How TikTok Is Helping Sports Leagues And Teams Better Engage With Female Fans

    • With a following that's roughly 60% female, TikTok has proven to be a social media destination for women.
    • Some sports accounts with high female followings include the WSL (70% female), Detroit Red Wings (66.5% female) and Barstool Sports (64% female), among others.

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Attracting new female fans and super-serving existing ones is top of mind for just about any sports league, team or media property.

Since it launched in 2017, TikTok has played a key role in helping those properties reach that goal. Compared to competitors like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, the Chinese-based app has arguably the highest percentage of female users.

In terms of audience breakdown based on gender, TikTok’s user base was split up 60% to 40% female to male, according to AdAge. When compared to other social media companies, this skews significantly more female than Facebook (43% to 57%), Instagram (52% to 42%) and Twitter (34% to 66%), according to digital marketing agency Omnicore. On Snapchat, roughly 61% of its users are female and 38% are male, according to Omnicore. 

On TikTok, multiple sports leagues and teams are connecting with female fans unlike how they are on any of their other social media platforms. 

Boasting an already impressive following with more than 610,600 followers as of December 2, World Surf League Chief Community Officer Tim Greenberg has noticed a strong female presence that the WSL hasn’t previously seen on other social channels.

Thus far, the WSL’s audience breakdown on TikTok is roughly 70% to 30% female to male, said Greenberg. Greenberg views this as a perfect opportunity to gear up for the biggest sporting event in 2020: the Summer Olympics.

When the 2020 Summer Olympics kicks off in Tokyo next July, Greenberg wants the WSL’s TikTok page to accomplish two things. The main area he hopes to target is the league’s female stars and showcasing their talents during the Olympics.

He also aims to appeal to women on a broader international scale. Thus far the majority of the WSL’s TikTok followers tend to come from Brazil, Argentina, and the United States, said Greenberg. The WSL’s plan right now is to figure out how to both strengthen its female diversity and global expansion.

“We’re not just promoting ourselves – we’re also promoting these athletes and getting to the core of what makes them unique,” said Greenberg. “For us, how can we specifically focus in and say, ‘for the women who are heading to Tokyo in 2020 for the WSL and for the [International Surfing Association], how do we elevate their profiles and use [TikTok] to tell their stories as they had into this amazing moment?”

Since launching its TikTok account on July 19, the Detroit Red Wings have emerged not only as a league leader in the number of followers the team has but also with gender diversity.

As of December 3, the Red Wings have more than 62,000 followers and 773,500 likes on TikTok. Most notably for Red Wings Social Media Strategist Andrew Kristoff and Social Media Coordinator Staci Burlingame, roughly 66.5% of their followers are female – by far the highest among their social media channels.

Outside of TikTok’s algorithm bringing more female-relevant content onto their feeds, both Kristoff and Burlingame believe Detroit’s TikTok approach appeals to other audiences.

On TikTok, it’s less about game coverage and more about what’s taking place off the ice for the Red Wings, Burlingame said. To date, two of Detroit’s most successful posts are before puck-drop. 

One video of players walking off the team bus before a game to the tune of “Suit and Tie” has drawn nearly two million views and more than 237,400 likes. Another of two players adjusting their skates with “We Built This City” playing in the background has been viewed more than 1.6 million times and received over 171,000 likes.

“Maybe our content is feeding into the female population and they’re just kind of starting to follow along with it,” Burlingame said. “On Twitter, [fans] go there to follow the Detroit Red Wings and to follow hockey and the sport. On TikTok, it’s less seeing the highlights and following the team directly – you’re kind of following the trend.”

READ MORE: Sports Media Brands Using TikTok To Advance Digital Growth

Mike Metzler, Conviva product marketing manager, said that getting beyond press conferences and game highlights and instead allowing them to “tap into the culture and lifestyle of their fans” has led to TikTok success with this particular demographic.

“The young, female consumer is a highly influential one for consumer-facing mobile/social companies and I think the way that TikTok blends music, pseudo-celebrity and meme-culture is extremely appealing to this audience,” he said.

Barstool Sports hasn’t built its reputation on pretending to be something it isn’t. “We’re not agenda-driven or image-management driven as a company,” CEO Erika Nardini said. “We actually hate that and bristle at that – I also think that’s what makes us very different.”

Alongside Barstool’s current position as a leading sports podcaster, it has helped establish the careers of female content producers like Maria Ciuffo, Alexandra Cooper, Sofia Franklyn, and Francesca Mariano. With podcasts like “Call Her Daddy” and “Chicks in the Office” garnering more than 1.1 million and 408,000 Instagram followers, respectively, the sports and pop culture blog is now broadening its social media reach to TikTok.

As of December 3, “Call Her Daddy,” “Chicks in the Office,” and Barstool’s general TikTok page have roughly 90,000, 46,000 and 2.5 million followers, respectively. Of the 2.5 million followers on Barstool’s TikTok page, 64% of them are female.

According to Nardini, Barstool isn’t trying to mimic the formula of its media competitors. Since its inception, Barstool has relied on content provided by an abundance of personalities, many of whom are women. Youth-focused apps like Snapchat and TikTok attract a larger-than-normal female audience because they are the ones creating, not riding, trends, Nardini said.

“I like TikTok because I think it’s an infinitely interesting and creative medium,” Nardini said. “I think the things that you are seeing come out of TikTok are funny and different and weird. We don’t want to be there because it will make other people think differently about Barstool – we want to be there because we want to make people laugh and entertain people on that platform.”

For the Philadelphia Eagles, they’ve found a wide range of interest in their TikTok presence, said senior vice president of marketing and media Jen Kavanagh. People ranging from 12 to 24-year-olds frequent the Eagles’ TikTok page, but that’s not what caught her attention.

Since launching on September 4, Philadelphia’s TikTok account has nearly 450,000 followers and 4.9 million likes – both tops in the NFL. But for Kavanagh, what resonated with her went beyond just total followership and likes.

“We can make some assumptions about age and say that TikTok is attracting a younger-skewing audience than perhaps what we see on some of our other social and digital platforms,” Kavanagh said. “But the female skew is what is also very interesting. Approximately 60 to 62% of our TikTok audience is female – so if you put those two things together, it’s safe to assume that the TikTok platform is allowing us to successfully connect with young women in a way that can be traditionally difficult elsewhere.”

The Miami Dolphins also began monitoring TikTok in January, said social media manager Stuart Drew.

After the NFL and TikTok formalized its partnership in early September, the Dolphins followed suit, posting its first video on September 26. Given its reputation for catchy music and innovative filters, Drew began using TikTok to highlight content under the Dolphins umbrella, whether it’s football, their cheerleaders or their mascot T.D.

While the Dolphins’ TikTok primarily focuses on hashtags and trends, both Drew and Jason Jenkins, senior vice president of communications and community affairs, have noticed a different audience gravitating towards it. As of December 3, 49.8% of Miami’s 84,000-plus followers are female whereas, on Instagram, only 24% of its 978,000-plus followers are female. 

The day after they pulled off the 16-12 home win versus the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dolphins’ TikTok account posted a video of linebacker Raekwon McMillan dancing to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Already, the video has been viewed more than 51,200 times – its most since November 15 – and capped off a week of growing TikTok followership. 

“We want to focus on creating fun and engaging content that makes viewers want to stop scrolling and watch what we post,” Drew said. “As TikTok continues to grow in popularity, we want to stay ahead of the curve and react when new trends arise. Ultimately, we want to grow our audience engaging with the Dolphins.”

READ MORE: TikTok’s Ripple Effect Reaching Leagues Of All Sizes

The various sports leagues already have a healthy female fanbase. The NFL estimates that 45% of its fan base is now women. In the NHL, 40% of its fans are female, according to a source. Across MLB, NASCAR, the NFL, and NBA, 50% of the fan base are female, according to fan-based marketing platform Tradable Bits

Heading into 2020, leagues and teams have been better about promoting gender diversity in sports, said Joe Gagliese, CEO of media marketing agency Viral Nation, Inc. But while all properties are interested in bringing more female fans into the fold, he believes that doesn’t have to change how sports embrace them on social media.

“I don’t think [TikTok sports accounts] necessarily have to do anything crazy in the sense of changing the type of content that they make because I think women would relate to a lot of this content,” Gagliese said. “Different places where they can highlight them, I think they should do that – but I think that women will engage with their content as well as men do.”