The Best (and Worst) NBA Teams at Facebook

The NBA playoffs began this weekend to determine the 2014 champion, but the social media competition is over, and the Miami Heat have won.
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The NBA playoffs have begun. The emotions of millions are at stake every night.

But NBA franchises are also businesses, and those businesses depend on fans buying into the team, both literally and figuratively. And now, Facebook is the dominant place where those fans perform their identities online. The franchise Facebook page has become a key indicator of business health. 

So, Spanish researchers at the University of Extremadura decided to create a tool that would let them at least quasi-objectively rank teams' Facebook presences. 

"Social media provide a unique and strategic means for sport teams to enhance brand management, encourage social interactions among fans, promote ticket sales, and cultivate a more favorable online experience," writes the research team, led by Francisco Javier Miranda in the International Journal of Sports Communication.

The list Miranda's team compiled is interesting, too, because of how it intersects with the performance of the teams on the court.

The champion Miami Heat are also the champion of the Facebook playoffs here. But this may be a case of correlation more than causation.  Perhaps the second-best team in basketball over the last few years—the Oklahoma City Thunder—are near the bottom of the list.

And the team with the best record this year, the San Antonio Spurs, is middling. Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons, who didn't make the playoffs are ranked second, and the Washington Wizards, who just scraped in, are number four. 

How'd the researchers come up with this list? They used a team of experts to come up with what they call the Facebook Assessment Index, a combination of popularity, content, and interactivity metrics selected by a group of social media experts. 

Popularity was simple: it was largely determined by the number of fans a page has.

Interactivity is a complex measure fed by five metrics: "number of wall posts made by the organization in the last 7 days; average number of likes per post, calculated from the last 10 posts; average number of comments per post, calculated from the last 10 posts; average number of shared posts, calculated from the last 10 posts; and average number of user posts answered by the company in less than 24 hours, calculated from the last 10 posts that need an answer." (One weakness of the study is that researchers did not specify exactly what the sample period was.)

A team's content score was determined by a checklist of types of content (polls, downloads, contests, events, photos, etc), though the researchers admit this might not be a perfect measure. 

These three components were combined into the single Facebook Assessment Index score with these weights: interactivity, 40 percent; content, 35 percent; and popularity 25 percent.

Run all those numbers are you get the following list, which is represented in the map above. 

If we decompose the Facebook Assessment Index into its parts and extract the most interesting—popularity—we have a list that more accurately reflects my sense of the real-world engagement that people have with teams/brands.

No matter what teams do on Facebook, the most successful teams from the biggest cities are the most popular. The Lakers, for example, are nearly twice as popular as the next most popular team.

It's an intuitive finding, if purely from a population standpoint. The bigger the team's home city, the more potential fans it has. And the more often a team wins, the more likely it is to be on national television, developing loyalists from outside its home region.

 

Here's the full list:

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If you're curious about how our NBA teams stacked up with international competition from two of Europe's premiere soccer leagues—La Liga and the British Premier League—only the Miami Heat made the Facebook Assessment Index top 5. 

As for popularity, only the Lakers made the top five, at number four, behind FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Manchester United. The next three teams were also football clubs: Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool. Then we find the Bulls, Heat, and Celtics.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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