Champions League vs. NBA, NFL, and more!


A Social Media Showdown

Which major sports competition reigns supreme in the realm of social media followers: Is it the UEFA Champions League (UCL) or another contender? While the Super Bowl LVIII set a record with a staggering 123.4 million viewers, marking American TV’s biggest audience since the moon landing, let's see if the NFL can compete with the UCL on social media. While numerous comparisons have been drawn between different sports and tournaments, it's often like comparing apples to oranges. Here, we delve into a mission to dissect the popularity of various sporting showdowns, focusing specifically on their social media followings on Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok, YouTube, and Weibo combined, offering a glimpse into this intriguing comparison.

Let's begin with a bold statement: the Champions League reigns supreme as the world's most coveted sports spectacle, judging by the number of social media followers alone. To support this assertion, we compared it against heavyweight competitions from other athletic domains, including the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL – the United States’ major leagues. We also included events attracting global attention such as Formula 1, MotoGP, UFC, Wimbledon, and the Olympic Games. While they differ in their length (season-long or a few weeks) and regularity (held every year or every four years), their comparison can still lead to revealing insights.

In the realm of social media metrics, the comparison paints a fascinating picture: while the NBA is an international darling in its own right, it's the only contender that comes close to the UCL in terms of follower count. Yet, this shouldn't be surprising, given the social media dominance of certain NBA franchises. Our examination of the top 20 sports teams with the largest followings (excluding football clubs) shows a staggering fact: 11 NBA teams feature in the list. At the top of the charts are none other than the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers, each boasting a formidable fanbase exceeding 71 million. However, it's worth noting that despite these impressive figures, neither team would crack the top 10 in global football club followings. For instance, Arsenal FC, holding the 10th position, commands over 106 million social media followers.

Our exploration of the sporting world's social media landscape reveals a vibrant tapestry, woven with the threads of diverse fanbases and fervent followings. After basketball, the most represented sport on the list is cricket: four Indian Premier League teams collectively have 139.8 million followers. Rubbing shoulders with these giants are Formula 1 powerhouses like Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari, showcasing the widespread allure of motorsport. However, amidst the glitz and glamour of these international juggernauts, a notable absence looms large: the NFL, a pinnacle of American sporting spectacle, is represented by just one team – the storied Dallas Cowboys. As the digital arena continues to evolve, the FaZe Clan, an Esports phenomenon, captures our attention, breaking through traditional sporting boundaries to claim a coveted spot among the social media elite.

When it comes to the Super Bowl versus the Champions League final, there's a significant difference in the crowd it draws, especially in terms of social media influencers. While the Champions League final strives to keep up, the Super Bowl always boasts a multitude of “A-list” celebrities among its spectators. Just to name a few from this year's final:

Justin Bieber: 595.9M followers
Taylor Swift: 482.0M followers
Kim Kardashian: 476.8M followers
Ariana Grande: 457.2M followers
Kendall Jenner: 343.3M followers

While cricket, American football, or Formula 1 enjoy undeniable popularity, it's when we compare the Champions League against other football competitions that its true dominance shines through. In this arena, we have pitted UEFA's top tournament against contenders like the FIFA World Cup, LaLiga, and the Premier League. Yet, the outcome is resoundingly clear: the Champions League reigns supreme in the realm of social media followers. Even though EPL and LaLiga trail UCL by quite some margin, they are still ahead most non-football sporting events in terms of social media following. Only the NBA surpasses these two. Trailing these prestigious leagues is the FIFA World Cup, poised for potential social media growth ahead of the 2026 edition, which promises to once again captivate audiences as it heads to North America.

Following this, there emerges a significant gap of almost 100 million followers, with the Europa League securing the 5th position, Bundesliga the 6th, and Ligue 1 the 7th. The popularity of these competitions is often fueled by the participating teams, and the Champions League is no exception. If we delve into the social media followings of only the teams from the 2023/24 season’s Round of 16, we see that together, these 16 teams amass nearly 1.7 billion social media followers. While some fans may follow their favorite teams across multiple platforms, this figure remains notably high. Additionally, it is important to note that several football clubs with an impressive worldwide social media following do not feature among the top 16 this year, Manchester United (226.8M followers), Chelsea (152.9M), Liverpool (140.4M), and Juventus (151.7M) all missed out for various reasons.

Beyond the clubs, it's the global icons of the game who truly embody the essence and allure of the Champions League. In recent years, the pitches of the UCL have been graced by the world's most popular footballers. However, in this season's edition, only Kylian Mbappé finds himself in the Round of 16 from the list of the top 10 most followed active players on social media.

At the pinnacle of this list reigns the undisputed monarch of social media, Cristiano Ronaldo, inching closer to the extraordinary milestone of 1 billion followers. Behind him is his perennial rival, Lionel Messi, boasting a "modest" following of 626 million. Yet, beyond the realm of football, when we consider currently active athletes, there are three who rival the footballing titans in terms of followers: Indian cricketer phenomenon Virat Kohli, and NBA legends LeBron James, and Stephen Curry.

It's abundantly clear, therefore, that the Champions League stands tall as one of the world's most popular sporting spectacles, a fact underscored by its high social media follower count. Moreover, as long as the tournament continues to feature heavyweight clubs, interest in the UCL shows no signs of fading.

However, the potential launch of the Super League, the departure of globally relevant international football superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, or Neymar Jr. from European clubs, the potential changes brought by the new tournament format, and the challenges posed by shifting media consumption habits and preferences of the fans could present significant challenges to one of the world's most popular and prestigious competitions.