Several years ago we published a piece discussing how brands and teams can utilize Snapchat, the rising social platform at the time, to increase fan engagement. Fast forward to 2020 and there’s another platform taking the world by storm. While many teams and brands have taken advantage of TikTok, an air of mystery still hangs over the platform.
What is TikTok?
I suspect most of our audience is aware of TikTok and may have seen a video or two (admit it, you probably have). For the unfamiliar, here’s a primer.
TikTok was originally launched as Music.ly in 2014. The original app allowed users to lip-synch along to their favorite songs. In 2017, Music.ly was bought by ByteDance, a Chinese company who then merged the singing app into the currently existing TikTok. Since then, the social media app has become a powerhouse and incubator of top pop culture trends.
In terms of demographics, 41 percent of users are between the age of 16 and 24. 44 percent of users are female, as well. The platform is the most-downloaded free app in Apple’s App Store, directly ahead of YouTube, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Facebook, and Snapchat. To illustrate the rise of TikTok since the start of 2018, particularly in comparison to the decreased popularity of Snapchat, see below.
What makes TikTok enticing for brands and sports teams and leagues is that the demographics are favorable for engaging the next generation of fans. Additionally, the 15-second time limit for videos forces content creators to be smart and efficient, similarly to Vine (RIP). One of the more appealing things about the app, which has its roots in the sharing of popular music, was that it allowed users to use virtually any song in their video. However, in May of 2020, TikTok changed the policy. Verified brands on the platform are no longer able to use popular tracks and instead have access to royalty-free sounds through the app.
Which sports leagues and teams are on TikTok?
There are plenty of teams outside the U.S. with a hefty presence on TikTok. Teams like Liverpool (the first PL team on TikTok), Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and more have used the platform to engage with their global audience. For the purposes of this section, let’s focus on six professional leagues in North America:
- NBA: by our count, 27 of 30 NBA teams have TikTok accounts. The Golden State Warriors have the most followers (1.8 million). Those numbers pale in comparison to the official league account which has 11.2 million followers
- NFL: the official league account has 4.1 million followers, while 29 of 32 teams have a presence. The Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs lead the way on the platform with 1 million followers
- MLB: 26 of 30 teams have accounts. MLB teams have a smaller footprint on the platform – the Chicago Cubs are the only team with over 200,000 followers. The league account has over 1.5 million followers
- NHL: team accounts average 58,000 followers, while the league account has garnered 900,000. 26 of 31 teams are currently on TikTok with the Detroit Red Wings leading the way in follower count with nearly 168,000
- MLS: LA Galaxy (40,400) and LAFC (37,000) lead the way in follower count among the 16 MLS teams who are currently on TikTok. The league account has over 118,000 followers
- NWSL: 6 of 9 teams have accounts that average 5,600 followers, while there is no official league account
If you’re keeping tabs, one key takeaway from this is league accounts have more followers than team accounts, which shouldn’t be too surprising. League accounts serve as aggregators of content from around each league, providing a holistic view of happenings on the gridiron, court, ice, etc.
See below for more, including where teams in each league and the league account themselves stack up.
The social clout of MLS and NWSL pale in comparison to their contemporaries. Call it one part popularity contest and another part late-to-the-party. Moving forward, however, each should see the platform as an integral part of their social strategy in order to attract younger fans who can grow along with the leagues and sport. MLS joined the platform in February as part of the league’s 25th season celebration with promises of exclusive content available on no other platforms. Joining and cultivating a community is a great start – hopefully the league can tap into its young players and fans for more as the league returns to play in early July.
NWSL, on the other hand, should see TikTok as a means to reach the 44 percent of users who are female. Unlike MLS, NWSL has the most popular players in the world and can use this to their advantage.
Still curious about TikTok and how brands and teams can utilize the platform for community engagement? Read below for additional thoughts from some of our digital team.
What makes TikTok different from other social platforms?
TikTok provides sports teams one benefit over other social media platforms: the ability to be authentically funny. While teams have been adopting humorous voices on Twitter and posting memes on their Instagram for years now, those actions can often be viewed by fans as inauthentic or come across as “trying too hard.” The content TikiTok lends itself to, on the other hand, lets the creativity of teams and their players shine through in more genuine ways. Popular videos on the app are almost always in response to a viral trend, they’re brief, and they don’t always require a high production quality.
One simple example is the Clemson football team’s TikTok which features star quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s reaction to a viral video of a young girl who looks identical to him. The simplicity, brevity, and the user base’s tolerance for low-effort content helped a 10-second video garner nearly three million views and 388,000 likes. Had this been done on other platforms, it might have required a longer, more sanitized, and produced piece, hurting its performance. -Cody
TikTok is a great platform for brands because of the relatively level playing field to achieve viral status. Unlike Instagram or YouTube, even accounts with small followings can get millions of views on videos. Content really is king on TikTok. The platform’s big win has been how quickly it evolves to suit the needs of brands and advertisers – unlike how long this took for most other platforms. -Scott
I reached out to Mo Ali, a content creator we’ve highlighted, for his thoughts. Mo has built a sizable audience on Instagram, but has found incredible success on TikTok where he recently passed 3 million followers. For Mo, taking advantage of TikTok as an emerging platform was a no-brainer because of the ability to showcase brands and content in short, unique videos. He cited the hunger for shorter, more easily-digestible content from not only his audience, but society in general as a major reason for his shift to TikTok. Bite-sized pieces and trendy videos allow his content to reach more people. -Mike
What makes soccer fans valuable for brands looking to engage an audience via TikTok?
TikTok’s algorithm rewards good content better than any other platform, which is why it can be so important to a brand trying to reach the soccer fans in this country who are, on average, younger than fans of other popular American sports leagues. Fans are forward-thinking and hip, which means they’re ahead of trends and are more willing to share popular content. Because of the type of content that exists on TikTok, advertisements and branded content feel more natural than on other platforms – something more appealing to younger demographics. -Jeremy
The younger demographics that make up a lot of soccer fans are important, but it’s also important not to lose sight of how COVID-19 has also propelled moms, dads, and families to utilize the platform. Take, for example, a video that originated on TikTok of a family who created a household quarantine Olympics. The first video in a now multi-part series has over 10.7 million views and 2.2 million likes. It’s such a simple, yet relatable piece of content for the whole family and something brands looking to target soccer fans can use to their advantage. TikTok’s reach and value has come a long way in a short amount of time and goes far beyond the stereotype of being just a place for Gen Z. –Scott
How can a brand use a TikTok trend to reach soccer fans?
The key is integrating trends into your content as they’re emerging. Utilizing #soccer may seem like a great idea; however, it will be hard to break through with a hashtag that has over 14.3 billion plays in its lifetime. One soccer integration I recently saw that took advantage of emerging trends was Dortmund’s use of “Wipe It Down” to unveil their new jersey.
Dortmund also uses an in-app integration that links fans directly to different Wikipedia pages of interest. For example, the “Wipe It Down” content has a button that links to their own Wikipedia page. Their content piece unveiling new signing Thomas Meuneir links directly to his Wikipedia page. A very simple yet powerful integration to help educate potential new fans on your team, organization, or brand. –Dillon