NBA: Masters of the sports ‘Twitter-verse’

New Overtimeby Mark Hoffman, contributor

Each generation puts a spin on their version of the ever-evolving high school popularity contest. Currently, the phenomenon has manifested itself in the form of Facebook “likes” and Twitter “followers.”

Stu Woo of the Wall Street Journal recently took the time to tally the votes in the “cool kids” contest and ranked all 122 teams in North America’s four major sports based on the number of Twitter followers for each.

The teams at the top of the standings for each sport probably won’t surprise you:

NBA: LA Lakers (2.98 million followers)

MLB:  NY Yankees (822,000)

NFL: New England Patriots (556,900)

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NHL: Montreal Canadiens (369,000)

I don’t think it’s a shock to anyone that the Yankees are the most popular baseball team, or that the recent success of the Patriots has them topping the NFL count.

Where the totals prove interesting, however, is in the overall popularity of each of the leagues in the Twitter-verse.

The Lakers have nearly 3 million followers. That’s more than three times as many as the second-most popular non-NBA sports team, the Yankees. On the whole, the NBA averages 381,372 followers per team compared to the NFL’s average of 245,580.

Why the discrepancy?

The NFL trumps the NBA in ratings and merchandise sales annually. Major League Baseball has a season that seems to last twice as long as any of the other sports (probably because it does).

It’s logical to think the NHL would have an added international boost, but even they are dwarfed in the NBA’s shadow.

I think it’s safe to say this is another example of the NBA’s impact on popular culture.

Over the past three decades, no sport has dictated the style of its fan base quite like the NBA. From the popularity of the name-brand sneakers to the immense Twitter following, the NBA has never struggled to be hip.

In fact, when it comes to technology, the NBA is regularly ahead of the curve. A prime example is NBA’s willingness to embrace the ultimate media outlet, YouTube.

While MLB and the NFL resist allowing their licensed material to be put onto the website, the NBA has always welcomed fans to enjoy their content for free. That in itself has created more interest for the NBA online, and has surely helped bump up their number of League Pass members — a subscription-based account that allows full access to all NBA games.

As every sport grows increasingly reliant on blogs and social media for the up-to-date information, individual NBA players are beginning to phase out the media middleman.

With Twitter as an outlet, most players have taken to breaking their own big stories before any reporter has time to ask for, much less receive, a comment.

Surely the NBA is happy to expand their horizons to the web as they continue to grow their product on the global level. Despite the popularity in North America, even the NBA can’t hang with the numbers international soccer puts up — Futbol Club Barcelona and Real Madrid are followed by more than 7 million Twitter users each.

But the NBA’s global takeover is quietly taking shape.

After amassing more than 1.5 million followers in just two months on Twitter, Kobe Bryant recently announced his intentions to join China’s version of the social media site, Weibo.

Without uttering — er, typing — a word, Bryant has already totaled more than 100,000 followers.

The NBA world domination is a legacy to be continued…