Players vs. clubs: Who will win the Game?

A life without Facebook, Instagram and the like? Unimaginable. Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. 4.2 billion people are users of at least one social network – that’s just under 54 percent of the world’s population.

Facebook is still the platform with the most users, but it’s being left more and more behind in terms of user growth.  While the parent company was able to gain 30 percent more members between 2018 and 2021, the subsidiary Instagram grew by 39 percent in the same period.  Nowadays, if you’re not active on this social network, you usually don’t have much relevance.  “Instagram is currently still the most important platform – especially because it is continuously developing and always creates new opportunities for storytelling.  It’s becoming easier and easier to place and tell your stories and messages on Instagram”, says Bastian Steineck, Director Athlete Partnerships at SPORTFIVE.  In sports, too, and especially for Bundesliga clubs, Instagram is more than just another channel, because the reach says a lot about the global popularity of the clubs. 

At first glance, you can see the large gap between the follower numbers of the clubs in the first German Bundesliga.  FC Bayern Munich (29 million followers) is far ahead of Borussia Dortmund (14.4 million followers). Bayer 04 Leverkusen is in third place with “only” 1.5 million followers. Then there’s a big gap – Bayer 04 Leverkusen is in third place with “only” 1.5 million followers. 

Arminia Bielefeld (115,500 followers) and VfL Bochum (90,600 followers) are at the bottom of the ranking. At the end of the list is Greuther Fürth, who only have 31,400 followers on Instagram. 

But not only the clubs present themselves to their fans on Instagram, almost all players are also part of the platform.  The top 10 only includes footballers from the two best teams of recent years, FC Bayern Munich, and Borussia Dortmund – with one exception.  Kevin-Prince Boateng, midfielder at Hertha BC Berlin, just made it into the top 10 with 3 million followers.  Frontrunner is top scorer Robert Lewandowski of FC Bayern Munich (21.7 million followers), followed by Norwegian football talent Erling Haaland of BVB (12.8 million followers). 

Only three players not based in Munich or Dortmund make it into the top 20:  Gladbach defender Ramy Bensebaini is in 14th place (2.2 million followers), goalkeeper Kevin Trapp of Eintracht Frankfurt is in 19th place (1.7 million followers) and Portuguese player André Silva of RB Leipzig (1.6 million followers) finds himself in 20th place. 

The 20 biggest Instagram accounts of all Bundesliga players in 2021 (As of 02/11/21)

20. André Silva

RB Leipzig, 1.591.388 Follower

19. Kevin Trapp

Eintracht Frankfurt, 1.728.468 Follower

18. Lucas Hernández

Bayern München, 1.836.238 Follower

17. Kingsley Coman

Bayern München, 1.900.485 Follower

16. Benjamin Pavard

Bayern München, 2.051.203 Follower

15. Leon Goretzka

Bayern München, 2.088.015 Follower

14. Ramy Bensebaini

Borussia M’gladbach, 2.217.531 Follower

13. Reinier Jesus

Borussia Dortmund, 2.351.408 Follower

12. Serge Gnabry

Bayern München, 2.515.535 Follower

11. Emre Can

Borussia Dortmund, 2.815.862 Follower

10. Kevin Prince Boateng

Hertha BSC Berlin, 3.017.344 Follower

9. Mats Hummels

Borussia Dortmund, 3.599.071 Follower

8. Alphonso Davies

Bayern München, 4.201.640 Follower

7. Joshua Kimmich

Bayern München, 4.831.315 Follower

6. Leroy Sané

Bayern München, 6.238.391 Follower

5. Thomas Müller

Bayern München, 9.706.081 Follower

4. Marco Reus

Borussia Dortmund, 10.352.999 Follower

3. Manuel Neuer

Bayern München, 11.176.314 Follower

2. Erling Haaland

Borussia Dortmund, 12.812.192 Follower

1. Robert Lewandowski

Bayern München, 21.780.133 Follower

But it seems Instagram is slowly being displaced: Chinese video portal TikTok keeps on growing and seems to be unstoppable.  From 2018 to 2021 alone, the company recorded a user increase of almost 270% - no other social network is currently growing that fast.  The Bundesliga clubs have also noticed this development, as more and more clubs can be found on the platform.  “These days, many clubs just like to try things out – and the community often seems to be forgiving them for mistakes, especially at the beginning.  If, for example, a Bundesliga club is new on TikTok and tests different ideas, no one takes a “digital beating” if it goes badly. The fans are rather happy about the new channel of communication”, explains Bastian Steineck. 

FC Bayern Munich is also on top of the TikTok ranking: with 5.9 million followers, no other Bundesliga club can keep up. Borussia Dortmund has 3.9 million followers, with Borussia Mönchengladbach a long way behind (552,600 followers).  But not every club has jumped on the TikTok bandwagon:  VfB Stuttgart, FC Augsburg, Union Berlin, Arminia Bielefeld and VfL Bochum do not yet have an account on the platform. 
However, TikTok seems to be somewhat unpopular with the players:  Among the Bundesliga pros, only nine have an account.  With 4.66 million followers, Robert Lewandowski is only in second place – he is beaten by his team-mate Alphonso Davies with 4.7 million followers.  Bayern Munich has the most “TikTokers”, only Reinier from BVB and Benjamin Henrichs and André Silva from RB Leipzig also post diligently. 

The biggest TikTok accounts of all Bundesliga players 2021 (As of: 02/11/2021)

9. Michael Cuisance

Bayern München, 18.458 Follower

8. Benjamin Henrichs

RB Leipzig, 137.202 Follower

7. André Silva

RB Leipzig, 137.519 Follower

6. Jamal Musiala

Bayern München, 178.717 Follower

5. Reinier Jesus

Borussia Dortmund, 354.208 Follower

4. Thomas Müller

Bayern München, 465.909 Follower

3. Manuel Neuer

Bayern München, 2.468.724 Follower

2. Robert Lewandowski

Bayern München, 4.673.193 Follower

1. Alphonso Davies

Bayern München, 4.766.422 Follower

But how does future look like in the World Wide Web? “Social networks are important as marketing platforms and will remain so in the future – especially when we talk about athletes”, says Steineck, “We see a very, very great loyalty among the younger target groups towards individual athletes.  Hardly any teenagers become fans of a federation or a league anymore, but rather of someone like Erling Haaland, for example.” For brands and partnerships, athletes will therefore continue to gain relevance, as their reach often exceeds that of their clubs. 

"Social networks are important as marketing platforms and will remain so in the future – especially when we talk about athletes. We see a very, very great loyalty among the younger target groups towards individual athletes.  Hardly any teenagers become fans of a federation or a league anymore, but rather of someone like Erling Haaland, for example."

Bastian Steineck, Director Athlete Partnerships at SPORTFIVE

There’s also a professionalization on social media, at club as well as at athlete level.  Where an intern used to create content for the channels, there are now several people who take care of it.  Footage from the club is shared with footballers because clubs know the reach of their players can rub off on them.  “Ultimately, everyone in this ecosystem benefits from each other”, notes Bastian Steineck, “not only clubs and athletes, but also partners and brands who are interested in testimonial deals that take place on a well-maintained and high-quality channel with a good interaction rate.  It’s more fun to build partnerships on such channels than on an abandoned one.” 

However, Instagram and TikTok won’t remain alone for long. They can expect company from other social networks.  Athlete are looking for a niche, be it Mario Götze on LinkedIn, who is active in a B2B environment, or Max Kruse on Twitch, who streams himself while gaming.  No matter which social network an athlete is using, “the most important thing is having an intrinsic motivation for it”, says Bastian Steineck.  “Only then you can understand the platforms and produce the right content for them.  That’s one of the cornerstones for success in social media communication – the athletes themselves have to want to do it. 

Beyond the Match
The SPORTFIVE Magazine

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