The National Football League’s (NFL) 2020 draft saw several of its franchises enjoy a surge in social media engagement, with the Cincinnati Bengals seeing a 412 per cent increase, according to Hookit’s chief executive and co-founder Scott Tilton.
Speaking on the latest SportsPro podcast, Tilton said the three-day event, held remotely for the first time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, helped the NFL become the US sports league with the most engagement since the lockdown.
“The NFL, far and away, saw the biggest increase and a lot of it was because of the draft,” he said. “But when you go down the list of which teams saw the biggest engagement increase, the Cincinnati Bengals saw a 412 per cent increase, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers [saw a] 343 per cent increase, so there is definitely massive increase there.”
The major contributing factor to the Bengals’ rapid social engagement increase was selecting Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers’ quarterback Joe Burrow as the number one draft pick. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers made waves of their own by securing the signature of NFL icon Tom Brady, whose signing at the end of March helped their rapid boost on social carry into April.
“Everyone benefited from a lot of activity happening throughout the month of April in the NFL,” Tilton continued. “All those teams benefited from the opportunity that they had with the draft.”
Using camera feeds from more than 600 homes across the US, coverage across the three days of the draft drew an average audience of over 8.4 million viewers, marking a 35 per cent year-on-year increase. Overall, the event attracted a record 55 million total viewers in the US, representing an uplift of 16 per cent compared to 2019, according to Nielsen figures.
Despite the shutdown of sports leagues and competitions worldwide, Tilton also highlighted that Instagram has clearly emerged as the dominant platform for athletes to self-promote while out of action. The majority have even seen an increase in engagement from their personal social accounts.
“Instagram is definitely one of the more dominant platforms, as well as Facebook,” he said. “Twitter is hanging in there but I think Instagram and Instagram Stories, especially with the athletes, is the biggest go-to these days.
“In some cases with the athletes that we're working with, we're seeing as much as 50 per cent of their value coming from [Instagram] Stories.
“The only challenge with Instagram is there's new restrictions in place so you can't rank stories very easily unless the athletes and teams are authenticated. So you have to kind of balance that with being able to justify your value in your content strategy, but then also making sure that you're able to report on ‘I know what you're doing’.
“Instagram is definitely still the dominant platform of the big four.”
He added: “The athletes, for the most part, didn't see a decline at all. In most cases, they were actually up because they were just doing a good job of keeping their fans up to speed on what they were doing... what they’re doing to maintain their training regiments and how they're using their downtime.
“Athletes had a little bit of an easier task to maintain their social engagement and social activity.”