Surprising Scores and Hashtag Roars

Using social intelligence to show surging interest in the National Football League’s postseason

Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst

Ratings are out for the first portion of the 2024 NFL postseason. They blew everyone’s expectations away. It’s been a few rocky years for the NFL with team name controversies, the national anthem kneeling controversy, CTE effects made known, and #deflategate. These roaring ratings are undoubtedly good news for the organization and proof that football is, as ever, America’s most popular sport.

Social listening data is a perfect way to validate or disprove other metrics your organization might have. We’ll use it here to showcase just how popular the NFL playoffs have become on social media and corroborate the ratings findings to show that professional football is enjoying a wild resurgence. More importantly, we’ll look beyond the trends at the underlying data to explain why discussions around the postseason are growing like they are to teach you which metrics to look for within your social listening practice.

National Football League postseason post volume

When conducting this type of trend analysis, we turn to post volume as a barometer for how powerful a trend is or could become. Because we’re doing a longitudinal study, we’re looking pretty far back in time (starting in 2016 and continuing to the present (9 total NFL postseasons).

We found that social data matched the record rating data perfectly with 2024, which looks to be on track to be the most popular NFL postseason ever on social media. While the increased post volume and ratings are fascinating, we on the Infegy research team are more excited about the changing growth rate. Posts about the NFL postseason have grown 10x since the beginning of our time frame. Additionally, based on the steady growth rate, we predict shallow exponential growth to continue and fully expect NFL postseason discussion growth to grow even more in 2025.

Image 1 - Post Volume (3)
Figure 1: Post volume attributed to the NFL postseason, noting 2024 does not include Superbowl weekend (January 1, 2016 through the present); Infegy data.

Reasons explaining rapid growth rate

Now that we've examined the astoundingly rapid postseason post volume growth, we'll walk you through your data-backed reasons for explaining the increased interest. We identify three.

Hashtags show respective team fanbases

Our first reason for the increased post volume is positive, branded hashtags showcasing the passion and enthusiasm of the various NFL franchises. Within a pure, unfiltered playoff-related query dated over the last nine years, we see an incredibly diverse number of teams represented. For these teams, we're seeing their names, but the underlying name of the fanbase. For example, we see hashtags like #BillsMafia, #RamsHouse, #FinsUp, #CowboysNation, #FlyEaglesFly, #GoPackGo, #TitanUp, and our favorite here in Kansas City, #ChiefsKingdom. Each of these hashtags are sustained throughout the season and many have existed for the entirety of our set, showing how evergreen hashtags create increased brand awareness and engagement.

Although these hashtags represent dashed playoff hopes for many teams, they also represent genuine branded interest within the NFL. NFL teams have done a great job building brand awareness and encouragement, and their fan displays of affection show it.

Image 2 - Hashtags (1)
Figure 2: Hashtags pertaining to the NFL playoffs (2016 through the present); Infegy data.

Surprise attributed to NFL playoff games

So far, we’ve identified a diverse NFL fan base that appears to be driving upward playoff conversation. Next, we’ll examine the emotions associated with that conversation. Infegy IQ, our in-house AI content analysis engine, determined that Surprise was the leading Emotion associated with playoff-related posts. This presence of Surprise has a lot to do with the underlying nature of the NFL postseason. NFL games aren’t planned or scripted leading to many surprises in these often close games. Additionally, teams play each playoff game only once, which results in high-stakes moments and results. The result is Surprise, an audience shouting that Surprise onto their keyboards and social networks.

Image 3 - Surprise Bar Graph
Figure 3: Top Emotions pertaining to the NFL playoffs (2016 through present); Infegy data.

Surprise peaks when games happen but remains elevated after the game. Figure 4 depicts the Surprise about the NFL's 2024 postseason. Each spike occurs at the time of each playoff game. However, Surprise remains elevated even after the game concludes. Users discuss, share, and meme those big moments even after the moments that changed the games themselves pass. They live on within users' highlight reels and retrospectives. This type of user engagement, even days after the game ends, explains how the NFL's playoff format keeps people engaged.

Image 4 - Surprise Line Graph
Figure 4: Infegy’s Surprise Emotion pertaining to the NFL postseason (January 1, 2024 through February 2, 2024); Infegy data.

Increased lopsided demographics, but growing female participation

Finally, we’ll examine the demographic reasons behind the record numbers attributed to 2024’s NFL postseason. Not too surprisingly, Figure 5 shows just how lopsided NFL gender demographics can be. Over 91% of NFL postseason conversations are made up by men, with only 9.1% of conversations being made up by women. However, female conversations grew 3x the rate of male discussions over the last five years. Some female growth within 2023 and 2024 occurred due to Taylor Swift’s recent involvement with Travis Kelce (a phenomenon we’ve written about extensively). However, even before the relationship, the NFL had made extensive overtures to women, including brand-new flag football leagues and numerous other events. If these patterns continue, the NFL is set to enjoy a much more diverse audience over the next few years.

Image 5 - Gender Demographics-1
Figure 5: Gender demographics pertaining to the NFL postseason (February 2019 through February 2024); Infegy data.

Takeaways for your social listening practice

Our analysis of NFL Playoffs highlights a remarkable surge in post volume, aligning with the postseason's record ratings. Utilizing social listening data provides crucial explanations for this brand understanding: Branded hashtags exemplify diverse team fanbases, emphasizing effective brand-building by NFL teams. The dominant emotion, Surprise, underscores the playoff format's effectiveness in sustaining engagement. Despite a predominantly male-driven conversation, a threefold growth in female participation over five years suggests a positive demographic shift. These insights underscore the significance of social intelligence in refining brand strategies and fostering a more inclusive and engaged audience.

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