For NFL Players, Social Media Hits Hard

If you’re a player in the NFL today you are painfully aware that average career span in the league is only 3.5 years.     With such a short amount of time to be suiting up on Sundays, players are focused on making the most of every snap.  And rightfully so, a player’s performance on the field will be the key factor in determining how much he can earn in those 3.5 years.   But there is another area that professional football players are focused on these days.  An area that may help them earn long after their days on the gridiron are over.  We’re talking about the field of social media, which can be just as competitive and hard hitting as the NFL.  It’s an arena where just like a vicious clothesline tackle; one ill-conceived tweet or Facebook post can end a career (remember Kansas City Chief running back Larry Johnson anyone?)

Now that the NFL football season has kicked off, I thought it might be fun to look at the top NFL players who are performing on the social media field.   What are these social media all-stars doing that others aren’t and what lessons can we learn from them?

I’m going to start with New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush.    Reggie’s nearly 1.3 million Twitter followers put him in the top 10 of all professional athletes on Twitter.   He has a photo stream on Flickr, a branded YouTube Channel he even has a friendfeed account.  What I love about Reggie’s presence is that he is going beyond typical posts and photo uploads.  Reggie has a number of custom tabs on his Facebook page that work to drive deeper fan engagement, a perfect example is his RedZones promotion which gives away signed footballs.  What I’m missing from Reggie’s page?  How about a little honest discussion.   Reggie looks to be the first player to be stripped of a Heisman trophy in the 75-year history of the award.   He has a great platform to talk about what is happening, his point of view and how he feels.   Unfortunately he’s not using it.  Reggie needs to open up on Facebook and Twitter and take control of the discussion because you can’t impact he game by sitting on the sidelines.

Next, lets take a look at Cardinals wide out Larry Fitzgerald.   Larry’s numbers are impressive both on the field and in social media.  With nearly 600,000 Twitter followers Larry has built a substantial following and one that is growing quickly.   So what’s driving Larry’s success in social media?   It’s not his latest reality show because he doesn’t have one.  It’s not the media reporting on some scandalous nightclub incident because that’s not the type of thing you will see from Larry.  I think what’s driving Larry’s success is that he’s a nice guy (or at least seems to be) and a positive role model.   He often tweets messages of inspiration and faith.   If there is any NFL player who will use his social media status to help others, my guess is that it will be Larry.

And finally, I end with the king of social media in the NFL and fellow Oregon State Beaver alum – Chad Ochocinco.  If this were a pure numbers play alone, Chad wins with nearly 1.9 million Twitter and Facebook fans combined.  But look past the fans and followers and you see a well-oiled social media machine.   Chad gives fans what they want, an inside look at the unfiltered life of an NFL player.  He is a prolific tweeter and mobile up loader.   He even has is own iPhone app and soon to be released mobile game.   What makes Chad excell in social media is not how much he’s using it, but how he’s using it.   Posts like these really give fans the chance and a reason to engage with him.

Chad understands how to involve his fans and create that connection with them.   He is using social media to fortify the one thing that will last much longer than his days on the football field… that’s his personal brand.  

Now time for a few honorable mentions:

Jay Feely – Leading all kickers with over 17,000 Twitter followers.  Nice work Jay!

Pete Carroll – This coach knows social media with nearly 430,000 fans and followers.

Houston Texans – For reasons unknown, the most social media savvy team.

Warren Sapp – 450,000 people following a retired defensive tackle.  Kudos Warren!

Chris Mike

(Chris is a veteran sports marketer having held senior-level marketing positions at EA SPORTS, Nike and Converse. He now heads up strategic accounts at StepChange Group – a social media agency in Portland, OR and can be reached at cmike@stepchangegroup.comor followed on Twitter at


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