This article is the first in a three-part series exploring the use of LinkedIn by major U.S. professional sports leagues and teams. Part two and three to be published in the coming weeks.
What would happen if you went to a professional sports stadium or arena to watch your favorite team, and the team didn’t show up to play?
That happens every day on LinkedIn.
Tens of thousands of fans (or followers) have raised their hands to follow their favorite teams on LinkedIn. Altogether, it’s 1.6 million fans ready to engage with their favorite team. Yet, only a handful of teams are showing up and putting in an effort. Nearly 37% of professional sports teams either do not utilize their company page — meaning there are no published posts on their page — or for a handful of them, they haven’t even created a company page. And when you include pages which haven’t been updated for 90 or more days that percentage increases to 48.9% of teams are not active on LinkedIn.
To put this in perspective, more than 93,000 fans are being ignored on LinkedIn by the following five teams: Dallas Cowboys (31,781), Portland Trail Blazers (9,577), Boston Red Sox (27,181), Chicago Blackhawks (19,106), and the Philadelphia Union (6,052). Even though they have a company page, they have no currently published posts. We’re not talking about small market teams, but rather some of the most valuable and successful teams in their respective leagues.
So we at Quathletics decided to learn more about how the leagues and teams of the five major U.S. professional sports (e.g., National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer) are using LinkedIn to connect with their various audiences.
But first, let’s take a step back. What is LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is the leading professional and business-to-business platform in the world. Individuals create profiles to broadcast their knowledge, experiences, and career achievements. It serves as a community for people to share their thought leadership on all types of business topics; from the latest best practices in direct marketing to the potentials of artificial intelligence. And companies from every sector of society share their stories about how they do business and are ultimately transforming the world around us.
As such, the platform is ripe for the major U.S. professional sports leagues and teams to leverage to tell their own stories.
The Power of LinkedIn
Before we dig into our data about how the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, or MLS and their respective teams use LinkedIn, we should familiarize ourselves with some current statistics about the platform. As it concerns end-users:
- more than 590 million members; with 260 million logging in each month
- those using the LinkedIn monthly, up to 40% are accessing it daily
- 55% of LinkedIn users have more than 500 first degree connections
- just over 1% of users share content weekly (~3 million users)
- 0.2% of users have published an article on LinkedIn (~1 million users)
Now we’ll examine some statistics related explicitly to company pages:
- there are more than 30 million LinkedIn company pages
- companies with complete information get 30% more weekly views
- companies that post weekly see a 2x lift in engagement with their content
- of content types, uploaded video is 5x more likely to start a conversation
- employees typically have 10x the social reach of their company
As you can see based on user behavior and platform trends related to company pages, LinkedIn presents a series of opportunities for organizations with a strategy explicitly geared to the LinkedIn community.
“Meanwhile, on LinkedIn, opportunities abound. There, [Baron] Davis found a diverse group of budding entrepreneurs with varied interests and disposable income. Many of them happened to be athletes, updating the world on their latest endeavor, often a tech investment.” — ‘Now This Is What I Do’: Inside the World of Athletes’ LinkedIn Pages
In the summer of 2018, Bleacher Report published an article highlighting how professional athletes are active on LinkedIn connecting with others, finding new business and investment opportunities, and even establishing their next moves after their athletic career ends.
Players are learning their LinkedIn connections aren’t only fans, but subject matter experts and industry leaders which can lead to job offers and other professional opportunities; if you know how to engage the platform correctly. However, these benefits aren’t limited merely to individuals. Companies, including major U.S. professional sports leagues and teams, can reap serious rewards if done right.
Leagues on LinkedIn
Based on these facts, the Quathletics team set out to examine how the five major U.S. professional sports leagues and 147 associated teams are utilizing LinkedIn company pages. Admittedly we were somewhat surprised at what we found — or more aptly, what we didn’t. At a top-level we saw:
- 96.7% league and teams have a company page (all except for five teams)
- more than 2.2 million fans are following a league or team’s company page
- 50% of pages have not published a post in the past 90+ days or not at all
We didn’t expect that last number be so high. Let’s review what we saw from the company pages for the leagues in regards to followers, number of postings, and publishing cadence:
All five leagues have a LinkedIn company page with fans following them. Collectively the leagues have nearly 600,000 followers, with the National Football League having the most followers at more than 193,000 and the National Hockey League with the smallest at just over 37,000 followers.
The month-over-month growth rate of followers varies, but all five are seeing positive growth (with an average growth rate of 1.55% over 30–45 days), despite the most glaring observation of them all: they’re not actively posting on their company pages. None of the pages have been updated for more than a month. And two of the pages — Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League — have no published content at all.
As for a content review, very little can be gleaned from the less than 30 total published posts — the bulk of which were posted by the National Football League (20 posts). What can be discerned is that over the past year the five leagues don’t consider the LinkedIn platform as an essential channel for their sales, marketing, or operational efforts.
This is a shame.
Super Bowl or Super Bust
Each of the leagues is losing out on the opportunity to recruit prospective employees, forge new business partnerships, and to tell their stories about what makes their organization, teams, athletes, and employees world-class.
And even though the NFL has previously posted content about careers, student/intern programs, and their diversity and inclusion efforts (last post over a month ago), they’re missing out at a time when all eyes are on them. More than 100 million fans around the globe will be watching Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on February 3rd, 2019 and they haven’t published any content exposing their LinkedIn audience(s) to the big game.
Whether it’s the game itself or the various events and social good programs the NFL is hosting across Atlanta, they could be posting content about it on their page. Take it a step further, and the NFL could be highlighting the logistics and operational efforts needed to put on one of the most significant and most watched sporting events in the world — from what it takes to feed everyone to the logistics necessary to build a volunteer support staff.
There are thousands of pieces of content being created by the league and the two teams playing in the Super Bowl for their other social media channels, but none of it has been shared, and no exclusive content has been produced for their LinkedIn pages. Here are two examples:
Behind the scenes at Super Bowl media day
Take a behind the scenes look at the Rams’ Super Bowl media day!
Georgia Tech to Host NFL’s 1st and Future Super Bowl Event | NFL Football Operations
The NFL’s fourth annual 1st and Future competition, presented by Arrow Electronics and hosted at Georgia Tech, will…
Ultimately what we’ve learned from the efforts by the five major U.S. professional sports leagues on LinkedIn is that at the very least they are missing opportunities, and at worse, they are neglecting a valuable channel.
Teams on LinkedIn
Next, we’ll look broadly at what the teams in each of the leagues are doing with their LinkedIn company pages.
Of the 147 teams associated with the five major U.S. professional sports leagues, 142 have a LinkedIn company page. We were unable to find pages for five teams: New York Rangers (NHL), Colorado Rapids (MLS), Los Angeles FC (MLS), New York Knicks (NBA), and Toronto Raptors (NBA).
(Note: in the course of our research we came across a couple of pages using the name of their ownership group rather than the conventional team name, so of the five listed above there may be a published page we did not find because of a naming discrepancy. Additionally, the New Orleans Saints have a LinkedIn page without published content, but it states that the page was generated by LinkedIn.)
Although the number of followers is not yet at the scale of other social media platforms, there are more than 1.6 million fans following their favorite team(s) on LinkedIn. Major League Baseball has the most followers across their team pages with 464,000 and Major League Soccer has the fewest at roughly 147,000. So there is interest from fans to connect with teams.
In reviewing the pages, although we found that 61.9% of teams are actively posting updates to their fans, we found 38.1% of team pages are inactive or have no content on their page. When we dug deeper, we discovered 91 active team pages collectively published ~3,400 posts, which is a relatively small amount of content considering the total number of pages it represents. And of the 3,400, five teams have published nearly 1,200–or 35% of them.
And looking more closely at those 3,400 posts and the publishing cadence of each of the teams we started to see some additional patterns emerge:
- 51 teams have posted content within the past 30 days
- 23 teams have posted content within the past 30–90 days
- 16 teams have posted content within the past 90+ days
- 55 teams have no posted content on their company page
This means only a third of U.S. professional sports teams are currently publishing content to their LinkedIn page while the other two-thirds are not.
As for the type of content posted it consists mainly of 1) player, team, or game updates/previews; 2) ticket and suite sales along with other promotions (e.g., events, vacation packages, playoffs, etc.); and 3) job postings, intern opportunities, and career fairs. For the most part, these posts works. However, there are opportunities for teams to expand beyond that sort of content to include more about what it takes to be a world-class organization.
While some teams are experimenting with other types of content, and we’ll get more into that below, the majority of teams are neglecting LinkedIn and the connected audience(s). It’s unclear why. While we’re not in the room as they make the decisions to allocate resources. What we do know is that with the right strategies other brands — from publishers to consumer goods companies — have been able to tap into and benefit from the more than 260 million professionals logging into LinkedIn monthly.
They say showing up is half the battle. And thankfully for the more than 2.2 million fans who’ve raised their hands to follow their favorite leagues and teams on LinkedIn, there was a page for them to connect with. Again, while not at the follower numbers of their social accounts on other platforms, LinkedIn is better positioned for connecting with the right audience(s) — whether it’s prospective employees or new business partners — in more meaningful ways.
During our review of the 147 team pages, we scored how each team performed across a variety of criteria (e.g., followers, growth rate, # of posts, publishing cadence, etc.). The following five teams scored highest: FC Cincinnati (MLS), Washington Capitals (NHL), Arizona Diamondbacks (MLB), Houston Rockets (NBA), and the Atlanta Hawks (NBA).
These five teams are doing things right by experimenting with different types of content and using infographics and native video which other teams could learn. But the most important thing these teams are doing is showing up consistently for their followers by posting content — when done right, at a pace of 4 or more posts per week (if not more).
Now let’s look at a few more user statistics which we can use to inform a strategy for delivering the right set of experiences on LinkedIn, specifically:
- 50% of college graduates in the U.S. are LinkedIn users
- more than 35 million people have been hired by a LinkedIn connection
- 54% of senior executives share work-related videos with colleagues weekly
- 79% of professionals say that networking is valuable for career growth
- LinkedIn traffic generated the highest visitor-to-lead conversion rate at 2.74%
Combine these statistics with the ones we saw in the first section of this article, and it’s clear there are ample opportunities to use LinkedIn to connect with fans by sharing stories and insights into the off-the-field happenings of each organization. Leagues and teams can forge connections while showing how they are innovating their business, recognizing the achievements of their employees, and demonstrating how world-class sports organizations operate.
Now that we know more about the platform and what the various leagues and teams are doing it’s time to discuss how to develop a strategy for LinkedIn.
Developing a strategic approach
When creating a strategic plan for a social media platform an organization should start by answering the following questions: 1) what opportunities are available and how do they match-up with our business goals; 2) how can we take advantage of these opportunities; and 3) what makes us the best to deliver on these opportunities for our various audience(s) and stakeholders?
To start, in LinkedIn leagues and teams should move past the idea of fandom to see their fans as connections, or more pointedly as relationships, to build and strengthen which can ultimately contribute to the excellence of their organizations — directly and indirectly.
Let us use the following three considerations to help answer the questions above and to show how to lay out a strategy for an organization:
— Know the platform. Throughout this piece, we have presented facts and statistics which illuminate why LinkedIn is more than just another social media channel to push sales and marketing messages. With 260 million users logging in daily, it is a place to engage with professionals, subject matter experts, and potential partners in the areas which sustain the operational success of leagues and teams. Additional considerations include:
- Norms and culture: user profiles are digital resumes of their education/training, work history, and career accomplishments. They share business-related content with their connections by publishing posts or by writing original articles. And they interact with others in communities formed around shared professional experiences and areas of interest. The platform rewards users for sharing their knowledge with others and encourages them to learn from others; unprofessional content, as shared on Facebook, does not perform well and often invites criticism.
- Performance tendencies: engagement rates on the platform tend to be lower than other social platforms, and ultimately the LinkedIn algorithm governs how content spreads — user actions and human editors contribute to overall Content Quality Scoring. But there are different ways to measure performance, such as the volume of traffic driven to business-to-business (B2B) content, the number of event sign-ups, or visitor-to-lead conversions. And to help amplify reach and engagement organizations can employ an “engagement pod” (a private group or message thread) consisting of employees who are notified about new content to share.
- Technical capabilities: leveraging the platform’s built-in capabilities can create additional ways to increase reach and engagement, such as using natively uploaded content like photos and videos for their posts. These tend to get shared more widely. Incentivize executives and employees to take advantage of writing articles or using Slideshare to create shareable content. Finally, leagues and teams can use LinkedIn’s paid tools (Sponsored Content and Sponsored InMail) to further increase reach and engagement and even target specific messages to a user’s LinkedIn inbox.
— Define your purpose. By understanding LinkedIn users are more than just fans and how the platform itself works, leagues and teams can map the available opportunities to their business goals to define their purpose in using LinkedIn. Is the platform just a marketing channel? Is it meant to drive ticket sells? Is it expected to find and recruit new employees? Knowing which organizational goals are most important and best respond to the needs and wants of the LinkedIn community will help prioritize which goals to meet.
- Organizational culture and impact: leagues and teams are some of the most valuable companies in the world (106 sports franchises worldwide are worth at least $1 billion), and LinkedIn serves as a platform to show the ways in which organizations work — from how various business units operate to what steps are taking to ensure a successful work-life balance. Additionally, company pages can show how service to others and their communities are an essential part of what makes them successful. Here’s an example from the Oakland Athletics of how they show the team’s direct impact on the community using a sharable social object (an infographic):
Oakland Athletics on LinkedIn: “Looking to carry the momentum into the new season and this new…
January 29, 2019: Oakland Athletics posted images on LinkedIn
- Recruitment and retention: every day tens of thousands of people work tirelessly for major U.S. professional sports leagues and teams to bring the best sporting experiences to their fans. Highlighting their work and accomplishments on company pages has a two-fold effect: 1) employee recognition increases job satisfaction and productivity rises; and 2) talent attracts talent. Users just starting careers can review employee profiles to learn what pathways they can pursue themselves. Here’s an example from the Chicago Bears featuring one of their employees while also showing the importance of diversity in the workplace (native video):
Chicago Bears on LinkedIn: “Seeing someone that looks like you, in any profession, is…
December 14, 2018: Chicago Bears posted a video on LinkedIn
- Diversity and inclusion: leagues and their teams have made major commitments to diversity and inclusion, and LinkedIn company pages enable them to show how each is fulfilling their commitment. Not only can they highlight stories about their workforce and the processes they use to ensure inclusive outcomes, but the platform also allows them to develop programs which proactively identify and recruit potential employees and partnerships to further these goals. Here’s an example of a post from the Atlanta Hawks showing the organization winning an award for the team’s commitment to inclusion as a key business strategy (external link):
Atlanta Hawks on LinkedIn: “We recently received the National Basketball Association (NBA)…
January 9, 2019: Atlanta Hawks posted an article on LinkedIn
— Leverage your excellence. Due to the nature of the platform, world-class organizations have some natural advantages when it comes to LinkedIn. First, they consist of a broad spectrum of business capabilities, diversified revenue streams, and talented personnel. And second, they’re used to competition and the effort needed to succeed. Which means leagues and teams can leverage their areas of organizational strength while using their competitive spirit to bring to the forefront of LinkedIn company pages their centers of excellence.
- Showcase thought leadership: every league and team should encourage their executives and employees to join LinkedIn. Everyone should build a profile to promote their education, experiences, and achievements. Additionally, staff should be invited to demonstrate their subject matter expertise by writing articles or creating other types of content. Why? As we mentioned above: talent attracts talent. People want to work with the best. Here’s an example of a post from the Oklahoma City Thunder bringing users behind-the-scenes to see how the team works to prevent injuries in partnership with Oklahoma University (native video):
Oklahoma City Thunder on LinkedIn: “OU Medicine Wellness Series Episode 1 // Injury Prevention”
December 13, 2018: Oklahoma City Thunder posted on LinkedIn
- Modeling sustainability: leagues and teams own/operate multiple venues and travel the world to compete, all of which impacts our environment. As a result, they’re working to reduce their impact — by using green energy and building LEED-certified buildings — and to produce zero waste — through recovery projects and e-waste recycling. To draw attention to these initiatives and others, organizations can use Showcase Pages to garner support and engage followers in their efforts. Here’s an example of a post from the Seattle Mariners focused on how they are modeling good corporate behavior by reducing food waste (external link):
Seattle Mariners on LinkedIn: “Proud to be named the EPA’s 2018 Food Recovery Challenge national…
December 12, 2018: Seattle Mariners posted an article on LinkedIn
- Highlight new initiatives: As the business environment shifts and changes, leagues and teams need to evolve to compete against their competitors. Two ways this is happening is the creation of investment companies to invest in the next generation of businesses and investing in new business efforts such as eSports. Company pages provide a vehicle for these efforts to be shared, and to learn from external experts. Here’s an example of a post from the Vancouver Whitecaps FC announcing the club has signed their first official eMLS player which also illustrates their efforts to build an eSports extension of the organization (external link):
Vancouver Whitecaps FC on LinkedIn: “Introducing the youngest player in eMLS…
March 12, 2018: Vancouver Whitecaps FC posted an article on LinkedIn
Ultimately each league and team will need to take these considerations into account and answer the questions for themselves, however, in doing so, they will have defined the strategic foundation to use LinkedIn effectively.
We realize there is a lot in this article for leagues and teams — and other organizations — to unpack. But we hope the critique and subsequent ideas/suggestions will spark internal conversations about how best to leverage LinkedIn company pages in a manner which delivers on their business goals while taking full advantage of the platform’s uniqueness.
In the next two pieces, we look at the following: building a sustainable practice and measuring and optimizing performance. Please let us know what you think by either commenting or applauding below. We would love to hear from as many people as possible, so please share this piece far and wide. And if you’d like to learn more about our work just head-on over to the Quathletics website.