Sports on Twitter: Which pro teams have seen largest growth?

Astros outfielder Marwin Gonzalez is shown during a game at Tropicana Field, relocated due to Hurricane Harvey in August. The Astros, fresh off a World Series championship, have more than tripled their Twitter following in the past two years.(TIMES FILES | 2017)
Astros outfielder Marwin Gonzalez is shown during a game at Tropicana Field, relocated due to Hurricane Harvey in August. The Astros, fresh off a World Series championship, have more than tripled their Twitter following in the past two years.(TIMES FILES | 2017)
Published July 10 2018

Two years ago, we took a close look at the official Twitter accounts for all teams in the four major pro sports leagues — NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL — to compare the followings and see which had the best reach in social media.

That gave us a window to look at the Bucs, Lightning and Rays and where they ranked, against each other and within their sports. Nationally, the NBA had the largest team Twitter followings, with the NFL next, then a decent dropoff to baseball and hockey.

So we revisited the same 122 accounts, getting a chance to appreciate growth over the last two years. How did the leagues compare? Which teams saw the biggest (and smallest) growth? Some teams saw their followings more than triple, while others had as low as 19 percent growth over the two years.

MODEST GROWTH FOR LOCAL TEAMS: When we wrote in May 2016, the Bucs led local teams with about 422,000 followers (29th out of 32 NFL teams), while the Lightning had roughly 379,000 followers (18th out of 30 NHL teams) and the Rays had roughly 321,000 followers (26th of 30 MLB).

Two years later, the Bucs and Lightning have seen nearly identical growth, with a gain of 79.9 percent each — the margin is close enough that our rounding to the nearest thousand in 2016 could easily account for a greater disparity than the actual difference. The Bucs are still ahead of the Lightning, with about 759,000 followers to 682,000; the Rays (which saw 69.5 percent growth) are around 544,000.

The team rankings are largely the same — the Rays passed the A's but were passed by the Diamondbacks and are still 26th; the Lightning passed the Blues and Flames but were passed by the Stars and Devils to stay in 18th. The Bucs remain in 29th but will likely be passed by the Rams this fall.

NFL TEAMS ENJOY BIGGEST GROWTH: NFL team accounts grew by an average of 93.3 percent over the two years, most of the four pro leagues. MLB teams grew at 89.6 percent, NBA at 88.8 percent and NHL at 80.6 percent. (By that, the Bucs' growth was behind the NFL average, the Lightning very close to the NHL norm and the Rays below the MLB average)

On league-wide official accounts, the NBA and NFL have much larger followings (27.9 million and 24.6 million, respectively), but saw less growth than their baseball and hockey. The MLB account grew 44.8 percent to 8.4 million, the NHL grew 34.0 percent to 6.3 million, while the NBA and NFL both saw around 29 percent in growth.

ASTROS, WARRIORS LEAD THE WAY: Biggest growth among individual teams? Congrats to the Astros, who more than tripled their followers, from about 380,000 in 2016 to the current 1.4 million, thanks to a World Series championship last year. That increase of 268 percent is the highest of any team in that span.

It's no surprise that Golden State, with back-to-back NBA titles, would see huge growth — from 1.69 million to 5.92 million, jumping from eighth-most among pro teams to second, trailing only the Lakers. It's a 250 percent growth over the two years.

In the NFL, the Falcons (up 231 percent) and Eagles (215 percent) both tripled their followings thanks to Super Bowl appearances. The Patriots, still the NFL's most-followed team, saw a modest growth of 81 percent, under the league average.

Most of the top 10 in growth are teams that made deep playoff runs, but an impressive outlier is the NHL's Dallas Stars. They've made the playoffs just twice in the past decade, winning a single playoff series, and yet they tripled their following (up 202 percent) for the NHL's largest gain.

Rounding out the top 10 in largest percentage growth: Cubs, Cavaliers, Rockets, Steelers and Spurs, all up at least 165 percent in two years.

SLOWEST GROWTH: Of the 122 teams, all but 11 saw at least 50 percent growth over the two years, and the teams struggling the most were often, as you would expect, established teams with larger fan bases who haven't had much success in recent years.

Worst of all? Easily the NBA's Orlando Magic, whose following grew by just 19 percent, little more than half of the next-worst team. The Jets (32 percent) had the NFL's slowest growth, the Canucks (35 percent) were the NHL's slowest and the Cardinals (48 percent) had the MLB's least growth.

STILL KING: The largest team following easily remains the Lakers at 7.6 million, and that won't change anytime soon with LeBron James and his 41.9 million followers coming to Los Angeles.

James still averages about 5,000 new followers a day — according to, he lost about 23,000 followers the day he opted out of his Cavaliers contract, but picked up 61,000 the day he announced he was signing with the Lakers. The Lakers' team account picked up about 47,000 followers that same day.

ON THE RISE: They're still outside the traditional big four pro leagues, but Major League Soccer's 23 teams have a combined 6.9 million followers, so they're not far from being relevant to this discussion.

There are 11 MLS teams (nearly half the league) with more followers than the Marlins (MLB's lowest), and eight with more followers than the Coyotes (NHL's lowest).

Atlanta United FC leads all MLS teams at 932,000 followers, not far behind the Braves (1.25 million) and Hawks (1.22 million) in Atlanta. And the MLS' Sounders (558,000 followers) recently pushed ahead of the Mariners (547,000) in Seattle, an impressive feat.