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Football players are social media stars with an ability to generate eyeballs and money

In the contemporary commercial football industry, the identities of football fans tend to have a tribal nature in which certain behavioral fan patterns highlight the celebrated stardom of professional football players. Last week, I wrote a post (see here) about whether or not sports sponsors have a responsibility for the creation of enhanced fan experiences. The clear and loud answer is YES. That may explain the development of fan integration and activation linked to sports sponsorship. Another post (see here) from last week emphasizes how shirt sponsorships in the top five football leagues in Europe impact the economy of clubs. This current post about football players as social media darlings can be associated with the tendencies in the two posts from last week given the fact that postmodern football stars are economic assets capable of changing the profitability outlook for football clubs.

When applying the thoughts of leading scholars of ‘consumer tribalism’ (Cova et al., 2007), it makes sense to argue that the massive and intensive fan identification levels around football stars on a global scale form an interactional relationship that generates a strong commercial platform in the football economy. These scholars state that tribal consumers “Do not consume things without changing them; they cannot ‘consume’ a good without it becoming them and them becoming it, they cannot ‘consume’ a service without engaging in a dance with the service provider, where the dance becomes the service. Participatory culture is everywhere” (Cova et al., 2007, p. 4). What stands clear in this citation is that these tribal consumers (or tribal fans in football or sports in general) do not just consume brands or experiences. Instead they bring transformation to the world of football or sport in the sense that they add meaning to and thus alter the sports brands or sports experiences in an interaction that is also guided by what goes on in their own lives. For instance, it became a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ positive experience for a young football fan that he decided to invade the pitch when Brazil played in South Africa. The Brazilian super star Neymar played along and gave the little boy a great and unique fan experience when he lifted the boy up, took him to his fellow Brazilian teammates and did a little ‘photo shoot’. Such fan moments are hard to beat. Christiano Ronaldo gave us another example of this ‘fan-football star interaction’ when he decided to pay for a sick child’s operation, see video below.


In that sense, football fans are actors who strive to activate or invigorate interactions with their favorite football star in a way that holds vibrant commercial meaning and hence profitability potential. The above-mentioned examples present Neymar and Christiano Ronaldo as warm, giving and compassionate football stars, which blend well with the external expectations of the postmodern society. For any football star or sports brand, it is key to understand the true commercial and holistic value of presenting such ‘shared experiences’. This partly explains why football clubs invest highly in star players and I have found that it is essential in that regard to display some of the best clubs in the world (measured on commercial value, i.e. these clubs are taken from my post about the top 15 shirt sponsorships in football, see here) and how some of their players perform on social media platforms.  As seen in the Neymar example above, some of these fans are so passionate that they apply very differentiated methods in their engagements with their idols. Therefore, these fans write their own unique stories and shift the power balance between fans and sports brands striving to create commercial meaning and value. Below, I have listed the top 15 shirt sponsorship clubs in football and some of their star players and measured them on how many followers these players have on Facebook and Twitter.


Manchester United

Wayne Rooney

  • Facebook: 25 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 10,086,879 followers.

Angel Di Maria

  • Facebook: 14.1 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 43,559 followers.

Radamel Falcao

  • Facebook: No Facebook account.
  • Twitter: 7,076,062 followers.



Jack Wilshere

  • Facebook: 27,763 likes.
  • Twitter: 1,616,373 followers.

Alexis Sanchez

  • Facebook: 3.6 mio likes.
  • Twitter: 375,545 followers.

Mesut özil

  • Facebook: 26.5 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 8,198,908 followers.



  • Facebook: 2.6 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 2,185,241 followers.


  • Facebook: 48.2 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 14,908,230 followers.

Luis Suarez

  • Facebook: 10.4 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 3,983,691 followers.


Bayern Munich

Arjen Robben

  • Facebook: 2 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 11.032 followers.

Manuel Neuer

  • Facebook: 7.3 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 2,114,381 followers.

Bastian Schweinsteiger

  • Facebook: 7.2 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 1,433,877 followers.


Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo

  • Facebook: 100 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 30,712,735 followers.

Gareth Bale

  • Facebook: 21.1 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 5,349,000 followers.

Sergio Ramos

  • Facebook: 16 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 5,078,887 followers.


Manchester City

Sergio ”Kun” Aguero

  • Facebook: 8.5 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 7,494,628 followers.

Pablo Zabaleta

  • Facebook: 52,179 likes.
  • Twitter: 1,814,588 followers.

Vincent Kompany

  • Facebook: 2.6 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 1,975,820 followers.


Paris Saint-Germain

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

  • Facebook: 19.8 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 2,073,575 followers.

Ezequiel Lavezzi

  • Facebook: 5.7 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 2,591,227 followers.

David Luiz

  • Facebook: 25.1 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 5,318,081 followers.



Steven Gerrard

  • Facebook: 1.4 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 487,238 followers.

Daniel Sturridge

  • Facebook: 3.1 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 1,248,360 followers.

Mario Balotelli

  • Facebook: 9.9 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 3,252,907 followers.


Diego Costa

  • Facebook: 769,553 likes.
  • Twitter: No official account.

Eden Hazard

  • Facebook: 7.6 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 3,142,877 followers.

Cesc Fabregas

  • Facebook: 6.2 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 7,364,674 followers.


Tottenham Hotspur

Christian Eriksen

  • Facebook: 108,000 likes.
  • Twitter: 267,625 followers.

Emmanuel Adebayor

  • Facebook: 689,000 likes.
  • Twitter: 129,742 followers.

Hugo Lloris

  • Facebook: 76,820 likes.
  • Twitter: 21,195 followers.



Nicklas Bendtner

  • Facebook: 59,902 likes.
  • Twitter: 321,123 followers.

Kevin De Bruyne

  • Facebook: 1.2 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 418,969 followers.

Luiz Gustavo

  • Facebook: 349,722 likes.
  • Twitter: 1,411534 followers.


Schalke 04

Kevin Prince Boateng

  • Facebook: 2,813,034 likes.
  • Twitter: 1,318,948 followers.

Klaas Jan Huntelaar

  • Facebook: 578,000 likes.
  • Twitter: 361,704 followers.

Benedikt Höwedes

  • Facebook: 378,402 likes.
  • Twitter: 328,299 followers.

Borussia Dortmund

Marco Reus

  • Facebook: 10,725,296 likes.
  • Twitter: 1,632,219 followers.

Sebastian Kehl

  • Facebook: 471,259 likes.
  • Twitter: 153,823 followers.

Mats Hummels

Facebook: 3,525,907 likes.

Twitter: 678,272 followers.


Inter Milan

Nemanja Vidic

  • Facebook: 171,775 likes.
  • Twitter: No official account.

Mauro Emanuel Icardi

  • Facebook: 93,698 likes.
  • Twitter: 775,384 followers.

Yann M’Vila

  • Facebook: 368,648 likes.
  • Twitter: 18,220 followers.


AC Milan

Stephan El Shaarawy

  • Facebook: 5 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 1,187,500 followers.

Fernando Torres

  • Facebook: 5.1 mio. likes.
  • Twitter: 2,413,858 followers.

Michael Essien

  • Facebook: 681,000 likes – Michael Essiens ”Game of Hope”
  • Twitter: 486,953 followers.


*All data are retrieved on the 24th of October, 2014. 


This tells us the price and monetization potential of football players and sports stars is tied to their brand equity levels and/or potential. The above-mentioned players are competent footballers but also players that can bring in revenues to their clubs via merchandise, ticket, sponsorship, and broadcasting rights sales. The celebrity status and touch points around professional footballers have developed in the sense that these factors are associated with global market appeal and that is huge asset for clubs and other commercial stakeholders surrounding these players. For that reason, the brand equity of footballers means even more in todays football culture than years ago and with the influence of social media platforms we have seen that the players are attached with more power than earlier. The latter also has to do with the globalization of football as new markets in Asia and North America have become more attractive in a football economy in which players have the power to move eyeballs and market shares and where increased sponsorship integration means that players are essential advertising pillars.



Cova, B., Kozinets, R. V., & Shankar, A. (2007). Tribes, Inc.: The new world of tribalism. Consumer tribes, 3-26.

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