Messi and Ronaldo: a social media matchup between PSG and MU


A week long article series on this summer's major transfers

The most popular sport entities on social media are not clubs but athletes, a phenomenon particularly characteristic to the digital-savvy younger generations. The trend is also palpable in football, therefore, it is no surprise that the two marquee signings of the past summer transfer window, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, have brought an army of new followers to their new clubs, Manchester United FC (MU) and Paris Saint-Germain FC (PSG), respectively. Specifically, Ronaldo boasts altogether almost 593 million followers on his personal accounts, while Messi has a total of 375m social fans, a significant difference partially explained also by the absence of the latter from Twitter.

Both clubs saw their total social followings grow by millions within only five days around the official announcements of their shocker trade deals – almost 5m for United and over 14m for PSG. Our chart shows the increase of the two clubs' aggregate number of followers on their key social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, TikTok and Weibo) in that period.

For reference, currently Manchester United FC are the 3rd most followed football club with more than 169m total followers, behind only Barcelona FC (276m) and Real Madrid CF (272m), while PSG are 4th with 133m total followers, ahead of 5th-place Juventus FC (116m). In the past 30 days, PSG have been able to add the most fans (more than 23m) to their accounts, thus leapfrogging the Bianconeri, while United’s total social fanbase grew by over 9 million.

The charts that follow show the social audience growth the two clubs registered on those six channels in the periods before and after they made their official announcements on the respective deals. The biggest bi-weekly growth in percentage terms PSG were able to record was 60.7% on Youtube, while Manchester United FC went big on TikTok with a 48.0% increase in the number of fans.

Remarkably, the clubs’ social media posts on their official deal announcements became some of the most viral posts in football history. Manchester United FC’s first message on Instagram, revealing the return of CR7 to Old Trafford, recorded over 13m likes, while PSG’s most popular post in a series of messages on Messi joining them triggered almost 9m likes. 

By comparison, the two superstars’ own announcements on their personal accounts collected even more reactions  – Ronaldo’s Instagram post triggered almost 19m likes on the channel, where he amassed 340m followers, while Messi’s personal announcement prompted 22m likes on his Instagram account (where he boasts 262m followers) 

The overall excitement the transfers brought to fanbases is also demonstrated by the remarkable growth in engagement levels, as fans reacted to the clubs’ announcements. Specifically, on Instagram, a key channel for both clubs, the average 0.68% engagement rate achieved by United’s posts during the week prior their first news release on the Ronaldo deal jumped to 2.8% the week after. The growth in PSG’s posts’ engagements was even higher – it increased from 0.88% to 4.32% in a similar two-week period.

As the below charts display, a similar remarkable trend can be observed on the clubs’ other two key social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter.