McGregor is still UFC’s Social Media Champion despite not fighting for over a year

Nielsen Sports, the global leader in sports industry analytics, using their comprehensive influencer selection tool have today revealed that fan interest in UFC fighter Conor McGregor remains at all time high ahead of his return to action this weekend against American Donald Cerrone at UFC 246 in Las Vegas.

After a 15-month hiatus away from the sport, as interest and anticipation builds ahead of his comeback fight, McGregor’s profile both in and out the cage continues to make him the most important commercial fighter in the history of MMA. But are fans still engaging with McGregor like before, and what is driving McGregor’s marketability that makes him such an attractive prospect to brands?

The scale of McGregor’s profile

Today, fan interaction exists predominantly online, something especially true in the case of MMA, which is a global sport popular amongst Generation Z fans. In a white paper report released in December 2019 titled Game Changer: Rethinking sports experiences for Generation Z”, Nielsen Sports identified that 20.1% of the population in the UK, US, China, France, Germany, Italy and Spain are interested in Mixed Martial Arts. The huge draw that athletes, players and in this case, fighters have on growing engaging fanbases often supersedes that of the organisation they are contracted to.

When it comes to social media following compared to other household UFC fighters, the former UFC Lightweight and UFC Featherweight champion is in a league of his own. In terms of his social media following, McGregor has 33.5 million followers on Instagram, which is almost double the number of followers UFC has itself. Since McGregor last fought in October 2018 against Khabib Numagamedov, his engagement on Instagram is 412.2 million. Compare that with the likes of Khabib, Jon Jones, Nate Diaz, George St Pierre, Jose Aldo and Paige Van Zant combined- and their engagement stats are only marginally higher at 506.7 million.

*Compared with 10 UFC Fighters: Khabib Nurmagomedov, Jon Bones Jones, Paige VanZant, Nate Diaz, Dustin Poirier, Donald Cerrone, José Aldo Junior, Georges St-Pierre, Jorge Masvidal, Anderson “The Spider” Silva. Engagement from 07/10/2018 to 13/01/2020

Has McGregor already won the fight?

If the result of this weekend’s fight was based on social media following alone, McGregor’s influence online compared to Donald Cerrone would see him win the fight at ease via TKO in the first round. Put simply, there is no real contest.  McGregor’s following on social media stands at 49.2 million, compared to Cerrone’s modest following of 2.7million. Mentions on Twitter in the last 31 days also see McGregor come out on top, with almost five times as many mentions compared to his opponent (48,162 vs. 10,808).

Are fans still interested in McGregor?

In the last two decades the UFC has become one of the world’s fastest growing sports brands. In recent years that success can be attributed largely to the meteoric rise of Conor McGregor- who remains the biggest star to ever grace the sport.  Looking ahead to his fight this weekend, fan interest in the Irishman on social media proves that he is still the biggest draw in the sport. Since McGregor last fought at UFC 229 in October 2019, numbered UFC events have generated an average of 4,613 mentions on Twitter using the event hashtag. Compare that to when McGregor fights and the average number of mentions using the event hashtag increases by five times more to an average of 24,650 mentions.

* Twitter discussions a month before the fight mentioning UFC fight number or UFC fight number’s hashtag.

Growth of McGregor’s social profile

Despite not competing in the Octagon for over a year, Conor McGregor’s fan base has grown considerably: +5.3M followers on Instagram to be exact, which represent a 19% increase. In the same time, only Khabib Nurmagomedov and UFC has grown more than him on Instagram. McGregor’s social following since he fought Floyd Mayweather in August 2017 has grown by more than a third, from 20million to 32million.

McGregor’s fanbase goes far beyond UFC fans

Rights holders and brands can benefit from athletes’ geographical provenance to unlock commercial opportunities aiming to build and engage a “glocal” digital community.

Diving deeper into McGregor’s Instagram following, the largest section of his fan base is made up of 25-34-year-old males (40% of total fan base on Instagram). Most of his fan base are English speakers (53%) as a vast majority of his posts are in English.

But McGregor is part of this tiny category of athletes that go beyond the limits of his sport and gather a wider audience, which makes it extremely valuable for brands. For instance, 36% of his fan base is interested in music and 32% is interested in movies and TV.

*Nielsen sports’ influencer selection model gives a holistic view of which influencer best fits a specific brand campaign. The model consists of four important pillars; reach, relevance, resonance and return. By combining different data sources and tools, Nielsen Sports can better define the most suitable influencers by category further aiding commercial decision making for brands.

For more information about Nielsen Sports visit

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