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Soccer in the States Is Blossoming

Newest MLS Teams Boast More Than 60% Growth on Social

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MLS
Social Media
Published 
April 18, 2022
 | 
5
 min read

After nearly three decades of existence, Major League Soccer is continuing to grow and attract new American fans to the beautiful game. Since its debut in 1996, MLS has had its share of growing pains, but recent expansion coupled with increased interest in the sport on the international level has created a wave of enthusiasm for the league and its franchises. When the San Jose Clash defeated D.C. United to kick-start MLS more than a quarter-century ago, they were two of only 10 franchises. But that number has since grown to 28 – with eight new teams joining since 2017 and another – St. Louis FC – set to enter the fold for the 2023 season. On the heels of such rapid leaguewide expansion, MVP endeavored to explore how MLS franchises are faring on social media. We used our platform to examine each franchise’s followers across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to identify growth trends and offer comparative insights among teams. And if the newest MLS club is any indication, the league is fit for a crown.

Ascending to Fever Pitch

Charlotte FC made an immediate splash on the scene, drawing an MLS-record 74,479 fans to its inaugural home match on March 5. Excitement for the event had been brewing in the Queen City for more than two years, and the crowd reached a fever pitch by kickoff. The team was initially scheduled to debut during the 2021 season, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the process by a full season, allowing Charlotte FC to continue its groundswell of support leading up to opening night. The additional time helped the club’s fledgling social media channels grow significantly before a goal was ever scored, ultimately generating a 69.4% year-over-year average increase in followers across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The boost was tops among all MLS teams from 2021 to 2022, and Charlotte FC was one of only two teams to boost its total follower count by more than 50% from the previous year – joined by 2021 debutante Austin FC, which grew its channels’ following by 60.7%. A considerable element of progress for teams that have debuted since 2018 was their first match, as they collectively averaged 10.8% social growth in the two weeks following their respective season openers. Again, Charlotte FC led the way in this metric, with 18.8% growth in the fortnight after its first foray onto the pitch, including 5% growth on the day of its first game at Bank of America Stadium. 

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Atlanta United Rules More Than the South

Among the quickest success stories on the pitch in MLS annals is that of Atlanta United, which played its inaugural season in 2017 and proceeded to win the MLS Cup the following year. The city immediately embraced its first professional sports champion since 1995. During the club’s MLS Cup postseason run, Atlanta United gained more than 100,000 followers across all social platforms, growing its total following by nearly 7%. On a broader scale, the organization’s followers ballooned throughout 2018, with a 25.4% jump on Facebook, a 99.1% boost on Instagram, and a 2.16x increase on YouTube. But Atlanta United’s strongest presence has always been on Twitter. The organization has had the largest Twitter following among MLS clubs since March 2017 – the month of its first match – and its more than 1 million current followers is 75.2% higher than the second-most popular club on the platform, the Seattle Sounders. The only other club with more than 500,000 Twitter followers is LA Galaxy, followed by a quartet of clubs boasting more than 400,000 in Orlando City SC, Toronto FC, Houston Dynamo, and NYCFC.

MLS Social Hierarchy Is Bicoastal

An intriguing element emerged from MVP’s social platform when comparing MLS teams with the broadest social media scope. Overwhelmingly, the clubs with the largest followings are on one side of the country or the other. While teams from Middle America like Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas, and the Chicago Fire each have total follower counts north of 650,000, the group of teams with more than 1 million followers is comprised almost exclusively of clubs in a coastal state – with Toronto FC being the lone exception. The LA Galaxy cast the widest social net across the MLS, having amassed 4.31 million total followers, with 1.44 million on Instagram and a whopping 2.24 million on Facebook. The Galaxy’s Facebook following alone would eclipse the total follower count for all but one other club. The same is true for NYCFC, whose 2.15 million Facebook followers contribute to its total of 3.38 million followers across all platforms. Seven other organizations have exceeded 1 million total followers, with Atlanta United, Seattle Sounders, and Orlando City SC rounding out the top five.

New Teams, Fans Expand Soccer’s Reach

Exponential growth among the MLS’s nascent organizations is promising for the league as it continues its expansion efforts. Next season, St. Louis FC will join the ranks, but the club is already off to a fast start on social media. Despite having never played a match, its social accounts currently claim 83,640 followers and a year-over-year growth rate of 13%. Using Charlotte FC and the clubs that preceded it as examples, fans in the Show-Me State can expect their newest professional sports team to garner swift attention as the 2023 season nears. MVP will continue to monitor MLS clubs’ social presences throughout the season as the league serves as a domestic appetizer for the World Cup later this year in Qatar.

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