Hot Reads: Which Fans are the Most Positive on Twitter?
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: Which Fans are the Most Positive on Twitter?

August 23, 2017

I wrote a little bit yesterday about ESPN’s Fan Happiness Index (FHI). It was a lighthearted look at ESPN’s attempt to measure something that is mostly unmeasurable, and that’s fine. It’s a conversation starter.

But there is some interesting data here, none more so than the “Twitter Buzz” category. ESPN describes that measure as the “percentage of tweets from fans that are positive based on social media sentiment analysis.”

And that’s all we get. No indication of how the sentiment analysis was conducted or over what span, but I still wanted to see which Power 5 schools had the most and least negative tweets from their own fans so I dropped the Twitter Buzz numbers into a spreadsheet — well, I copied them all down by hand and then typed them into a spreadsheet — and it looks like this plotted against the FHI national rank.

That’s all over the map. You might expect that teams high on the happiness scale (i.e. teams who are exceeding expectations and making fans happy) would also have a high percentage of positive tweets and vice versa. But that’s not what is happening. Ohio State ranks first nationally in FHI but, according to ESPN’s model, just 5 percent of its fans’ tweets were “positive.” Oklahoma ranks sixth nationally in FHI, but just 21 percent of tweets were positive. On the other end of the spectrum, Texas A&M has the current reputation of a team that collapses over the second half of the season, its coach is on the hot seat and its FHI ranks 91st nationally. But 99 percent of the tweets ESPN looked at were positive.

At this point in the exercise I’m seeing more questions with the model than answers about fan sentiment on Twitter, but I decided to forge ahead and look at it by Power 5 conference. Is there a conference that’s particularly negative on Twitter? Particularly positive?

Here’s a quick breakdown.

ACC | Average FHI Rank 43.4, Average Pct of Positive Tweets 50.6

People on the east coast are pretty happy with their teams overall. With Louisville riding high, Virginia Tech and Miami showing some promise under new coaches and North Carolina State getting some dark horse mentions in 2017, the ACC has the best average FHI rank of the Power 5 conferences.

BIG TEN | 59.4, 45.7

Low compared to its peer conferences in average FHI, the Big Ten also has the highest percentage of negative tweets. The four “happiest” fan bases in the Big Ten — Ohio State, Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin — all have mostly negative tweets. But Michigan gets a lot of love on Twitter (94 percent) and Iowa gets the most (97 percent). Nebraska, at 39 percent, is a little nastier than average in the conference.

BIG 12 | 56.2, 48.3

Iowans just love to be positive on Twitter, I guess. Iowa State leads the Big 12 in that category and the Big 12 as a whole is fair middle of the Power 5 road. Kansas State scores the highest in FHI, but Bill Snyder can’t coach forever, right?

PAC-12 | 45.8, 52.4

People on the west coast are pretty happy with their teams overall, too. (Maybe there’s a connection to be drawn between Twitter manners and oceanfront views.) UCLA is surprisingly high on the FHI scale and not surprisingly low in Twitter Buzz. Not sure why Washington fans are rage tweeting so often, but then again I don’t really know anything about Twitter Buzz other than the numbers that were provided.

SEC | 53.3, 68.4

This one baffles me. If there was a conference I was expecting to have the most negative tweets, it was the SEC, land of tree-poisoning and all of that other stuff. But it is far and away the most positive of the Power 5 conferences. I have a theory on this: The hatred for opposing teams in the SEC is weapons grade, due in part to the fact that many of the core SEC schools are pretty close to one another. So the average Alabama fan who is more than happy to spend a day ripping on Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee must be exceedingly positive about the Tide because all of those Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee fans are doing the same thing to him. He has to defend Alabama on Twitter.

In fact, I think that’s my guiding theory for all of these scores. What we might be measuring with Twitter Buzz is how much time fans are spending looking outward at other schools versus looking inward and losing their mind, publicly, over a third-and-2 play call.

But that’s just a theory based on a curiosity that includes numbers we’re not supposed to totally understand. Still glad I did it, though.

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