIVB

5

5

0

Athletics

IAAF

6

6

0

Cycling

UCI

7

11

4

Equestrian

FEI

8

9

1

Judo

IJF

9

8

-1

Field hockey

FIH

10

14

4

Skating

ISU

11

7

-4

Badminton

BWF

12

26

14

Wrestling

UWW

13

4

-9

Skiing

FIS

14

15

1

Archery

World Archery

15

13

-2

Biathlon

IBU

16

21

5

Gymnastics

FIG

17

17

0

Weightlifting

IWF

18

19

1

Ice hockey

IIHF

19

12

-7

Tennis

ITF

20

34

14

Source: RedTorch

 

Other trends identified by RedTorch, some of which could have impacted the overall rankings, but which definitely influenced the number of engagements, video views and growth, included:

• Creative Instagram Stories Some international federations used stories to portray a more youthful tone of voice, using GIFs, stickers, votes and other initiatives to communicate with fans in a unique way. While Instagram Stories were not included in #SportOnSocial, this would have impacted growth. FIS, the international skiing federation featured many athlete takeovers on its Instagram Stories with Q&As, training activities and other content.

• Discipline pages The FEI, the international equestrian federation, launched seven discipline pages on Facebook, which had a significant to its performance. The FEI’s engagement rate dramatically increased as a result of tailoring content to different pages.

• Retweet to vote An example of this was the IAAF’s #AthleticsAwards, which offered fans the chance to vote for their favourite athlete by retweeting a post featuring the athlete.

• Competitions The UCI, cycling’s world governing body, drove engagement by offering a cycling jersey signed by Peter Sagan, the UCI road world champion, to fans who commented on an Instagram post.

• Live video International federations showed more live coverage on Facebook and YouTube than ever before, including the ITTF. FIBA streamed over 1,700 games for free live on social media last year.

• Viral content ‘Tag a friend’, inspirational content and stunning imagery generated high engagements during non-event times for international federations like FIBA.

• Archived content The IAAF uploaded a flashback of Usain Bolt from 2012 on YouTube that generated 3.8 million views.

• Historic moments ‘On This Day’ content can not only be bulk-produced, but key moments in the sport’s history can generate substantial engagements, for example, FIBA.

• Highlights featuring key athletes Leveraging key athletes in social media content, whether through Q&A, highlights, or articles on the website.

The report quoted Alice Permain, the FEI’s social media editing manager, who said: “Launching the FEI discipline pages on Facebook was one of the most significant adaptations to our social strategy since the FEI’s first step into social back in 2011.

“This was a decision taken off the back of extensive research into our audience and target market… We have come to realise over the years that the profile of a dressage fan is very different to that of a vaulting fan...

“So, if our fans had such a range of personas and interests how could we expect to effectively communicate with them with a blanket approach on one page?”

Meanwhile, Nikki Symmons, digital manager at field hockey’s FIH, said: “You may have seen our social sofa which was live streamed on Facebook post game show from the side of the pitch, allowing us to create amazing content working with the athletes. 2018 also saw the revamp of our magazine show, working with Whisper Films, that produced a huge amount of content away from the field of play.”

The report found that over half of all the content analysed (53 per cent) appeared on Twitter, with international federations typically using the platform to create conversations and provide live updates from events.

Instagram and YouTube each represented 12 per cent of the total number of posts.

However, the report said that engagement on all channels declined despite an increase in the number of followers, “as a result of difficulties in creating meaningful interactions and conversations with a large audience.”

There's more to scoring high on social media than simply holding a world championship

Of all of the platforms, Instagram generated more engagements for international federations than any other platform (292.8 million, representing 70 per cent of the total). The report said that, because it is based on images and videos, users tend to engage with its content more frequently.

Meanwhile, Instagram also benefits from an algorithm that uses image recognition technology to assess content based on timelines, interests and relationships, helping to increase engagements as news feeds prioritise more relevant content to users.

Half of all tweets featured a photo or video (25 per cent each), while tweets with links represented 41 per cent of the total; 9 per cent of tweets were text only.

International federations with a World Championship event produced 2.9 times more text-only tweets than those without, mostly because of the nature of Twitter and the need to provide live commentary.

Photo (0.31 per cent) and video (0.29 per cent) tweets had the best performing engagement rates, respectively 1.8 times and 1.7 times higher than the average.

All stats and results used in the #SportOnSocial Report were measured from 1 March 2018 to 31 January 2019.

The report can be found here

Sportcal