Twitter College Football Review: A Tale of Two Heisman Winners

College football is a business and college football fans are a vocal group of customers.  Like many businesses, college football has a new opportunity to track customer opinion: The Twitterverse.  For a bit of a of “Holiday diversion” we are going to take a look at several college football stories from the past season using Twitter as the data.Manziel vs Winston

The first story is a look at the past two Heisman trophy winners.  The chart shows something call Twitter sentiment for Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston.  Sentiment analysis is basically the ratio of positive to negative Tweets. The higher the score the more positive the Twitterverse is about a subject.

What we have done is track sentiment for a one year period for each player. The blue line shows the weekly sentiment for Johnny Manziel.  This starts off very high following his historic Heisman victory.  But there are some ups or downs in the off season.  The downs can be linked to some of the news stories about Manziel gambling in casinos or showing up at high profile events.

The big dip for Manziel occurred in June.  Following his comments about being eager to leave College Station, his sentiment dropped from 93 to 20.  “Johnny Football” did recover much of the lost sentiment but then dropped to an even lower score of 18 following the mini-controversies surrounding his appearances at UT frat parties, and leaving the Manning passing academy early.  Interestingly, his autograph controversy in August did not generate an equal backlash as his sentiment bottomed out at around 30.

From a marketing perspective, this is a fascinating story.  The biggest damage to his brand occurred when he offended the locals by talking bad about College Station and partying in Austin.  The impact of breaking NCAA rules was not as large an issue.  It’s one thing to break a rule, but it’s much worse for a brand to insult it’s primary customers.

In contrast, there isn’t much to say about Winston during the off season.  While his sentiment also bounces around, this is more of a problem of small numbers (minimal data) rather than anything else.  Manziel’s Twitter traffic absolutely dwarfed Winston’s.  In marketing language we would say that Manziel had much higher brand awareness.  This is important in the context of the Heisman race since publicity matters quite a bit.

winston_manzielDuring the season, we see a steady climb for Winston and an up and down pattern for Manziel.  These patterns obviously have a lot to do with how the teams played.  For example, A&M’s late season losses dropped Manziel’s sentiment to the mid twenties.   Departing from college football for a moment, think about what this means for companies interested in tracking customer satisfaction!  The Twitter data almost tells us exactly what happened in games each week.   We say almost because one of Manziel’s biggest gaining weeks followed a close loss to Alabama.  In other words, Twitter gives us instant feedback about team quality.

Just like Manziel, Winston also had a huge late season drop in popularity.  He bottomed out with a sentiment score of 13 in the middle of November.  In Winston’s case, the drop can be attributed to legal issues.  The interesting thing about Winston’s drop is how quickly the public forgave.  The combination of “no charges” and the Heisman victory drove Winston’s sentiment to 97 in December.  Winston also finally passed Manziel in terms of total Twitter activity in December as well.

In terms of the final word – a look at these two brands / quarterbacks over time says something profound (and obvious) about sports brands: If you win then the public will be very forgiving.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

What if the Heisman Trophy Really Was A Popularity Contest?

Ballots for the Heisman Trophy were due yesterday.  Ostensibly, the Heisman Trophy “annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity”.  However, many have argued throughout the years that the Heisman is essentially a large popularity contest.  This view is supported by the millions of dollars annually spent by universities on publicity campaigns for their Heisman candidates.  There are 928 voters for the Heisman Trophy.  This includes members of the media, former winners, and 1 “fan vote” that represents the public at large.  We were curious to see what would happen if the general public was completely responsible for determining the winner of the Heisman Trophy.  As with past studies, we decided to use Twitter as a proxy for the views of the public.  Below, we present our methodology and results.

The first thing to consider is how does one define “Popularity” on Twitter.  Often, studies will use the volume/number of mentions on Twitter as a proxy for popularity.  However, this measure does not account for sentiment (positive, negative, or neutral), which could be important in the decision to vote for someone.  So, we constructed a daily “popularity” measure that is the product of the volume of tweets mentioning a candidate and the average sentiment of those tweets (Note: we tried several specifications of the “popularity” measure, but the rankings were robust).

Once we had a method for determining popularity, we decided to look at the six Heisman Trophy finalists: Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston, A.J. McCarron, Tre Mason, Jordan Lynch, and Andre Williams.  The pie chart on the left looks at the sum of the popularity measure for each candidate over the entire season (mid-August to Dec 9th).  Johnny Manziel is by far the leader of the pack.  This could potentially be attributed to the stellar start of his season, as well as his huge following.  Heisman-favorite Jameis Winston is in second place, and A.J. McCarron is third.  It’s incredible that Manziel leads Winston by more than a 2:1 margin.  We realize that Heisman voters mark their ballots for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, and we are simply looking at most “popular”.

We performed a similar analysis, looking at only the last month and looking at only the last week.   It’s remarkable to see the variation in “popularity” over time.  Tre Mason had a relative 5% popularity if you look at the full season, but 11% over the last month, and 24% over the last week.  In the analysis of popularity over the last week, James Winston barely edges out Manziel for 1st place.  To better understand the factors behind these movements in popularity, we would have to perform content analysis on the tweets to determine what topics were being discussed with respect to these athletes; that is left for a future study.

It is interesting to note that in the their final straw poll, Heisman Pundit has the following ranking: 1) Winston, 2) Lynch, 3) Manziel, 4) Mason, and 5) McCarron.  The “popularity” measure for over the last week gives the ranking: 1) Winston, 2) Manziel, 3) Mason, 4) McCarron, and 5) Lynch.  Jordan Lynch is the only player of these top 5 that plays for a “Non-AQ” school (Northern Illinois).  Perhaps Lynch in second place is evidence that voters look at performance on the field, and not just popularity, however if Heisman Pundit’s straw poll is correct, it seems a lot can be explained by recent popularity.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

 

 

Introducing Our Heisman Series…

July 14, 2013

The annual competition for the Heisman trophy is one of our favorite things to watch at Emory Sports Marketing Analytics because it is the perfect synthesis of marketing and sports.  While the Heisman marketing campaigns started to attract public attention with Oregon’s notorious Joey Harrington billboard in 2001, we now have the tools to do real time tracking of the buzz that surrounds Heisman candidates.

This fall we will be monitoring the race for the Heisman using a combination of performance, marketing and social media data.  To begin our series, we collected Twitter activity for the past 90 days for all the Heisman candidates that currently have betting lines established.  We then ranked the candidates and created the pie chart below that shows the share of tweets of the top five candidates.  The “other” category is the share for candidates ranked 6 through 10.

Over the course of the season we will update the chart each week and provide data that explains each week’s changes.  This is something of an experiment for us as we don’t really know how closely social media buzz will correlate with eventual Heisman voting or even how marketing campaigns and on-field performance will drive weekly changes.