Our last post was about total Twitter followers and how the D1 Men’s programs stack up. Twitter is an important part of building a brand, and the brand is important in recruiting, so this stuff has some salience this time of year. But outside of the recruiting impacts, social media can tell us something about the landscape of lacrosse and the interplay between the collegiate and pro levels. To do this, we added some MLL Twitter data in the form of follower lists for each of the MLL teams..
The tale of the tape
The first thing I wanted to look at was just a basic count of followers for each MLL team.
|New York Lizards||21,588|
I haven’t followed MLL all that closely over the past few years, so I’ll refrain from too much commentary on this table. It doesn’t look like the numbers are way off what you’d expect if you combined metro population with general regional lacrosse interest. Chesapeake is the one that looks a little out of place by that measure, but again, I don’t know enough to have any opinion of why that might be.
Since the question is going to get asked, I did a quick check of the NLL team Twitter accounts. The least followed team in the NLL is Vancouver, with 11.1k followers. The most followed team in the NLL is Buffalo with 25.6k followers. So yes, NLL teams have larger social media presences than MLL teams.
How do the fan bases overlap?
The real reason that I was curious about examining the MLL data was to see what sort of overlap there was between college and pro teams that share a lacrosse fan base, in geographic terms. Put it another way: to what extent do college lacrosse fans follow the local MLL team? And of course, following a team on Twitter does not equate to fanhood, nor do all fans follow their teams, so this is less of a judgement on fan base size and more about the social media overlap.
For each MLL team, I’ve generated a quick chart that shows the local NCAA teams and, in most cases, a control NCAA team that is not local. The follower counts are the number of followers of the NCAA team’s Twitter account. The percentage is calculated by identifying how many of the NCAA team’s followers also follow the MLL team in question.
For our first example, let’s look at the NY Lizards, the team with the most Twitter followers in the MLL.
We grabbed a few of the teams from the local market for the Lizards. Of St. John’s 7,496 Twitter followers, 42% follow the Lizards on Twitter. Our control team, Michigan, shares 22% of their Twitter followers with New York (that was the big surprise of this analysis, the number of shared followers).
42% is the highest percentage of an NCAA team’s followers that also follow an MLL team. Stony Brook/New York, is second. So we can say with some certainty that New York has done the best job of capturing the local college fan base of any MLL team. Whether that was intentional or not is another story entirely.
The rest of the MLL team charts can be seen below. All of them have lower rates than New York, but there is still some significant variation. Also pay attention to the control teams in each data viz. Where Michigan shared the fewest followers with New York, that is not the case for all of these teams.
Charlotte is the case in point. Their control team actually has the highest shared follower rate. And then they’ve got 2 blueblood programs with lots of followers (Duke & UNC) in the general vicinity, but they share a paltry 15% of their followers. This may represent a huge opportunity for Charlotte to increase stickiness with fans in their geographic domain.
Atlanta has the fewest followers of any MLL team, which as we noted above, is most likely a function of the small number of lacrosse fans in their general area. The local programs, Mercer and Furman, are not exactly overflowing with social media fan support. But still, those teams do have followers, and Atlanta has not been able to capture that fan base as well as some other teams have done.
Ohio (this year’s MLL champs!) is another one of those cases where the non-local team actually out-shares a local college program. It’s neck and neck, but a higher share of Princeton’s fans follow the Machine than Ohio State. We noted in our previous article that larger programs at the big name schools are probably going to have a lot more fair weather Twitter followers. Compare that with Princeton (or even RMU); if you are following these teams on Twitter, I suspect there is a higher chance that you are a more serious lacrosse fan. That could explain the softness with Ohio State vs the other schools.
Man, the Boston/Baltimore rivalry does not quit, huh? The Cannons have done a pretty good job of capturing the local college fan base, but there is a pretty extreme drop-off between the local schools and the control team, the Maryland Terrapins (this year’s NCAA champs!).
I mentioned above, and I’ll expand a bit here, but if I had a chance to better understand one team’s social media strategy, it would be Chesapeake. How is it that a higher percentage of Denver’s Twitter followers follow the Bayhawks than Terps Twitter followers? As I mentioned before, Denver/Towson/UMBC all fall into that category where the people following their Twitter accounts are unlikely to be attracted from other sports. So we’d expect Maryland to have a lower share rate, but man, that is a lot of local lacrosse interest that is not being reached by the Bayhawks marketing spend.
You could probably just copy the above paragraph and apply it to Rochester’s numbers. The only exception is that Duke is not a lacrosse school, so I can’t explain how more of their followers follow Rochester than Cuse fans.
Not much to see here. Relative to NY/Boston, they are a bit soft with the local market. Especially for a team that has had a decent bit of MLL success and has one of the better stadium set ups in MLL.
25% of Jacksonville’s Twitter followers also follow the Florida Launch. That is all.
Consultant Hat: On
MLL attendance numbers are whatever. It’s just one number that gets cited because it’s a readily available number that is easy to understand and compare over time. Astute commenters will note that attendance is subject to a wide array of factors, so using attendance numbers to gauge the health of MLL is a fool’s errand.
Social media numbers fall into the the same category. There are a ton of factors that affect the size of an MLL team’s following, and not all of them impact or are impacted by the health of the organization.
But there is some sort of brand awareness/loyalty factor that, while hard to quantify, would be fairly strongly correlated with the health of the league or its constituent teams. There is a whole industry devoted to measuring brand value, and we aren’t going to get quantitative on the topic here.
With all those disclaimers, I think it’s fair to say that a team that added 100 lacrosse fans from their local market as Twitter followers overnight would have greater brand value than they went to bed with. What is stopping the Chesapeake Bayhawks from making a push to increase the share of Maryland followers that follow them as well? At 16%, they share 5,890 followers with the Terps. If they were able to increase that percentage from 16% to even the 35% mark (that’s the share of Hofstra followers that follow New York), you are talking about 7,400 new followers. That would immediately put them third in the league.
Is that going to make the Bayhawks a more profitable team and a stronger contender on the field? I can’t say by how much, but I’d be shocked if the answer was not yes. And all this information is public, so it’s not like we are talking about huge ad buys to make it happen (if MLL teams are willing to be a little scrappy).
Help, I need an expert!
If any of our MLL experts want to weigh in on any of this, let me know. Would love to include some insider perspective on how MLL teams approach social media. Shoot me a note on Twitter or via the site.
To Bot or not to Bot
A nagging question has plagued me the whole time I’ve been looking at this Twitter data: Bots?
There are 20 or so Twitter accounts that follow every single NCAA lacrosse program. Scanning through the names, they all seem fairly legit. I don’t think there are any bots in that list of 20 handles. But are there bots in this data set? Absolutely there are. I’m not sure how else you explain the fact that 22% of Michigan’s followers also follow the New York Lizards.
The thing that is scary is that without some real complex statistical models and algorithms (and a ton of effort), it is very hard to tell how many there are.
End of the day, it’s Twitter and pro lacrosse, so it’s not like we are flipping the results of an election here or anything, but it still makes me a little uneasy to know that we don’t have the clear picture that objective follower counts would suggest.