It’s one of Australian sports fans’ favourite debates: is my favourite sport bigger than your favourite sport?

There are numerous metrics used when discussing this issue: average match attendance, peak match attendance, broadcast ratings, league/club net worth and social media metrics are all popular reference points for those engaged in reasoned debate.

It’s an incredibly complex topic with any individual metric simply being a piece of a much larger puzzle. Nevertheless, aggregate social media stats can provide some useful insight into the relative size of a league or club’s following.

Starting with individual sports, these are the cumulative Facebook, Instagram and Twitter followings from the official pages of each main Australian sporting code’s premier domestic male league.

The most striking aspect of this data set is the size of the Big Bash League’s social media following.

With either the AFL or NRL traditionally seen as Australia’s most followed domestic league, it’s surprising to see the BBL – a very young league – trump both when it comes to social media audience.

This dominance can obviously be attributed to the BBL’s incredible Facebook following – likely a result of its following in cricket-mad India, a country which has a massively disproportionate uptake of Facebook users when compared to Twitter or Instagram (according to Statista).

It can be argued the BBL’s placement in this data set isn’t indicative of its actual place in the head-space of Australian sports fans.

There are some interesting takeaways for the A-League here – the most prominent being the Facebook heavy concentration of its accounts’ followers.

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With approximately 62% of the A-League’s cumulative followers coming from Facebook, only the BBL was more reliant on the platform (~78%).

An examination of a club’s average following within a particular league offers similar results – though with added boons for the A-League.

Relative to audience size, A-League clubs have the strongest Twitter following of any sport measured.

That’s right! You heard it here first! #SokkahTwitter is officially keeping the A-League alive!

The comparability of A-League clubs’ audience size to that of Australian Super Rugby clubs is also promising given how established Rugby Union is as a domestic sport.

When examining the ten most-followed individual clubs – accounting for the BBL’s usual Facebook aberration – we see a relatively predictable set of clubs emerging.

For reference, these are the follower stats for each A-League club.

While far from cracking the top ten, marquee A-League clubs such Melbourne Victory (407.5), Melbourne City (367.8) and Sydney FC (352.2) generally surpass at least half of both the AFL’s and NRL’s clubs for followers  – a surprising fact given those leagues’ relative size compared to the A-League.

Even more surprising is the A-League’s representation when examining the most-followed active athletes playing in an Australian league.

While his following can be almost entirely attributed to his international and European club career, the fact Keisuke Honda trumps any AFL or NRL player for a place on this list is definitely an achievement for the A-League.

It is fair to note that most high profile A-League players are imports who have garnered their reputation playing overseas (the long-term benefits to the league of which are dubious), while high profile AFL and NRL players are almost universally homegrown.

Attracting players who have established their reputation playing in overseas leagues or internationally is a genuine strategy though – the BBL’s dominance in almost every dataset presented is at least some testament to this (taking into account cricket’s established local and international popularity).

So what do all these bar graphs really mean for the A-League?

It means – accounting for a couple of promising trends – things are about where we can expect them to be.

The A-League is still far off genuinely competing with the AFL, NRL or Cricket for market or audience share.

That’s nothing to be ashamed of though.

The A-League, as much as I love it, would be lucky to be considered a top 50 league in world football.

Conversely, the AFL and NRL are both their sporting code’s premier league in the world.

Even the BBL is only surpassed by the Indian Premier League as far as domestic club 20/20 is concerned.

When you’re competing for players and fans at home (with premier examples of different sporting codes) and abroad (with higher quality and richer leagues within your own code) like the A-League is, you’ve already got the deck stacked against you.

Though only part of the bigger picture, I think the results here point towards the A-League being much better than some forgettable sideshow, and more than deserving of respect as a genuine player in the landscape of Australian sport.

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