TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays’ success on the field is helping them online.
Toronto’s surge into Major League Baseball’s post-season and performance in the American League Division Series has seen the Blue Jays’ popularity explode, with the team’s official Twitter account gaining over 350,000 followers in the past 10 weeks and putting them over one million total followers.
“We do see these kinds of spikes in sports around a team or athlete when they’re winning,” said Christopher Doyle, director of media partnerships for Twitter Canada. “We see it in the Stanley Cup playoffs. A couple of seasons ago the Montreal Canadiens saw a surge in Twitter followers and almost caught up to the Maple Leafs, at that point, because of their playoff run.
“A playoff run can really galvanize a fanbase.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs remain the most popular Canadian sports franchise on Twitter, but may soon fall to the Blue Jays. The Maple Leafs had 1,034,103 followers and the Blue Jays had 1,030,844 as of Tuesday night — a difference of just 3,259 — ahead of Game 5 of the ALDS between the Blue Jays and Texas Rangers on Wednesday afternoon.
Live events often drive an account’s popularity, with Wednesday’s big game against Texas likely putting the Blue Jays ahead of their Toronto neighbours by the end of the day.
“We see huge peaks in conversation around key moments,” said Doyle. “We pulled the top moments from (Toronto’s 14-inning loss to Texas on Friday). There was 2,200 tweets per minute when the final pitch was thrown when the Rangers won. The second largest peak was when Josh Donaldson homered in the bottom of the first at 1,200 tweets per minute.”
Doyle adds that the million-follower mark is a an excellent gauge of a team’s popularity. Of Canada’s seven NHL teams, only Toronto is in the seven-digit range. The Blue Jays are one of only four MLB teams over a million, joining the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies.
The Blue Jays have several advantages that have helped power them to new heights on social media. As the only MLB team in Canada, they can draw on baseball fans from across the country to engage with them on social media instead of just relying on fans in the Greater Toronto Area. Star players like pitchers David Price and Marcus Stroman and sluggers Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista are also very active on Twitter, driving the Blue Jays’ popularity.
Mike Naraine, a part-time faculty member and PhD candidate in sport management at the University of Ottawa who specializes in social media, believes that this reflects a change in how fans experience sports.
“We’ve moved as a sport society away from just one-on-one engagement. You know, I pay $100 for a ticket, I sit up in the stands, and I watch the product on the field or in the arena,” said Naraine. “Now it’s a society where I’m engaging and interacting on multiple levels, whether it’s with the dual screen _ my television and my tablet or my smartphone _ or I’m able to interact even when I’m not watching the game and not physically in the brick-and-mortar building.
“I’m able to log on and interact with other fans while I’m still doing other things in my every day life.”
Sporting events are the best example of how Twitter and other social networks have become forums for discussion, but other live events effect online behaviour as well.
“It’s the same here in Canada during the federal leaders’ debates,” said Doyle. “We were tracking the data exactly the way we are now with the Blue Jays. You see these huge spikes around key moments in the debates. You see the leaders being talked about more on Twitter just as players in baseball are talked about more during the game.”
The Blue Jays are closing in on several American teams in other sports. The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks are the top NHL team with 1.12 million followers, with the Maple Leafs second. The Yankees are the most popular baseball team and the New England Patriots have more followers than any other NFL team, with both at 1.51 million.
The NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers are the most popular professional sports team in North America at 4.49 million Twitter followers, while soccer club Real Madrid is the most popular team worldwide, with 17.3 million followers, nearly six times more than the population of the city of Madrid.