By Nick Harris
7 February 2011
Manchester United are set to overtake Barcelona as the world’s most popular football club at some point in the next week, according to data analysed by sportingintelligence from Facebook, which is effectively the biggest evolving opinion poll available.
Remarkably, United only made their official entry into the land of social networking in July of 2010, and have since grown the online ‘fan’ base there from zero to almost nine million people in seven months.
They have been catching up with Barcelona at an astonishing rate, and as the graph and table below shows, United have gained a quarter of a million more followers in the last week alone than Barca. United are only around 100,000 behind Barca now, so can be expected to reach and overtake the Spanish giants in the next week.
Facebook is arguably the best single indicator of the simplest level of ‘fandom’ ever available. Of the world’s two billion internet users, 600m are active Facebook users (that number itself is up from 500m last July). The ability to ‘follow’ a sports team, free, for one click of a mouse, provides a much more meaningful indicator of global popularity of a club / team / person / phenomena than any of the myriad ‘fan surveys’ that estimate hundreds of millions of global fans for this club or that club.
More often than not, such surveys are based on name recognition rather than any active support, and certainly more than any active engagement with a club that results in the club making any income. Facebook fans don’t necessarily provide income either, yet, but at least followers via Facebook show active interest from a massive sample pool.
As sportingintelligence reported back in September, United already had the fastest growing Facebook team page, and they had fewer than 2.5m followers. Even by August, within a month of the United Facebook page launch, they had climbed into the top 10 sports teams in the world (at that time, the picture has changed massively since).
A regularly updated tally of the most popular teams can be found at the Famecount website, although there is some ‘time lag’ up of to 24 hours on the numbers.
United continue to be by far the fastest growing team in Facebook popularity, gaining around 1.5m fans per month, whereas Barca are currently gaining ‘only’ around 500,000 per month, Real Madrid around 1m per month, the LA Lakers around 750,000 per month, and Liverpool around 420,000 per month.