Apr 3, 2020 - Sports

Bored athletes take to Instagram to connect with fans during coronavirus shutdown

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
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Data: Instagram data as of April 2, 2020; Note: Presented on a log scale. James Harden deleted his account in January 2020; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Without live sports, one of the only ways for athletes to reach cooped-up fans during the coronavirus pandemic is directly through social media.

Driving the news: Bored athletes have taken to Instagram and other platforms to share casual quarantine moments, host livestreams with other athletes, post daily workouts and even interview health experts.

"Many of the athletes we work with are doubling down on their own productions — including setting up professional livestreams and building in-home podcast studios."
— Nate Houghteling, co-founder of content agency Portal A

Between the lines: All athletes are "celebrities," but some are better-equipped than others to keep fans engaged while the sports world sits idle — and a select few have the resources necessary to essentially operate like their own media companies right now.

By the numbers: We compared the Instagram follower counts of the most recent All-Star starters in the four major U.S. sports. The difference between the NBA and the three other leagues is almost as shocking as the difference between LeBron James and everyone else.


  • LeBron has 62.5 million followers, which is about 1.5x as many followers as the starters in the NFL Pro Bowl (26.5 million), the MLB All-Star Game (8.4 million) and the NHL All-Star Game (6.8 million), combined (41.8 million).
  • Kawhi Leonard is the only starter without an account (naturally), and Pascal Siakam (721,000) is the only other player with fewer than 1.5 million followers.


  • Russell Wilson has the most followers (4.4 million).
  • Six other starters have over 1 million followers: Lamar Jackson (2.4 million), Richard Sherman (2.3 million), Von Miller (1.9 million), DeAndre Hopkins (1.2 million), Julio Jones (1.2 million) and Travis Kelce (1.1 million).


  • Mike Trout has the most followers (1.8 million), and Javy Baez is the only other starter with more than 1 million (1.3 million).
  • Three starters don't have accounts: Michael Brantley, Freddie Freeman and Nolan Arenado.


  • Alexander Ovechkin, who was named an All-Star but sat out to rest his body, is the only one with over 1 million followers (1.6 million).
  • 11 starters don't have accounts, and 13 have under 100,000 followers (including one with just over 3,000! That hardly qualifies as a micro-influencer!).

Go deeper

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