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Ranking the Most “Volatile” Fans in the SEC: LSU, Ole Miss, & UGA Lead the Way

Last weekend, Georgia beat LSU in a highly entertaining, closely contested football game.  After the game, fans were undoubtedly sad in Baton Rouge and elated in Athens.  These emotions were manifested through the tweeting activity of fans in both cities.  Using data from Topsy Pro, we were able to collect football-related tweets originating from Athens and Baton Rouge after the game.  There were almost twice as many tweets originating from Athens, and the ratio of positive to negative tweets was 9:1 in Athens, whereas the ratio was 1:9 in Baton Rouge.  As transplants who have lived in Atlanta for a few years now, we can attest to the overwhelming passion towards SEC football in the South.  Recently, we used data from Twitter to describe the emotions of NFL football fan bases during the 2012 regular season.  We decided that performing a similar analysis on the SEC football fan bases would be an interesting study.  We decided to empirically determine which SEC football fan bases really “live & die” by the performance of their teams.

The methodology for our study was straightforward.  We considered all of the regular season games from 2012 and the first five weeks of the 2013 season.  For each game, we recorded who won the game, and we collected football-related tweets from all of the SEC college towns for one, two, and three days after the game.  It would be reasonable to ask why we didn’t collect tweets from Atlanta for a UGA game or from all of Kentucky for a UK game.  We were trying to isolate tweets primarily from fans of the SEC team, and we believe that the college town is the best proxy for mainly fans of the college.  Atlanta is full of UGA fans, but there are also Alabama fans, Auburn fans, Florida fans, and pretty much fans of all SEC teams.  We wanted reactions of UGA fans to the UGA games, not the reactions of Auburn fans to the UGA games.  By football-related tweets, we mean tweets that mentioned any words that were commonly related to the particular college football team.  The tweets were coded as positive, negative, or neutral.  We were able to determine the “sentiment” of the collection of tweets as a rough index (1-100) of the ratio of positive to negative tweets.

Thus after each game, we were able to calculate the sentiment of the fan base.  We determined on average how positive a fan base was after a win, and how negative they were after a loss.  To understand the “volatility” of a fan base, we looked at the delta between the average sentiment after a win and the average sentiment after a loss.  In other words, how big is the difference in a fan base’s “high” after a win and “low” after a loss.  We believe that this metric best captures “living & dying” by the performance of your team.  After computing this metric for each fan base, we determined that LSU has the most “volatile” fans in the SEC.

The chart on the left gives the full rankings for the SEC.  It should be noted that these rankings were robust to whether we looked at how fans felt one, two, or three days after a game.  We believe that volatility is in part driven by 1) the expectations of the fan base and 2) the expressiveness of the fan base.  The top three schools in our rankings seem to get to the top for different reasons. The volatility of LSU & UGA fans is driven more by extreme negativity after losses, whereas the volatility of Ole Miss fans is a function of high levels of happiness after wins. This could, of course, in part be due to expectations.  UGA & LSU fans may have higher expectations than Ole Miss fans.  An examination of the data reveals that LSU fans had an extremely negative reaction to the Alabama loss last year and the Georgia loss this year.  These fans even had an overall negative reaction to a close WIN over Auburn last year!  UGA fans spewed a lot of vitriol on Twitter after the loss to Clemson this year.  Ole Miss fans, on the other hand, did not have overly negative reactions to losses, and were very positive after wins (e.g. the win over Texas this year).   It is interesting to note that the Alabama fan base is at the bottom of the volatility list.  Alabama only lost one game during the period of this study (a good reason for publishing this list again next year when we have more data).  But, even after wins, the Alabama fan base is not very positive on Twitter.  There are several tweets that are critical about the margin of victory.  If Alabama does ever go on some type of losing streak in the future (as unlikely as that seems), it will be fascinating to observe the reaction on Twitter.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

 

 

 

 

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