U MAD BRO? Twitter Sentiment for NFL Teams In and Out of Their Markets

In and Out MarketAt Emory Sports Marketing Analytics, we often use Twitter as a marketing research tool that helps us understand the mood and loyalty of fan bases.  Recently, we decided to compare the sentiment of tweets about a NFL football team that originate from the team’s home market with the sentiment of tweets coming from outside the home market.  For example, are tweets mentioning the Cowboys more positive if initiated in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex than if tweeted from elsewhere;  if so, how much more positive?  Furthermore, how does this compare to the other thirty-one teams in the NFL?

In order to answer these questions, we used Topsy Pro, a platform that allowed us to collect all tweets mentioning NFL teams from June 1, 2009 to January 1, 2014.  We then sorted the tweets as originating from inside or outside the team’s market.  Next, the content of the tweets was analyzed and the tweets were marked as having positive, negative, or neutral sentiment.  Using this data, we were able to create a “sentiment” index which was simply the ratio of positive to negative tweets.  The chart above graphs the difference between the sentiment index for in-market tweets and out of market tweets for each NFL team.  The Seattle Seahawks have the biggest difference between how positively they are perceived in their home market versus outside their home market.

There are several factors that can drive this difference between in and out of market sentiment, including:

  • Polarizing team brand (e.g. Dallas Cowboys)
  • Polarizing personalities on a team (e.g. Richard Sherman & Jim Irsay)
  • Off the Field Scandals (e.g. Miami Dolphins & Kansas City Chiefs)
  • On the Field Performance (e.g. Seattle Seahawks & Houston Texans)

umadbroA deeper look at tweets mentioning the Seahawks seems to indicate that in the Seattle area, the Seahawks are beloved on Twitter due to the fact that they have been winning over the past few years, and because of outspoken personalities like Richard Sherman.  These same factors seem to be driving much of the hate for the Seahawks on Twitter outside of Seattle.  The Green Bay Packers are an exception to the factors listed above.  In the case of the Packers, their sentiment index is ridiculously high in the state of Wisconsin.  Even though they also have a high sentiment index outside of Wisconsin, it’s just that no team is close to being as beloved in their home market as the Packers.

It is interesting to note that there are teams that have more positive sentiment outside their home market than within the market.  For the Patriots, Raiders, Bears, Giants, Broncos, and Steelers, this phenomenon seems to be partially due to having a large widespread national fan base that is actually less critical of the team than the fans that still live in the home market.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.

Social Media Equity in the NFL: Another Metric for Evaluating Fans

Please click here for our NFL Fan Equity Rankings

Please click here for our NBA Social Media Equity Rankings

Our approach to NFL fan equity begins from the premise that teams try and maximize revenues.  This is an important assumption, and one that one that seems to be justified by teams pursuing practices like dynamic pricing and personal seat licenses.  But, if a team is pricing below what local market conditions would allow, our method can be problematic because NFL stadiums are of finite capacity.

What we would ideally like to have is a fan metric that is not constrained by stadium sizes.  The world of social media can provide this type of metric.  In today’s installment we assess NFL fan base quality using information on teams’ ability to acquire Twitter followers.

The simplest measurement of social media strength is to look at Twitter follower counts across teams.  Using this metric, the top 5 teams are the Patriots, Cowboys, Jets, Steelers, and Packers.  The bottom five includes the Titans, Buccaneers, Rams, Jaguars and Cardinals.  While gathering this data we did come across some interesting results.  The Patriots lead the league with about 650,000 followers while the Cardinals are in 32nd place with 62,000 followers.  Notably the Cardinals had only 31 more followers than the Cowboy Cheerleaders.

But as always, the raw numbers can be deceiving. The Jets play in a market that dwarfs the Steelers, and Twitter success is probably highly correlated to teams’ recent on-field success.  To calculate “Social Media Equity” we start by building a statistical model that predicts Twitter followers based on team winning percentage from 2012, market population and median income.  We then compare this prediction with the actual follower count.  The difference between actual and predicted followers provides a measure of over or under performance in the social media space.  Note: We could also have used Facebook fans for the analysis.

In terms of this measure of “social media equity” the top 5 were the Steelers, Cowboys, Patriots, Packers and Saints (and the Jets in 6th).  In terms of our previous fan equity ranking, the biggest change was for the Steelers and Packers.  The Cowboys, Patriots, Saints and Jets were strong in both rankings.  In terms of the critique that some owners may systematically underprice, the Steelers and Packers seem like two of the most likely candidates.

At the other end of the list in last place are the Arizona Cardinals.  The Cardinals play in a larger market than the Steelers but only have 11% of the Twitter followers.  Another notable bottom dweller is the Redskins.  The Redskins play in a large market but have less than half the Twitter followers as do the Cowboys.

We have noted the advantage of using Twitter followers as a metric.  This measure is not constrained by stadium capacity and fans are able to show there interest without an economic sacrifice.  However, this measure could also be criticized.  For example, if the goal is to assess fan passion or loyalty it is not clear how correlated an unobservable trait such as loyalty will be with Twitter follow rates.  A second issue is that teams may invest different levels of resources into their social media efforts.  If team A emphasizes their Twitter handle in ad copy while team B does not, then a straight comparison can be misleading.  A third issue is that the data available for this type of analysis is very limited.  While attendance rates are observable for decades, social media data is a very recent phenomenon.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.