What Happens On The Internet During The NBA Finals?

It is understandable that people are tired of hearing about the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. After all, it is the fourth consecutive Finals matchup for the two teams, one more than a trilogy and just a few years short of dominating an entire decade of professional basketball, a la the Celtics and Lakers rivalries of the 1960s. Fatigue around the lopsided matchup is potentially dangerous for the NBA, which thrives on public conversation via social media. How does our consumption of the internet change during major sporting events, in both search and social? People love to complain about having to watch Lebron James duel the Warriors again, but does it really stop them from watching, and more importantly driving conversation online?


Let’s start with search, using Google Trends to see whether during the seven days leading up to and including the first two games of the Finals, US Google searchers performed more queries about the Finals than they did President Trump. Despite the daily political upheaval, the NBA Finals are a more popular search term in most states. California and Ohio are particularly interested, which isn’t surprising, but states that aren’t often associated with basketball and don’t have a team are particularly engaged with the NBA. Mississippi and Louisiana both finished in the top five for states with the largest ratio of searches about the Finals against searches about President Trump.

nba search queries versus donald trump queries

Comparatively, once I zoom the search out to the past 30 days (previously 7) Trends shows me that President Trump typically commands more nationwide search traffic on a regular basis than the NBA. Despite the growing apathy about the NBA’s most important product, the Finals still manages to shift the attention of the American public, away from their normal news interests and into sports.

The interest in the Finals extends to the casual fan and beyond. While a more seasoned fan of the league might visit Yahoo Sports, ESPN, Reddit or a message board, the less passionate fan is more interested in random factoids like how tall the players are. These searches, courtesy of Trends, offer an insight into what’s happening on the second screen when the Finals are on TV. Viewers are grabbing their phones to ask their favorite search engine basic questions about the league, the series and the players.

most searched nba players and questions


The power of group think around sports isn’t a new thing, however what was once water cooler chatter has become the message board activity. Achieving relevancy inside of that digital conversation can be BRUTALLY dangerous for brands, particularly on a social medium like Twitter.

As marketers we’re familiar with hashtags on twitter, and the #NBATWITTER hash tag is among the stronger and most vocal hubs of user generated content that exists on the internet today.

Facebook lacks some of the creative acclaim of Twitter, but makes up for it with pure might in numbers. This Ad Age article from 2017 explains how last year’s NBA Finals were recapped not by the sports news outlets, but by Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook representatives said in an email to Social Pro Daily that “38 million users generated more than 209 million interactions related to the NBA Finals, and its top three social moments were:

  1. The final seconds of game five.
  2. Kevin Durant‘s pull-up three pointer with 45 second left in game three, giving the Warriors a 114-113 lead in a game they eventually won 118-113.
  3. Stephen Curry’s one-on-one dribbling display against LeBron James in game two, leading to a layup in a 132-113 Golden State win.

Meanwhile, the three most-tweeted NBA Finals moments were:

  1. The final seconds of game five.
  2. The Warriors’ comeback and victory in game three.
  3. Curry’s three-pointer in game five, which gave Golden State a 129-115 lead.

The three most-talked-about players on Facebook were:

  1. James
  2. Curry
  3. Durant

Meanwhile, the most-mentioned Warriors on Twitter—Durant was mentioned 1 million times during game five alone—were:

  1. Durant (@KDTrey5)
  2. Curry (@StephenCurry30)
  3. Thompson (@KlayThompson)

Social continues to be the primary vehicle for the personal brands belonging to athletes as well as for larger corporate brands to align themselves with the athletes that create significant moments. Nike in particular has built a wall around the greatness of Cleveland’s Lebron James, from their signature “We Are All Witnesses” campaign to the more recent viral commercial “The Tattoo”.

There is even an industry dedicated to following marketing based around sports. ESPN Business Reporter Darren Rovell has 2.4 million Twitter followers that he uses to discuss how brands interact with sports and the stars that make them popular.

darren rovell sponsorship post

The Playoffs Come To YouTube

The NBA launched its partnership with YouTube TV, a digital streaming service that is gaining steam with original content and now live sports. Subscribers of the service will have access to the exact same game feed that will broadcast on ABC & ESPN. YouTube will appear in ads throughout the playoffs, callouts during the broadcast, and other promotional consideration. The future of sports viewing is almost certainly online, in 2018 the NBA will take a big step forward in making that a reality.

NBA Instagram Takeover

For game two of the 2018 NBA Finals, the NBA declared an @Instagram take over. The @Instagram page, for its 235 million followers, went all-access behind the scenes, taking advantage the massive amount of interest generated by the sport.

The Engine Behind The Success

The NBA Finals offer a uniquely different experience for fans to consume, in part due to the way the NBA makes its content available to the public. Where the NFL and MLB don’t release their highlight footage to any pages outside of their ownership, the NBA encourages it. That means when you login to your Facebook or Twitter, your feed can be inundated with clips and highlights, which help promote the constant stream of conversation the league has managed to cultivate. This is a key advantage the NBA has utilized to corner the youngest fan base of the major sports leagues.

Even in a year with minimal excitement, the power of sports on the internet remains very real. The feeling of communal excitement around large television events helps connect people all over the world, and the internet is the host of the party.

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