There are many ways to track success on social media. Follower growth rate of accounts is an easy measure of brand popularity. During a highly publicized event like the NCAA tournament, teams and players are in the public eye more than any other time of the year, and their social media accounts are a quantifiable way to track the conversation.
For an event as fast-paced as March Madness, Twitter provides a telling barometer of interest, and the accounts of both the men’s and women’s Final Four teams have seen quite the growth. Each team gained at least 800 Twitter followers between March 19 (the day the first round of the men’s tournament began) and April 1. The UConn women’s team led the way with almost 4,000 new followers, bringing the Huskies to just under 122,000 total, which trails only the Gonzaga men’s team, with 210,000, among the eight teams still standing.
While the UConn women have gained the most followers, the UCLA men had the largest single-day spike, adding more than 1,200 followers the day after winning a 51-49 nail-biter over Michigan to advance to the Final Four. Generally, spikes coincide with big wins, especially those in close games; Houston’s 67-61 win over Oregon State in the Elite Eight launched the second biggest spike of any team.
The growth of teams that made deep tournament runs, however, failed to match that of the early-round Cinderellas. Oral Roberts’ men’s basketball account doubled its followers in just two weeks, including a whopping 4,389 gain in the two days after defeating Florida to become the second 15-seed ever to secure a spot in the Sweet 16. Loyola Chicago posted similar numbers after upsetting top-seeded Illinois. Curiously, the two other teams seeded eighth or lower that advanced to the tournament’s second weekend, Syracuse and Oregon State, did not see comparable growth.
To determine interest in individual athletes, we looked at Instagram followers, as that platform, with its emphasis on storytelling, is a better gauge among the younger demographic. UConn guard Paige Bueckers, the first ever freshman to win AP National Player of the Year, laps the field with more than 753,000 Instagram followers, more than the 20 men’s Final Four starters combined. Even removing her and Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs, the men’s leader in followers, with 312,000, the remaining 19 women still have more followers than the remaining 19 men.
Bueckers has already added more than 80,000 since two weeks ago and will likely eclipse 100,000 followers gained by next week. In general, the players’ Instagram accounts grew more than those of the teams, with the average Final Four starter seeing a roughly 20% growth in followers since March 19. There’s a huge amount of variance, though. For example, South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston more than doubled her number of followers from 13,500 to 27,100 while helping her team reach the Final Four.
Two of the wildest explosions came from players whose teams didn’t even advance past the Sweet 16. The power of the early round upset raised the profile of Oral Roberts star player Max Abmas, who entered the tournament leading NCAA Division I in scoring but had just 2,411 Instagram followers. After scoring 25 points in three consecutive games, he now has more than 17,500.
No player’s growth in followers, though, neared that of Sedona Prince, the Oregon forward whose video exposing inequities between the weight rooms in the men’s and women’s bubbles went viral on TikTok and Twitter. Prince’s post led to social media outrage, an apology from NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt and a new-and-improved weight room for the women. While potentially influencing the future of women’s college basketball, she also incidentally worked wonders for her personal brand, climbing from around 42,000 followers on Instagram to more than 206,000, including a single-day jump of over 35,000 on March 25.
Sportico will be publishing one short business highlight every weekday (and on some weekend days) during the three-week NCAA tournament.
March 20: Men’s vs. Women’s NCAA Tournament Money
March 21: Indexing the NCAA’s Corporate Sponsors
March 23: As Top Seeds Lose, Sportsbooks Win
March 24: #NotNCAAProperty Reaches Millions Online
March 26: Loyola’s Rambling Flutie Effect
March 30: Odd Start Times A Result of Cash Crunch