The marketability of a rising sports star on social media involves much more than just “likes” and “followers.” An athlete’s social media presence says a lot about how much he or she may be able to capture in endorsement deals. Working with some of the biggest brands in the world, Nielsen Sports developed a Social Media Scorecard that utilizes more than 30 data points to enable brands to make smarter business decisions when selecting and benchmarking athletes.
“Social media is becoming a more and more important channel to reach Gen Z, which primarily finds out about new products via social media,” said Max Barnett, Global Head of Digital and Social Media, Nielsen Sports. “Brands can’t be trapped into just using an athlete’s number of social media followers when determining endorsement power and marketability.”
From April of 2018 through March of 2019, Nielsen Sports tracked the social media activity surrounding the top six NBA draft prospects: Zion Williamson (Duke), Ja Morant (Murray State), R.J. Barrett (Duke), Cam Reddish (Duke), Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech) and De’Andre Hunter (Virginia). We used social media metrics from throughout the past 12 months to normalize the impact of their teams’ performance during March Madness.
The results of our analysis, which was based on four data pillars (reach, relevance, resonance and media return) found that Zion Williamson came out on top. The target audience for the relevance pillar in this case study was male U.S. basketball and music fans ages 18-35.
He may not have made it to this year’s Final Four, but Duke’s Zion Williamson is poised to cash in more than his peers. He generated a Nielsen Sports Social Score of 17.46 out of a possible 20, scored highest in all four categories, and performed especially well against competitors in relevance and potential media return for a sponsor. Even the attention Williamson received for blowing out a shoe in a game against rival Carolina didn’t hurt him.
Duke teammate R.J. Barrett ranked second with a score of 11.15. He performed well overall, and his relevance stands out due to the highest percentage of social media followers (84%) in the 18-35 male basketball and music fan affinity group.
Players with a smaller social following and reach still have bragging rights. For example, Jarrett Culver topped all others with 47% positive sentiment on social media, compared with Williamson’s 23%.
Interestingly, when Nielsen benchmarked Williamson against 2018 NBA MVP, James Harden, he fell just short of “the Beard’s” score of 18.32. Harden scored 0.86 points higher mainly due to his significant following of more than 9.5 million on Instagram.
The 2019 NBA Draft is June 19 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.