The No. 1 Sports Team Franchise on Facebook is ... Who?

Last Updated Oct 1, 2010 4:08 PM EDT

Quickly, name the sports team franchise with the most Facebook fans: Manchester United? The New York Yankees? The Dallas Cowboys? Wrong. It's ... Turkey's Galatasary SK, with 4.5 million fans. Most people reading this won't have heard of Galatasary, which even in soccer is only the 16th most popular team by fans. Yet somehow Galatasary has bested Man Utd, FC Barcelona, the Yankees, and the Cowboys in terms of social media friending.

The feat is explained in part by the fact that Galatasary fans don't have much of a choice. Their stadium seats just 24,000. If they want to rally together, they can't do it at their ground. It has to be online.

Galatasary fans are also unusually rabid about their team. You might think New Orleans Saints fans' "Who Dat?" pre-game chant is fierce, but it's nothing compared to what goes on at Galatasary. Their fans set fire to their own stadium (pictured) in a "Welcome to Hell!" gesture that makes the atmosphere intolerable for visiting teams.

In fact, the Galatasaray Facebook page is run by its fans; the official club page has "only" 703,459 followers.

Interestingly, Galatasaray's Facebook fanbase has not translated in to revenues, according to Ebubekir Kaplan, responsible for marketing and social network initiatives at GSK:

Our policy to gain income for the club is "taking care of the fans' needs and delivering what the fans want via our official products." We know the Facebook page's popularity and potential to deliver to our fans, but we also know the fans' spirit. So getting money from page is not the main target; we have to realise reasonable opportunities but only when it is appropriate because it's what the fans want.
Nor does Facebook fandom correlate with the actual number of fans a team has. Barcelona is far and away the most popular franchise on the planet. Germany's FC Bayern Munich is the 5th most popular, and also has the most lucrative shirt sponsorship deal, but it barely registers on Facebook, with only 192,000 fans.

Similarly, the Dallas Cowboys are the 2nd most valuable sports brand on the planet, according to Forbes, but their Facebook presence at 1.3 million is decidedly average.

Nonetheless, Facebook rankings ought to be a matter of concern for American sports brand managers. Facebook is dominated by European soccer brands, suggesting those franchises have a global appeal among Facebook's younger-skewing audience, and implying that U.S. teams have a more regional, older fanbase.

Here's a list of the most popular sports franchises on Facebook as of Sept. 16, 2010. The ranking is based on pulling names from the most popular teams, the richest teams, and the teams with notorious die-hard fans. It is not a definitive list. (If you have significant additions you believe I have missed, please email me the links.)

Most Popular Sports Teams on Facebook By number of fans

  1. Galatasary SK: 4,494,711
  2. FC Barcelona: 4,476,147
  3. Real Madrid: 3,601,210
  4. Manchester United: 2,438,020
  5. Liverpool FC: 2,415,539
  6. New York Yankees: 2,009,165
  7. Chelsea FC: 1,554,766
  8. Arsenal FC: 1,484,243
  9. Boston Red Sox: 1,442,200
  10. Dallas Cowboys: 1,285,995
  11. AC Milan: 1,119,633
  12. Washington Redskins: 316,213
  13. New England Patriots: 692,716
  14. Pittsburgh Steelers: 837,349
  15. FC Bayern Munich: 192,078
Here's a video of Galatasary's fans when they're not on Facebook: