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.