• Sydney FC captain Alessandro Del Piero during the launch of the 2013/2014 A League Season (AAP)
As the A-League's ninth season kickoff looms, both the fans, the players and the clubs have taken to social media in droves, writes Axel Bruns.

When Sydney FC announced the signing of Alessandro del Piero for the 2012/13 A-League season, social media activity around del Piero and his new club went through the roof. That’s one result from a multi-year study of Twitter activity around the A-League, conducted at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at Queensland University of Technology.

Social media and sports fandom are increasingly intertwined: most teams and competitions have been building their social media presences in recent years. Platform providers like Twitter have actively reached out to clubs and fans to encourage strong take-up – both to tweet along with matches, and to follow the clubs’ activities over the course of the season.

Such outreach is especially important for a young competition like the A-League, which is still building its follower base in Australia. On the whole, A-League teams have done very well in their social media activities: on average, they’ve received considerably more @mentions from their fans over the last couple of seasons than many of their better-known Bundesliga counterparts, for example.

Year-on-year growth of activity is similarly impressive. Twitter @mentions of the two grand finalists during the finals week more than doubled from 2011/12 to 2012/13, for example – a clear sign of the increasing social media fan engagement with the sport. Most teams have also put considerably more effort into using social media to communicate with their fans throughout the season.

Marquee players like del Piero help with this: they bring with them not only their experience and leadership skills, but also a ready-made social media audience. But strong on-field performance also pays off: Brisbane, Central Coast, Perth and Western Sydney have all gained substantial follower numbers over the past two seasons. And at more than 24,000 followers, Melbourne Victory even beats current NRL premiers Sydney City Roosters.

As football continues to grow its fanbase in Australia, we expect these numbers to increase further. The free-to-air broadcasts of A-League matches during the coming season will no doubt help, as larger TV audiences will tweet along with every goal and penalty. Don’t be surprised to see #ALeague become a trending topic more often in the future.

More information on the QUT study of Twitter activity around A-League clubs has been published at Mapping Online Publics.

Axel Bruns is an Associate Professor in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, and leads QUT's Social Media Research Group.