Rays and Indians May Be Losing at the Gate, but They Are Winning on FaceBook

John GreggContributor IIIApril 27, 2011

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 18:  Outfielder Ben Zobrist #18 of the Tampa Bay Rays signs some autographs just before the start of the game against the Chicago White Sox at Tropicana Field on April 18, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

For all the flack that the Rays and Indians get about their attendance and fan support, they certainly have very engaged FaceBook pages.

Here are the Top 10 most engaged FaceBook pages from the period of March 26 to April 26.

These calculations were determined by taking the average amount of interactions (likes and comments) per post and dividing it by the total amount of likes for the page.

  1. San Francisco Giants: 0.20 percent
  2. Seattle Mariners: 0.19 percent
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers: 0.18 percent
  4. Cleveland Indians: 018 percent
  5. Tampa Bay Rays: 0.16 percent
  6. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 0.13 percent
  7. Atlanta Braves: 0.12 percent
  8. Minnesota Twins: 0.09 percent
  9. Colorado Rockies: 0.08 percent
  10. Milwaukee Brewers: 0.08 percent

As you can see both franchises are in the Top 5 and there is a clear drop off in engagement after that. 

I find this very interesting given the fact that many baseball writers and analysts are quick to single out these franchises for their low attendance totals, and thought it was worth taking a closer look at.

Here is what I found:

To illustrate how engaging the Rays page is, consider these statistics.

Currently with over 275,000 likes, the Rays rank in the middle of the pack in popularity amongst MLB teams on FaceBook.

They average only 1.97 posts per day, but are making them count, getting an average of 445.9 interactions per post.

The most liked MLB page belongs to the New York Yankees with 3,590,565 likes. They average 10.3 admin posts per day, with an average of 10,103.07 interactions per day—that means that they get 980.9 interactions per post.

The Rays get almost half of the amount of interactions per post, even though the Yankees have nearly 13 times as many likes.

While it is certainly true that larger pages tend to have lower engagement scores, this is still a pretty impressive statistic.

The Rays also get high scores for their content as well.

Over the past 30 days, more than half of their posts were photos and videos which my research has   shown gets high engagement across the board for all MLB franchises.

The Rays have clearly recognized this, and are giving fans who "like" their page what they want.

They have also shown that it is not the quantity of posts that matters, but it is the quality that counts more and brings higher levels of engagement.

Ranking near the bottom in posts per day and in the middle in likes, the Rays have still managed to get an average engagement percentage of 0.16 percent, trailing only four other teams.

This shows a fantastic effort at social media marketing by an organization that still continues to get heat from the national media about their fan support.

If you couple the Rays FaceBook engagement with their 5th place rank in local TV ratings last year, it paints a very different picture of the fan base.

To me, this illustrates even further what I have been shouting from the rooftops for awhile now, the Rays attendance issues have nothing to do with fan support, and are more likely tied to the economy and the stadium.

While the "experts" on MLB Network and ESPN continually harp on the empty stands at Tropicana Field, they fail to acknowledge the fantastic support the team gets through television, radio, and social media.

Perhaps they aren't aware of it.

In any case, saying that the Rays don't have a loyal fan base is just not a true statement. The support is just coming from different areas and the attendance figures are extremely misleading.

At some point, the franchise will need to capitalize on their prowess at social media marketing, and figure out a way to turn their high engagement into ticket sales. Clearly, they are on the right track, and if nothing else, it should be clear that the franchise is using all available marketing opportunities to try and sell the Rays brand.

Like the Rays, the Cleveland Indians have been taking a lot of heat for their attendance numbers as of late. But also like the Rays, the attendance figures don't tell the entire story of this franchise's fan support.

The Indians ranked fourth over the past month in engagement rate according to my research, proving that while it may not be translating into higher attendance figures just yet, the organization is doing a great job at utilizing social media in their marketing strategy.

The Indians averaged 2.7 admin posts per day and 1,631.37 interactions, for an average of 604.2 interactions per post.

With their "like" total at 339,898, this translates into an engagement rate of 0,18%.

The Indians are also growing their page at a rate of 9 percent, slightly higher than the average MLB team.

The engagement rate of the Indians is very significant for several reasons.

They released a well publicized press release during Spring Training unveiling a social media strategy that would offer "Access to Indians organization unprecedented in Major League Baseball".

Part of that strategy is the Indians Social Suite at Progressive Field. It is for social media users, and is an evolution of the very first social media-only section in professional sports. Any fan can obtain access by applying Online, making Progressive Field the most social media friendly ballpark in the Majors.

The Indians are also offering discounted ticket specials that are available only to FaceBook and Twitter users. A creative and forward thinking way by the organization of trying to tackle it's attendance issues.

They also posted 18 videos over the past month, which I stated earlier was popular across the board with all fans of MLB teams on FaceBook. A revelation that is worth expounding on.

Of all the various post types: Links, applications, status updates, videos and music...videos and photos got the most amount of engagement with 23 of the 30 teams.

In most cases it wasn't even close.

Yet most teams post videos and photos the least.

Teams that utilize other forms of media often are having more success on FaceBook.

The Dodgers are a perfect example. They have a "Picture of the Day" posted daily, and their engagement is second overall.

The bottom line is this: Videos and photos are going to get more interaction from fans. Auto-posting links from the team's website is simply not enough to keep fans interested in a page.  

It is clear that the Indians are already reaping rewards from their emphasis on marketing through social media. It remains to be seen how their efforts will benefit the franchise in the long term, but the high level of engagement on their FaceBook page suggests that they are indeed making headway with interacting with their fan base.

In that regard, they remain one of the leaders in MLB at using social media in an effective and comprehensive way.

It will be very interesting to follow the Indians in 2011 and beyond, to see what other social media initiatives they put in place, and if those efforts begin to reap them substantial benefits at the gate.

So, what do the high FaceBook engagement rates but low attendance totals for these two franchises really mean?

I'm not sure, but I have more than one theory.

Perhaps the high level of engagement is due to the poor economies in these areas of the country, forcing fans to follow their teams on the Internet and television instead of at the stadium.

Conversely, it could be that the social media efforts of the Rays and Indians are actually keeping people out of the stadiums. Maybe endorsing social media is actually hurting ticket sales, by making watching the game online and interacting with other fans on FaceBook and Twitter more engaging and desirable. Not to mention cheaper.

Or maybe it is just two franchises who are ahead of the curve in terms of how and where fans will support their teams.

Take what you will from this data, and draw your own conclusions.

For me though, I could envision a world where sports franchises generated the majority of their profits from the Internet and other evolving media outlets. A world where the financial success of a franchise is not beholden to getting butts in the seats.

If this ever came to fruition, then the Rays and Indians would be lauded for their fan support and not scolded.

While the Rays and Indians may be fighting a losing battle at the ticket window, they are clearly well ahead of the pack on FaceBook. With the ever growing popularity of FaceBook and social media in general, this is bound to pay dividends for these franchises in the future.

Perhaps even in ways that we cannot conceive yet.

*The data in this piece was compiled from several sources including Social Bakers and All FaceBook Stats over a 30 day period. Obviously this data is constantly fluctuating, and is merely a indicator of how a team's page has performed in recent weeks.

I am not a statistician or marketing expert, but this publicly available data clearly shows certain trends.


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