News of Tom Brady’s second retirement is everywhere in the US – it shot to the top of Twitter’s trending list in minutes. Internationally, there’s more competition.
One reason is his social media following. Brady, an avid social media user, announced his retirement on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to about 21 million followers. That same message from football’s Cristiano Ronaldo would have gone out to more than 38 times that, 810 million, across those three networks.
Compare the follower counts of the NFL’s stars with their sporting counterparts and American football starts to look more little league than sporting behemoth, highlighting how difficult the league’s planned international push may be.
The trend crosses sports, countries and gender. Cricket’s Virat Kohli would have reached 337 million followers, mostly in India. The NBA’s Lebron James has 223 million followers. MMA fighter Conor McGregor has 70 million. Tennis great Serena Williams has 34 million. Alex Morgan, who fought arguments of low viewership to win equal pay for US women’s soccer, has nearly as many followers as Brady at 20 million. Even the follower counts of the NFL’s own brand and team accounts are dwarfed by European football clubs and the NBA.
The league dominates as a media money maker – 82 of the top 100 television broadcasts in the US last year were NFL games, according to Sportico. Still, that market is highly concentrated domestically. The NBA’s expansion into China was likely aided by the international social following of players like James, while the NFL is approaching sports fans who don’t understand its game and, using follower counts as a measure, probably don’t know its players.
While analysts and experts say the issue isn’t the highest barrier to the NFL’s push abroad – in Europe it faces bigger challenges including infrastructure, scheduling, travel and costs – it highlights a challenge in an era where the biggest names command the most viewers.
Brady’s relatively low social media following also underscores how tied NFL players are to their home market once they retire. While Brady landed a US$375mil (RM1.59bil) contract with Fox and Eli Manning went into private equity, pros with smaller followings are left with fewer options than their counterparts in more global sports. Even in relatively niche sports like rugby, athletes can leverage their popularity into a move overseas and land large contracts once their national careers are over.
Don’t worry about Brady, though. He leaves the NFL after 23 seasons as one of its most decorated players of all-time – and one of its richest. – Bloomberg