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The NFL vs. the Premier League: perceptions of their top teams online

Photo of Chelsea Football Club Stadium courtesy of Ben Sutherland via Flickr

The world of sports is an interesting place to explore the old public relations adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and whether that’s true on the social Web.

In sports, if your team is doing well, it will attract the ire of your competitors and their fans, leading to negative comments about you on blogs and social sites.  Since all those detractors will probably still watch your games (if not buy your merchandise), presumably it’s more desirable in pro sports to be the talented team that some people love to bash, as opposed to being any other brand that some people love to bash.

But is that true in both the National Football League and Premier League football (soccer) in the UK?

I ran a little test using the automated sentiment engine in the Cision Social Media Dashboard powered by Radian6. I took the final four teams in the NFL playoffs (Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts), and the top four teams in the Premier League table (Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United) and looked at discussion about them on the social Web globally for the period of Jan. 15-19. I used the platform’s automated sentiment identification technology on a sample of more than 50,000 mentions of these teams.

There seemed to be no correlation between how positively a team is discussed online and current season winning percentage, either in Premier League football or American football. Instead, it seems that impressions about a team are very particular to its many facets: big personalities, long-held connotations of the team’s historical identity, and reputations that transcend the events of a particular season.

For example, fans’ emotions about Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre’s perennial comebacks dictate the tone of discussion about the team online more strongly than its winning percentage.

 In the Premier League, the rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham dates to 1913. Feelings expressed on the social Web have deep roots in factors besides performance.

All of this is by way of saying that despite the blinding speed of information on the social Web, conversations about brand reputations there reflect broader perceptions, which evolve a bit more slowly.

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