Over the past fortnight, both of the major Australian winter sporting codes (AFL – Australian Football League & NRL – National Rugby League) played their showpiece occasions, the grand final. Without getting into the technicalities of Australia’s version of the playoff system, these events saw teams competing for the ultimate prize in their respective sports. Using our new ‘Twitter Machine’, we tracked a number of keywords for both finals to get a picture of how they unfolded on Twitter. I should also mention at this stage thanks to Troy Sadkowsky who set up an extra server for data collection (our primary one often being overloaded by US TV shows currently), and Katie Prowd who helped with keywords for the tracker (given that your author is by no means a fan of either sport, being much more at home with ‘real’ Football — Go Spurs!).
The AFL Grand Final took place on 28 September, and activity on Twitter peaked between 2 and 6pm Brisbane time. What is immediately evident from the above graph however is that a portion of these tweets were attributable to the two major spikes above, with the scale needed to show them also hiding much of the detail of the overall graph. These massive spikes were largely not caused by fans of the sport, but instead by One Direction fans re-tweeting messages of support (in the first instance) and congratulations (in the second) from members of the band:
Grand final time! Go on the hawks
— Niall Horan (@NiallOfficial) September 28, 2013
As it proved, the NRL Grand Final data set on 6 October had a similar occurrence, with a One Direction concert in Sydney that day artificially inflating totals for both the keyword ‘Sydney’, the hometown ‘Roosters’ (for whom the band proclaimed support) and the Grand Final overall, as can be seen in the below graph:
So, before conducting any further analysis we removed as much of the ‘contamination’ from the data as possible, specifically excluding tweets which mentioned either @NiallOfficial or fellow band member @Harry_Styles. As a result, we were left with 80,587 tweets for the AFL Grand Final, and 77,665 for the NRL. Ghosts of key events during the match are evident in the overall graphs below, with clear spikes for the match beginning and the end of each quarter in the AFL, and spikes around the start, half-time and the full-time whistle in the NRL final:
At this stage it was also possible to compare the audience for both Finals, and we recorded tweets from 35,712 unique users for the NRL, and 34,374 for the AFL. Perhaps most interesting though is that only 3968 users tweeted about both finals, or about 11% of the individual total for each final. Overall, we found a ratio of 2.17 tweets per person for the NRL, and 2.34 tweets per person for the AFL, which is right in line with the average observed in Nielsen’s data of US Sporting Events:
Taking a closer look at the Australian finals, we were able to break these total tweets down by keyword, which shows clear spikes for the Hawks as they took control and won the AFL Grand Final, and a spike in mentions of the official account @HawthornFC, as their Grand Final win was confirmed. One caveat here is that while we were tracking both “fremantle_fc” and “dockers”, hindsight shows that “Freo” was the term of choice for at least some fans on Twitter, so we will avoid directly comparing the two fanbases in the AFL Final. One further note is that you may notice that the total tweets (above) are less than the sum of their parts (below); this is because in many cases multiple keywords are mentioned in the same tweet, e.g. a tweet saying “Congrats to the Hawks on winning the AFLGF” would be captured as both “Hawks” and “AFLGF”, but only counted once towards the total.
In the NRL, we are reasonably confident that we captured both teams’ commonly used terms. Both Manly and Sydney tracked significantly during the Final (although, again, Sydney may still be slightly artificially inflated by One Direction fans), as well as ‘Roosters’ . The #RiseAgain hashtag promoted by the NRL & Roosters, however, fell flat, peaking at just 109 tweets at the same time as ‘Roosters’ was being used by over 750. For Manly, traffic was lower than Sydney, but Manly tracked reasonably well while the promoted “#GoManly” fell flat. Nine’s “#wwos” hashtag barely warranted a mention.
While commentators on both matches were keen to point out their broadcasts were going around the world, Twitter can help us work out who was watching, at least with the caveat that barely 1% of tweets contain geographical information. Indeed, both finals did show a worldwide audience, as can be seen on the two graphs below. Interesting, perhaps, that the AFL Grand Final seems to have more tweets from the United States, while the NRL finds more resonance in the United Kingdom (who do, of course, play Rugby League), though again – in both cases – I am cautious about drawing firm conclusions due to the risk of stray tweets from those pesky One Direction fans. That said, taking a quick glance through the 150-or-so geocoded tweets for the United States during the AFL Grand Final indicates the vast majority appear genuine.
We can look at how the finals resonated with an Australian audience. Here, the (perhaps obvious) conclusion is that Victoria seems rather more interested in the AFL than the NRL, with more than 4 times as many geo-coded tweets within Victoria for the AFL final as the NRL. The reverse appears to be the case for New South Wales, with over 4 times as many for the NRL as the AFL. In Queensland, the ratio wasn’t as significant, but there were still double the geocoded tweets for the NRL Grand Final as seen a week previously for the AFL. In WA, we saw nearly 6 times as many geocoded tweets for the AFL as for the NRL. The NT barely registered (4 tweets for each final), SA saw 87 for AFL and 35 for NRL, and Tasmania 16 NRL vs. 55 for the AFL: