Super Bowl 51 had us on the edge of our seats. A dramatic comeback and a shocking overtime finish meant the 111.3 Million Americans who tuned into the event certainly got what they came for. Even though TV viewership was down on previous years, the emotional rollercoaster that was Sunday’s game will certainly go down as one of the greatest.
As with any major sporting event, the Super Bowl creates an incredible amount of hype, particularly on Social Media. All of the social chatter and media coverage around the Super Bowl means it’s a fantastic case study in analyzing the voice of fans and their reactions to the event. Using advanced Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing techniques, such as Sentiment Analysis, we are able to understand how fans of both the Patriots and the Falcons collectively felt at any given moment throughout the event.
Not familiar with Sentiment Analysis? Sentiment Analysis is used to detect positive or negative polarity in text and can help you understand the split in opinion from almost any body of text, website or document.
We used the Twitter Streaming API to collect a total of around 2.2 million tweets that mentioned a selection of game and team-related keywords, hashtags and handles. Using the AYLIEN Text Analysis API, we analyzed each of these tweets and visualized our results using Tableau. In particular, we were interested in uncovering and investigating the following key areas:
- Volume of tweets before, during and after the game
- Sentiment of tweets before, during and after the game
- Team-specific fan reactions
- The most tweeted players
- The most popular Super Bowl hashtag
We focused our data collection on keywords, hashtags and handles that were related to Super Bowl 51 and the two competing teams, including;
#SB51, #superbowl, #superbowlLI, #superbowl51, #superbowl2017, #HouSuperBowl, #Patriots, #NEPatriots, #newenglandpatriots, #Falcons, #AtlantaFalcons.
Once we collected all of our tweets, we spent a bit of time cleaning and prepping our data set, first by disregarding some of the metadata which we felt we didn’t need. We kept key indicators like time stamps, tweet ID’s and the raw text of each tweet. We also removed retweets and tweets that contained links. From previous experience, we find that tweets containing links are mostly objective and generally don’t hold any author opinion towards the event.
Tools we used
Like with many of our data-driven blog posts, we used Tableau to visualize our results. All visualizations are interactive and you can hover your mouse over each one to dive deeper into the key data points from which they are generated.
We began our analysis of Super Bowl 51 by looking at the overall volume of tweets in the lead up and during the game.
Tweet volume over time: all tweets
The graph below represents minute-by-minute fluctuations in tweet volumes before during and after the game. For reference, we’ve highlighted some of the key moments throughout the event with the corresponding spikes in tweet volume.
As you can see, there is a definite and steady increase in tweet volume in the period leading up to the game. From kickoff, it is then all about reactions to in-game highlights, as seen by the sharp spikes and dips in volumes. We’ve also highlighted the halftime period to show you the effect that Lady Gaga’s performance had on tweet volumes.
Let’s now take a closer look at the pre-game period and in particular, fan predictions.
Pre-game tweet volume: #PatriotsWin vs. #FalconsWin
For the past 13 years, video game developers EA Sports have been using their football game ‘Madden NFL’ to simulate and predict the winner of the Super Bowl each year. They now have a 10-3 success-failure rate, in case you were wondering! In recent times, they have also been inviting the Twittersphere to show their support for their team by using a certain hashtag in their tweets. For 2017, it was #PatriotsWin vs. #FalconsWin.
So, which set of fans were the most vocal in the 2017 #MyMaddenPrediction battle? We listened to Twitter in the build up to the game for mentions of both hashtags, and here’s what we found;
58.57% of tweets mentioned #FalconsWin while 41.43% went with #PatriotsWin. While the Patriots were firm pre-game favorites, it is likely that the neutral football fan on Twitter got behind the underdog Falcons as they chased their first ever Super Bowl win, in just their second appearance.
Tweet volume over time by team
Now that we’ve seen the overall tweet volume and the pre-game #MyMaddenPrediction volumes, let’s take a look at tweet volumes for each individual team before, during and after the game.
The graph below represents tweet volumes for both teams, with the New England Patriots in the top section and the Atlanta Falcons in the bottom section.
Talk about a game of two halves! That vertical line you can see between the two main peaks represents halftime, and as you can see, Falcons fans were considerably louder in the first half of the game, before the Patriots fans brought the noise in the second half as their team pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in Super Bowl history.
Sentiment analysis of tweets
While tweet volumes relating to either team can be a clear indicator of their on-field dominance during various periods of the game, we like to go a step further and look at the sentiment of these tweets to develop an understanding of how public opinion develops and fluctuates.
The charts below are split into two sections;
Top: Volume of tweets over time, by sentiment (Positive / Negative)
Bottom: Average sentiment polarity over time (Positive / Negative)
New England Patriots
What’s immediately clear from the chart above is that, for the majority of the game, Patriots fans weren’t too happy and it seems had given up hope. However, as you can see by the gradual increase in positive tweets sentiment and volume in the final third, their mood clearly and understandably changes.
In stark contrast to the Patriots chart, Falcons fans were producing high volumes of positive sentiment for the majority of the game, until the Patriots comeback materialized, and their mood took a turn for the worse, as indicated by the drop of sentiment into negative.
Most tweeted individuals
To get an understanding of who people were talking about in their tweets, we looked at the top mentioned individuals. Unsurprisingly, Tom Brady was heavily featured after his 5th Super Bowl triumph.However, the most mentioned individual had no part to play in the actual game.
All notable players and scorers (and even Brady himself) were shrugged aside when it came to who the viewers were talking about and reacting to most on Twitter, as halftime show performer Lady Gaga dominated. To put the singer’s domination into perspective, she was mentioned in nearly as many tweets as Brady and Ryan were combined!
To get an idea of the scale of her halftime performance, check out this incredible timelapse;
— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) February 6, 2017
Interestingly, national anthem singer Luke Bryan was tweeted more than both the Patriots’ Head Coach Bill Belichick and catch-of-the-game winner Julian Edelman. Further proof, if needed, that the Super Bowl is not just about the game of football, but that it is becoming more and more of an entertainment spectacle off the field.
Most popular Super Bowl hashtags
We saw a variety hashtags emerge for the Super Bowl this year, so we decided to see which were the most used. Here are the top 5 most popular Super Bowl hashtags, which we have visualized with volumes below;
Despite the NFL’s best efforts to get Twitter using #SB51, the most obvious and simple hashtag of #SuperBowl was a clear winner.
There is no other event on the planet that creates as much hype in the sporting, advertising and entertainment worlds. But the Super Bowl as we know it today, is far less about the football and more about the entertainment factor and commercial opportunity. With big brands spending a minimum $5 Million for a 30 second commercial, competition for viewers eyes and more importantly viewers promotion through shares and likes on social media, the Super Bowl has become big business.
In our next installment, we’ve analyzed the chatter around Super Bowl 51 from a branding point of view. We collected and analyzed Twitter data and news and media coverage of the event to pinpoint which brands and commercials joined the Patriots as Super Bowl 51 champions.