By Dan Reed, Head of Global Sports Partnerships
From the most-discussed Super Bowl and NBA Finals ever, to top athletes LeBron James, Serena Williams and Manny Pacquiao connecting with their fans in new ways, Facebook witnessed unprecedented momentum and growth in sports in 2015.
In April, we announced that 650 million people are connected to sports Pages, which makes Facebook the single largest community of sports fans in the world. We also rolled out new products like Live for Facebook Mentions and 360 Video on Facebook to help athletes, teams, leagues and our sports media partners connect and engage with their fans on Facebook in spontaneous and creative ways.
Today we’re looking back at the athletes and sporting events that drove the most social conversation on Facebook in 2015, as part of our annual Facebook Year in Review. We’re excited about what 2016 holds, and hope to make sports – especially live sporting events – more enjoyable for all of the passionate fans around the world who use Facebook to connect, engage and discover great sports-related content.The three most-mentioned athletes on Facebook in 2015 all know how to pack a punch. Boxers Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao top the list, with much of the social conversation stemming from what organizers billed as the “Fight of the Century” last May.
Mayweather posted over 40 videos in the month leading up to the fight, resulting in over 60 million video views. Pacquaio used Facebook to share an exclusive music video to his walk-out song. He also posted this hype video leading up to the bout.
#MayPac was one of the biggest events on Facebook this year, with 37 million people generating more than 115 million posts, comments and Likes related to the welterweight bout. Our recap of the event is posted here.
Mixed Martial Arts fighter and UFC champion, Ronda Rousey, ranked third on the list after enjoying a meteoric rise to fame in 2015. The bantamweight fighter made UFC history in February with her 14-second takedown of Cat Zingano.
Rousey also played a role in the movie “Fast & Furious 7” this year, and drove massive social conversation around her August victory over Bethe Correia and a November loss to Holly Holm.
Acclaimed footballers Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the two overall most popular athletes on Facebook; they round out the top five on our most-mentioned list. Ronaldo not only has more Facebook Likes than any other athlete, but he is also the most popular public figure on Facebook across all categories with 108 million Likes.
The Real Madrid forward used Facebook to celebrate his professional achievements throughout the year, including his third FIFA Ballon D’Or award.
FC Barcelona and Argentina star Leo Messi is the second most popular athlete on Facebook with 81 million Likes, but had more people talking about him on Facebook than Ronaldo did this year. He was key in winning the UEFA Champions League, Spanish Cup and La Liga titles, as well as helping Argentina reach the final of Copa America. In 2015, he continued to give fans a close up look at intimate moments in his life. In the Facebook post above, the Barcelona star confirmed that wife, Antonella Roccuzzo, was expecting their second child.
Global football events drove massive conversation on Facebook as well. Between June 1 and July 4, 59 million people generated 309 million posts, comments and likes about Copa América on Facebook globally.
June’s UEFA Champions League Final saw 28 million people driving 76 million Facebook interactions. The Facebook People Per Minute (PPM) animation posted above takes a closer look at key moments during the match when engagement peaked.
New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady, amped up his presence on Facebook in 2015, using the platform exclusively to provide his official responses to DeflateGate, share glimpses into his personal life like this cliff diving video, and connect with his fans like this video he shot during the Super Bowl victory parade.
Super Bowl XLIX drove millions of Brady-related mentions, and he was the most-discussed player on Facebook during the game. You can read all about it here. More than 65 million people joined the conversation on Facebook during Super Bowl XLIX. It was the most talked-about sporting event on Facebook in 2015, and saw the highest level of conversation Facebook has ever measured for any Super Bowl.
LeBron James and Steph Curry were the seventh and eighth most-mentioned athletes on Facebook this year, and both NBA players engaged with their fans in unique ways on the platform. James was the first athlete to be featured in 360 Video on Facebook, taking his fans behind-the-scenes during pre-season training in Miami. Curry used Facebook Mentions to post great content like this video kissing daughter Riley and another one congratulating footballer Leo Messi on hitting 30 million Instagram followers.
James and Curry were also the most-discussed players as their respective teams, the Cavaliers and the Warriors, squared off in this year’s NBA Finals. 32 million people generated 173 million posts, comments and Likes around the final six games, which made this year’s tournament the second most talked-about sporting event on Facebook in 2015, and the most-discussed Finals in history. You can read more about it here.
World No. 1-ranked tennis player, Serena Williams, was the ninth most-mentioned athlete on Facebook in 2015. She completed her second “Serena Slam” this year at Wimbledon, winning all four major tournaments in a row (just not in the same season). Williams was a Live for Facebook Mentions launch partner, and took her fans behind-the-scenes during New York Fashion Week in September. One of her Facebook posts, in which she recounted the story of nabbing a cellphone thief, went viral in November.
Rounding out our top ten list this year was Argentine footballer Carlos Tevez, who returned to his boyhood club, Boca Juniors, this year and helped win the Argentine league title for the 31st time. Tevez was also instrumental in taking Italian club Juventus to the last Champions League final.
Methodology for 2015 Top Athletes on Facebook list was based on how frequently an athlete’s name was mentioned in Facebook posts made globally between between January and December 2015, normalized by volume observed in 2014. Rankings are not based on Facebook Likes.