Basketball has come a long way since Dr. James Naismith created the game in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Back then, it consisted of peach baskets and a soccer-style ball to condition young athletes during cold months. Today, the National Basketball Association (NBA) ranks second among domestic professional sports leagues in North America by total attendance (21,997,412), behind Major League Baseball (72,670,423), but ahead of the National Hockey League (21,429,412) and the National Football League (17,788,671). And that’s just counting the “fans in the stands,” which is how most data masters in the NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL label these success metrics.
But there is another key performance indicator that virtually all NBA data masters have on their dashboards: online video views. NBA executives want to know if their team is getting more views than other 29 teams in what is widely considered to be the premier men’s professional basketball league in the world. This enables them to make and defend judgments based on external intelligence as well as internal evidence. Hey, winning games on the basketball court requires your team to put a soccer-style ball in the other team’s peach basket more often than they do, so why shouldn’t the business of professional basketball be just as competitive off the court as the games are on it?
To that end, I used Tubular Intelligence to discover which NBA teams are getting the most online video views on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. Besides the fact that the NBA social accounts had the most views across all these platforms, here’s what I found:
The Sacremento Kings Shoot and Score on YouTube
Let’s start with YouTube, where I found this ranking of NBA teams:
- NBA with 186 million views
- Sacramento Kings with 6.0 million views
- Golden State Warriors with 4.6 million views
- Toronto Raptors with 4.5 million views
- Milwaukee Bucks with 2.5 million views
- Philadelphia 76ers with 2.0 million views
- Chicago Bulls with 1.9 million views
- Cleveland Cavaliers with 1.1 million views
Overall, I was surprised by the relatively large number of views the NBA YouTube channel is getting. I had assumed the League might get about 15 times more views than the “average” team on YouTube because the league has 15 times more highlights to feature in its content. (Yes, there are 30 teams, which play 82 games during the regular season. But they each have to play an opponent, so there are a total of 1,230 NBA games in the regular season, only 15 times more than any one team plays.) This explains why I was stunned that the NBA’s channel got 31 times more views than the top team’s YouTube channel.
My second surprise was the identity of the top team: the Sacramento Kings! I had assumed that teams with winning records would get more views than team with losing records. When you win, you have more highlights that your fans want to watch, right? But, the Sacramento Kings have only won 21 games so far this season, and lost 45. And the Chicago Bulls have only won 22 games, and lost 43. Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets, with a record of 51 wins and 14 losses, didn’t make the list above. And neither did the Boston Celtics, which have a record of 46 wins and 20 losses. Essentially, a team’s performance in the YouTube rankings doesn’t seem closely correlated with the presence of a human highlight reel on the court.
So what key trends and insights would I add to the “action dashboard” of more than three quarters of the NBA teams? Pay closer attention to what the NBA channel as well as the Sacramento Kings and Chicago Bulls are doing on their YouTube channels. Now, you may not be able to knock off the NBA’s most-viewed video, “2018 NBA Celebrity All-Star Game Player Introductions | Presented by Ruffles,” which has 4.7 million views. It’s hard to replicate the All-Star Game in 30 different designated market area, but #goals, right?
Golden State Warriors Take the Lead on Facebook
Next, I looked at which NBA teams are getting the most online video views on Facebook:
- NBA with 1.6 billion views
- Golden State Warriors with 167 million views
- Cleveland Cavaliers with 132 million views
- Los Angeles Lakers with 79.2 million views
- Chicago Bulls with 75.9 million views
- San Antonio Spurs with 74.2 million views
- Boston Celtics with 55.2 million views
- Miami Heat with 47.6 million views
The identity of the top two teams on Facebook wasn’t a surprise at all. It was the Golden State Warriors, followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although these two teams have played each other since 1970, their rivalry did not develop until the 2014–15 season, when they met in the first of three consecutive NBA Finals series. In fact, the Warriors and Cavaliers became the only two teams in NBA history to meet in the Finals three straight years. In addition, the two teams feature 9 current or former NBA All-Stars: Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, and LeBron James (Cleveland), and David West, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Andre Iguodala (Golden State). Coming up with compelling video content that NBA fans want to watch isn’t as hard as it is for other teams.
It’s also worth noting that half of the names on the list of top Facebook pages weren’t on the list of top YouTube pages: Los Angeles Lagers, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, and Miami Heat. So, it’s a jump ball when it comes to predicting that success on one social video platform will translate into success on another. Why? Because excelling on YouTube and Facebook is as difficult as a getting double-double in points and rebounds. Many players are good at scoring points or hauling in rebounds, but not as many are good at both.
Instagram Users Love Those Cleveland Cavaliers
Finally, I checked out which NBA teams are getting the most online video views on Instagram.
- NBA with 2.5 billion views.
- Cleveland Cavaliers with 224 million views.
- Golden State Warriors with 174 million views.
- Boston Celtics with 89.9 million views.
- Oklahoma City Thunder with 68.0 million views.
- Miami Heat with 47.2 million views.
- New York Knicks with 39.7 million views.
- Toronto Raptors with 35.0 million views.
While the Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry is probably driving the top two positions on Instagram, the relative order between the two teams is reversed. And the rankings for the Celtics and Heat are also different on Instagram than on Facebook. And the Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks, and Toronto Raptors surface in the Instagram rankings, although they didn’t appear in the Facebook rankings. This reinforces the idea that success on one social video platform doesn’t automatically translate into success on another. To extend the metaphor I used earlier, very few players score triple-doubles in points, rebounds, and assists over the course of a season.
Knowing this, the savviest data masters realize that creating a multi-platform video strategy was what their teams needed to do to stand out a couple of years ago. Now, everyone has one. So NBA teams need to take their game to the next level. To get an idea of what the next level looks like, check out “God of War.” Uploaded to Facebook by the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 11, 2018, this video was sponsored by Playstation. It has 3.9 million views. And that doesn’t count the “fans in the stands” at Oracle Arena in Oakland, who got to witness some seriously immersive advertising at halftime in addition to that night’s basketball battle between the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.
According to Tim Nudd of Adweek, “A special tarp was pulled across the court, the lights went down, and a two-minute video for the video game God of War was projection-mapped on the court, with part of the story told on the Jumbotron above – all courtesy of PlayStation and agency BBH.”
He added, “The experience was dubbed ‘War on the Floor,’ and that’s just what it depicted: The floor of Oracle Arena suddenly became a snowy Nordic landscape, and the game’s father and son duo, Kratos and Atreus, were seen battling the elements as well as monstrous foes that put the visiting Spurs players to shame.”
In the end, the robust number of views on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram generated by the NBA and its 30 teams also answers a question that I asked a year ago: “What will the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB Do Now that Vine has Gone?” By mid-2016, the NBA had become the first organization to surpass 2 billion loops on Vine. And before Twitter pulled the plug on its mobile app, the NBA had built Vine’s largest community among all sports leagues, teams and players, with more than 1.8 million followers. Well, the answer to last year’s question appears to be the NBA and all of its 30 teams have adopted a highly successful multi-platform video strategy.