Bandwagon fans are a tricky subject in any sport, but they’re particularly prevalent (and sensitive) when it comes to NBA fandom, where individual star power is nine tenths of the law of attraction. It’s very possible to be a fan of a player first, franchise second, and when a player leaves a team, their fans tend to follow. There’s nothing inherently bad about being a bandwagon fan, despite what everyone who’s attached to the various teams will tell you, but it does suggest that you appreciate the game slightly differently than those who cheer for teams based on geography or irrational childhood fondness. But how do we track the bandwagon? How can we tell which teams are getting the most traction among fans, and which one’s aren’t?
There are a few options available to anyone who’s interested, and while it would be easy enough to examine the presumably less crowded halls of the American Airlines Arena, that hardly accounts for the other 29 teams in the league, and doesn’t come anything close to an objective measurement by where the bandwagon has gone. Luckily for us, The Wall Street Journal is on the case, and they’ve come up with one particularly solid method — measuring the increase in Facebook likes from July 29, just over two weeks after the 2014 free agency period opened and the first of the NBA’s Media Days, to when it finished up on November 3, the first Monday of the ’14-15 regular season.
It is, as you might expect, pretty interesting stuff. And every NBA team has seen an uptick in their individual likes, as the sport seems poised to reach an even greater audience than ever before — the legacy of David Stern in action, we suppose — but the top five include all the teams to have grown by at least 10% (although not every team did) as far as Facebook fandom is concerned. Read on to see how it all shakes out, as well as a link to each team’s Facebook growth.
Who knew that winning the an NBA Championship would do great things for your fanbase? The San Antonio Spurs experienced the fifth largest Facebook increase over the period covered by the WSJ, increasing their Facebook fandom by just under 6% (5.7). We’re guessing, though, that the increase in likes would have been higher if the tracking period had started in June, when the Spurs managed to clinch the Larry O’Brien trophy and dismantle the Heatles.
The next two teams on the list, No. 4 and No. 3, are the Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors, who jumped by 7.4% and 10%, respectively. The Wizards look to build on their first successful playoff run in the team’s recent history, and have generally absolved themselves of the Gilbert Arenas/Nick Young/Andray Blatch/JaVale McGee era of clowny failure. Which sounds harsher than it should, since those Wizards teams could be really fun to watch — they just tended to be not very good, particularly after Arena’s knee surgery.
As for the Raptors, well, they got Drake as their official brand ambassador. Even if that might not have as much to do with their increase as, say, winning their division or making it to seven games against the Brookyln Nets in their first playoff appearance of the decade, we like to think that the bond between Drake and people who are really into social media helped the Raptors gain a much wider audience on the Internet.
In second place, proving that there really is no substitute for the teal and purple, are the Charlotte Hornets, formerly the Bobcats, who reestablished themselves as the classic NBA franchise of the region this offseason. The original Hornets, of course, migrated to New Orleans and ultimately became the Pelicans. The histories for each franchise, for the record, are being defined as what happened where, so Charlotte gets Alonzo and Larry Johnson, while New Orleans gets Chris Paul. Seems fair enough. Also, everyone likes the Charlotte Hornets better than the Charlotte Bobcats — their franchise increased their likes by 15.5% this summer.
And the biggest bandwagon? That’s got to belong to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who boosted their Facebook fandom by almost 20% (the final count as of November third was 19.7%). We haven’t got any idea why that might be. None at all. It’s definitely not because of this. No way.
If you’re interested in exploring the WSJ data more, you can find all of it here.