This isn’t my normal content. In fact, this is only vaguely related to the New England Revolution at all. If you’re reading this as a fan of another MLS team (or indeed *no* MLS team), welcome! A bit of background: I’m a long-time season ticket holder of the Revolution with a tendency to get into the weeds on topics that interest me. As a result, I leapt at an opportunity to cover the Revs for Boston Sports Nation in 2021 and have been writing about them ever since.
In that time, over the course of posting my content to various social media platforms, I’ve found a thriving community of Revs fans spread across the internet.
I don’t use the word “community” lightly.
Sure, Revolution fans gather online to discuss the team, talk about new signings, formations, tactics, etc.
But they’re also there to support each other. To congratulate each other when they achieve accomplishments. To welcome newcomers. There are arguments, and lies, and drama too. And much of it only tangentially related to the soccer team we all love.
These communities are one of the many reasons being a Revs supporter/writer is so fulfilling.
But I have also noticed, during my internet travels, that not all MLS fanbases have developed these communities the same way. Some supporters gather on twitter (yes I’m going to call it twitter), while others may take to reddit, or discord, or Instagram, or Threads, or any number of discrete pockets of the web. And that doesn’t include good-old-fashioned IRL groups and communities.
In this article I’m going to look at 3 large social media platforms, and how MLS fans have (or haven’t) congregated in each.
If you’re a new MLS fan (or even an old one) and are looking for a place to discuss your favorite team, hopefully the data I lay out herein will point you in the correct direction.
Oh, also, this is going to be a lot of charts, math, and stats. So, you know, sorry in advance.
Caveats and Methods
For this article I decided to turn my focus to 3 large social media platforms for sports: Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit. I know that these aren’t an exhaustive list of online platforms nor, perhaps, are they even the best places to find soccer fans. But they are 3 of the more easily accessible places.
One unfortunate side effect of choosing to focus on these 3 is that coming by the sorts of data I use in this piece isn’t simple. Both twitter and Reddit recently made it more difficult/more expensive to see how many users are interested in certain topics.
While I get it – that sort of data is very valuable to marketing teams – it did make my job as “unpaid-obsessive-with-a-blog” substantially more difficult. That took certain interesting statistics off the table. And, what data was still available I often had to collect by hand.
All of that preamble to say: this isn’t an exhaustive dataset.
Some of these figures may be out of date. Hand counted values may have small errors. All-in-all I did my best to accurately collect the best information and present it in an interesting way.
Reddit is a great platform for connecting with people of similar interests. Perhaps the best structured of the three I’ll talk about today.
I’m sure I don’t need to explain Reddit to you, in the year of our lord 2024. It’s a big, souped-up internet forum. A place to share news, chat, argue, and create.
Within the main structure of Reddit there are category specific forums, called subreddits. These subreddits all have a theme, and will be named accordingly. A subreddit for world news is, fittingly, called r/worldnews. There is r/dadjokes for bad puns, r/soundslikemusic for objects that make familiar noises, and (a recent favorite of mine) r/whatismycookiecutter – where people try to guess what shape a cookie cutter is trying to make.
There are, of course, subreddits for sports as well. r/MLS is a subreddit dedicated to Major League Soccer, and is a good place to find news, updates and rumors related to all 29 MLS clubs. There are further subreddits, then, for each MLS team.
It’s from these subreddits we can get our first indication of where (and how many) people are congregating online to talk about their favorite team. Each MLS subreddit will have a listed number of members. I’ve plotted those out here:
The most popular team on Reddit (by subreddit members) is Atlanta United. They have, at time of writing, 36,855 members.
Soak it in, Atlanta fans, because this is the only time Inter Miami (since the addition of Leo Messi) is ceding the top spot in any popularity contest from here on in.
Other popular subreddits include that of Austin FC, the Portland Timbers, and Minnesota United.
Meanwhile, teams like Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids, and the New York Red Bulls have comparatively low popularity on reddit.
But, subreddit members isn’t the only (or even the best) way to gauge team specific activity on reddit. That’s where posts-per-day comes in.
Subredditstats.com keeps track of how many posts were submitted to a particular subreddit on a particular day. We can then compare those for each team-specific subreddit, and see where the conversations are happening. But not all days are created equal.
In order to be as fair as possible, I wanted to select a day that would see a reasonable amount of posts, while giving as many teams as possible a reason for conversation. That lead me to May 20th, 2023. While it’s certainly not recent, it does have the following going for it:
- It’s a day on which 28/29 teams played, giving each of those fanbases a reason to post.
- NYCFC did not play on 5/20/23, so stats from their next weekend match (5/27) were used.
- It’s late enough in the 2023 season that people are paying attention, while early enough that fanbases of “non-playoff-bound” clubs haven’t checked out yet.
Given those reasons, here are the posts-per-day for MLS subreddits.
Here we see that while Atlanta has the most subscribers, they didn’t have the highest number of posts on the day in question. That honor went to both St. Louis City and Sporting Kansas City. There may be some bias related to opponent (they played each other…more on that later). But since we’re dealing with posts, and not comments, the effect of opponent is somewhat mitigated.
When we normalize these results to 1,000 subreddit members, we get a sense of how active each community is – for its size.
Sporting and St Louis remain near the top of the charts, but Charlotte FC also shows a particularly fervent Reddit userbase. Montreal fans, on the other hand, had fairly low user involvement on Reddit on the day in question.
It’s worth noting that this chart normalizes the posts-per-capita to the number of subreddit subscribers on 5/20/2023. That was necessary, as every team’s subreddit has seen growth since last May, none more than r/InterMiami whose membership increased by ~315%.
Outside of Miami, teams with high subreddit growth include Austin FC, FC Dallas, and St Louis City.
While, to my mind, Instagram isn’t a particularly great platform for open community building, it remains one of the most popular social media platforms.
In contrast to reddit, posts are limited to only image based. While links and text posts can be accomplished, they are done as a workaround – not natively. That makes back and forth conversation less straightforward, outside of private messaging.
As a result, the best measure of how popular Instagram is for MLS fans may be via 1) Team account followers, and 2) Team hashtag uses.
It’s no surprise that Inter Miami has the largest following. Messi has international appeal, and a fanbase that is particularly *on-Instagram*. The Argentine star appears to have brought along some of his nearly 1/2 a billion Instagram followers when he made the move to Florida. Inter Miami has just shy of 16 million followers. The next highest is the LA Galaxy with 1.5M.
Every other team, save 3 (LAFC, LAG, NYCFC), has fewer than 527K followers.
A interesting contrast: while Minnesota United had the 4th most reddit users, they have the second fewest followers to their club’s Instagram account.
Instagram users can add a hashtag to their content to allow for better searchability. MLS clubs have taken advantage of that fact and many have officially endorsed hashtags. All in all, I was able to find data for 26/29 teams. No data was available for Dallas, Portland, or Colorado’s hashtags.
Hashtags are an imperfect way to gauge user activity. As far as I can tell the data I had access to is a total count of uses, not uses over a certain timeframe. Alas, sometimes we make due with what we have.
In order to get a sense of which fanbases are particularly fervent, I’ve normalized total hashtag uses to 1K Instagram followers. This negates the effect of fanbase size.
Even though Miami’s hashtag-usage total was top 1/3 in MLS, their per-capita value is second lowest in the league, owing to their insanely large follower-base. Conversely, Real Salt Lake’s hashtag-usage-per-capita was easily the highest, perhaps due to their relatively small base of users. Or possibly because of the Saudi pro league?
Even still there are some interesting conclusions we can draw here. Orlando City has both a large user base, and a very active one. The same goes for LAFC, whereas the Galaxy fans are slightly less involved on Instagram. Fledgling club St. Louis City hasn’t built up a very large Instagram base yet, but also don’t seem to be using the platform as much as they did reddit.
I’ll level with you. I spend more time on twitter for MLS than I do the other two platforms. Partly because the Revolution fanbase is more active there, compared to other social media platforms. Not just in-season, either. I’ve been collecting data for this article for the better part of 4 weeks, but this question is a summation of my interest in this topic to begin with:
Are other MLS clubs hashtags like this in the off-season ? #NERevs
— Bubbadubs (@bubbadubs25) January 29, 2024
The Revs fanbase on Twitter goes hard.
Often too hard. Including during the supposedly slow offseason. As a result I’ve expanded my data acquisition to include twitter activity for all 29 teams both during the season, AND during the offseason.
Once again, and for the reasons stated above, I will be using May 20th 2023 as the in-season date. For the offseason date, I’ve selected 01/01/2024 ~ New Year’s Day.
As to why New Years Day? I wanted to pick a date that gave everyone a reason to post while eliminating, as much as possible, soccer from the equation.
Twitter Account Followers
But before I get ahead of myself, here are the relative sizes of each fanbase on Twitter as indicated by Team-Account followers.
Unsurprisingly it’s Miami at the top with 1.2 million followers (a notable drop from their 16 million followers on Instagram). Atlanta continues to have a strong online presence with~1M followers and Seattle fans –after inventing soccer– flocked to twitter to take the #3 spot.
Nashville SC brings up the rear, with just ~84K followers with Austin FC not far ahead. Austin, in particular, was more involved on Reddit and Instagram so it’s surprising to see them this low here.
Low Usage Case: Offseason
There are a few places that MLS community and conversations take place on twitter. Via replies to official team/league posts, replies to fan posts, and via hashtag usage. I’ve chosen to look at hashtag usage since it’s a more consistent stream of data to use. Every MLS team has an official hashtag designed to spark conversation and improve searchability.
For our first case, let’s take a look at how much each of those hashtags were used on January 1st, 2024.
As you can see, we’re working with a pretty small overall number of tweets here. But it did somewhat confirm my suspicions: the #NERevs hashtag received the 3rd most posts despite drawing from the 6th smallest userbase. Montreal was also very active for a non-game-day.
Worth noting, for New England and Montreal, that no news or rumors were driving engagement that day. The only rumors I made note of in my search were related to Carlos Vela, which may explain why LAFC had the most activity.
Meanwhile, in spite of having the 2nd largest followership, Atlanta United’s hashtag received 0 mentions.
Worth noting now that I only searched using the “official” team hashtags. In some cases, the official hashtag may not be the most popular. This is the case with Minnesota, which saw no posts to #LegionOfLoons, and 4 posts on #MNUFC.
High Usage Case: In-Season
Once again I will use May 20th of last year as the high-usage date. Every team, except NYCFC, played. It was on a weekend. It was during a part of the season where every team was still “in it”. So just substitute another day in for NYCFC and good to go, right?
Well, not quite.
Unfortunately there’s one major factor at play that complicate things; opponent. While it would be amazing to be able to pull data from every game throughout the year, twitter charges a pretty penny for access to its API. And the type of access you’d need in order to do so would likely require an enterprise license. I mentioned that I’ve been working on this piece, on-and-off, for a month?
That’s because while they do charge for access to their API, they don’t charge anything if you just want to do a manual search and hand count all the tweets from within a set-time frame.
live look at my research process
Just shy of 5,000 tweets were counted, by hand. Which is a big part of why I’ve selected a single date to focus on.
As a result, we have to deal with what the schedule gives us. And in this case, while it gave us 28 of 29 teams all playing on the same day, it also gave us 5 rivalry matches.
Cancel your Saturday plans. 🍿
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 20, 2023
That will need to be corrected for. Below is a chart showing hashtag usage during the above rivalry matches, next to an average of the two nearest non-rivalry weekend matches for each team.
It’s clear from this comparison, that Hell is, indeed, Real. Columbus/Cincinnati saw a huge bump in twitter activity tied to that game. Other regional rivalries saw more modest increases, with LAFC fans seemingly disinterested in interstate rival San Jose Earthquakes. On aggregate, rivalries increased twitter activity by 83%.
Hashtag Usage – with Rivalries Removed
In order to present as level a playing field as possible, I opted to use the average of their 2 nearest non-rivalry weekend matches (blue bars in the above chart) for the affected teams.
Additionally, for NYCFC, who did not play dthat weekend, I used the data from the following week, May 27th.
Some trends are starting to form here. Namely teams like New England, Montreal, and Columbus have highly active twitter user-bases, both in-season and during the offseason. Teams like Atlanta, Minnesota, and San Jose? Not so much.
When we normalize these totals to the number of twitter users following each team, we can see which fanbases are posting the most frequently.
Charlotte FC may not have the most followers, but the ones they do have are more active than their peers. Philadelphia, New England and St. Louis also have highly active users on the platform.
I do need to mention that since I didn’t have follower histories for every club these are using 2024 follower counts instead of followers on 5/20/23. This affects a few clubs, Miami in particular. If I had used follower numbers from last May, Miami would fall somewhere between Montreal and New York Red Bull.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you! I recognize that was rather wordy/dense, and that the chart-to-gif ratio was higher than usual. I appreciate your readership.
So, what can we determine from all of this?
Well, for starters, teams have fans all over the internet. But how those fans are distributed isn’t necessarily consistent or even. Fans of Montreal and New England seem to have congregated on Twitter. Meanwhile Orlando and Real Salt Lake have found their home on Instagram. Minnesotans have made Reddit their home, as have fans of St Louis.
Miami has fans everywhere but it’s hard to tell exactly how active they are.
What is certainly true, is that there are more eyes on MLS than ever before. If you’re a new fan and you’re looking for an online community, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough, I hope that the above data is interesting and useful.
Useful for finding like-minded groups to support/congratulate/welcome/fight with.