How socially engaged is your favorite NFL team?

using big data to rank nfl teams w2o football rankings

The days are shorter, groceries stores are stocked with Halloween candy, and kids are going back to school. For many Americans, this all means one thing: Football has begun. So who’s going to top spot this year? W2O knows. At least, it knows who will take one kind of top spot: Most socially engaged. 

The digital marketing firm is throwing its hand in the down-and-dirty NFL rankings mix – albeit it in a non-traditional way. W20 wants to rank NFL teams according to their reach, relevance, and resonance on social media. They use a proprietary algorithm that indexes social engagement scores from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and elsewhere on the Web. Sports and social media have become two peas in a pod within the last few years, as players individually take to the Twittersphere (for better or worse) and teams as well as leagues spend time and money on their social strategies.

So who comes out on top? The San Francisco 49ers are number one, with a W2O ranking of a whopping 100.00. The Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots are number two and three respectively, and the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins round out the top five. 

Michael Westgage, the director of social commerce at W2O, thinks these rankings could be very useful to companies deciding which teams to show the money. “Our target audience is Fortune 500 CMO’s, because essentially we’re measuring digital brand strength of these teams, and their audience engagement rates,” he says. So you can’t necessarily use these rankings as a guide for fantasy team changes, but they are useful indicators of which teams have passionate, Internet savvy fans – something that large companies tend to like to leverage. 

“Ultimately, player fantasy value may translate to online buzz, which then affects a team’s digital relevance, but not the other way around,” Westgate notes. “These rankings use purely social and digital inputs to create index scores, so unless Twitter engagement and Instagram activity spikes are an indirect signal for winning, they really don’t predict team performance.”

So while hype and excitement about a team will change these rankings around, it will only be after they start gaining traction in the season. 

It’s interesting to see how these rankings stack up against more traditional rankings that try to postulate how teams will do this year. Right now, over at ESPN, the rankings according to potential look very different than the W2O rankings – the Seattle Seahawks are number one, followed by the Atlanta Falcons. The 49ers are third, so at least things aren’t completely out-of-whack. Both SBNation and the NFL put the 49ers first as well, so it seems as though social media reach isn’t a totally incorrect indicator of potential success on the field. Though this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. A winning teams grains traction and hype with people, who then want to talk about it online? You don’t say!

However, passion doesn’t always follow stats: SBNation, the NFL, and ESPN all rank the Broncos very high, so it’s surprising that Denver’s team is way down the list when it comes to social media, winding up in the lowly 23rd position. 


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