Richard Sherman: Using Twitter to Build Your Brand

The sports landscape includes a handful of individuals that have transcended being just athletes, and have become brands.  Michael, LeBron, Kobe, Tiger and Peyton are prime examples of athletes that have achieved sufficient celebrity to become part of the culture; and by doing so have become coveted endorsers.  Just as most people know that Peyton Manning is a member of the Denver Broncos, we suspect that a large portion of society also knows his favorite brand of pizza.  Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman is perhaps the athlete that made the biggest move towards becoming his own brand in the last year.

Yesterday, Sherman signed a four-year, $57.4M deal with $40M guaranteed.  This makes him the highest paid CB in the NFL.  Of course, Sherman has also recently signed multiple endorsement deals (Oberto, Campbell Soup, Nike, etc.).  Mr. Sherman announced his new contract deal through Twitter, and this is not surprising, since Sherman actively communicates through Twitter.  His Twitter account, @RSherman_25, has over 925K followers (The official Seattle Seahawks team Twitter account has 529K followers).

We believe Sherman represents an interesting case-study on how to build a brand using social media.  The graph below illustrates the monthly volume of tweets that mention @RSherman_25.  The account was activated in September 2011, but the first time it experienced a significant uptick in volume was in October 2012.  In that month, the virtually “unknown” Sherman called out all-pro QB Tom Brady and needled the great WR Calvin Johnson.  Sherman’s Twitter presence continued to grow with an offseason discussion/”Twitter-Fight” with CB Darrelle Revis regarding who was the best CB in the NFL.  Of course, Sherman’s Twitter mentions exploded following his NFC Championship post-game interview with Erin Andrews.

The other thing is that Sherman provides a great counter-point toward much of the conventional wisdom that infests the marketing world.  Of late we have seen an enormous number of celebrities who have had to apologize for one statement or another.  At times it seems like marketers are more interested in playing it safe at all costs.     Sherman Brand

It seems that the key moments in Sherman’s Twitter timeline were all considered “controversial” by many in the media.  This is not necessarily surprising given the nature of social media; however there are two remarkable aspects here: 1) The overwhelmingly positive Twitter reaction to Sherman’s actions and 2) Sherman’s ability to build on the “controversial” spikes in volume over time.

Sherman Sentiment

The chart above shows the monthly volume of positive and negative tweets that mentioned @RSherman_25.  We used software from to code each tweet as having positive, negative, or neutral sentiment.  Given the press coverage of Sherman’s post-game interview, many would have thought of Sherman as the “villain”, however, the response on Twitter was more positive than negative.  Over time, the post-game “rant” has become thought of as more comical (e.g. President Obama referenced it at the White House Correspondents Dinner this year & Sherman uses it in a commercial for Swedish Hospital).

Sherman’s rise and development as a “brand” highlights several important brand lessons.  Sherman has exploded in popularity because he is smart, interesting and authentic.  This is a much better strategy for building a brand than to relentlessly playing it safe.

Manish Tripathi & Mike Lewis, Emory University 2014.

Are They Really Mad Bro? Twittersphere Reaction to Sherman’s Post-Game Interview

ShermanAndrewsRichard Sherman’s post-game interview with Erin Andrews seems to have created a huge response on social media, as well as with sports columnists and talk-radio.  While it’s easy to pick out a few tweets from prominent Twitter accounts that say Mr. Sherman is “classless”, “vile”, or worse (there is a lot or worse in this case), we were interested to determine the overall post-game Twitter sentiment towards Mr. Sherman.

Our analysis is quite straightforward.  We first collected all tweets that were tweeted in the ten-hour period following the end of the NFC Championship game.  From this collection of tweets, we selected any tweet that contained “Seattle”, “Seahawks”, or “Sherman”.  These selected tweets were then coded as having “positive”, “negative”, or “neutral” sentiment.

It is interesting to note that overall there are as many positive tweets mentioning Sherman as there are negative tweets.  However, while “Seattle” and “Seahawks” tweets had a 1:1 (Positive:Negative) ratio outside of the state of Washington, “Sherman” had a 1:9 ratio outside the state of Washington (shockingly, the 49ers home state of California had the highest ratio of negative tweets).  Perhaps Sherman really has been driving a lot of the outside of Seattle Twitter hate towards the Seahawks that we previously documented.


Full disclosure, from a marketing perspective, we are fascinated by Richard Sherman.  He has done a remarkable job building his social media following; he has more Twitter followers than the official Seattle Seahawks Twitter account.  Perhaps Sherman’s engagement with his followers has insulated him from the rest of the Twittersphere, since post-game tweets that mentioned “@RSherman_25” had a 2:1 (Positive:Negative) ratio.  We look forward to seeing what he does next in the build-up to the Super Bowl.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.

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.