If you’ve gone to the ESPN homepage any day in the last couple of weeks, you were greeted by a sight that in any other context could only be processed as a glitch – their sports ticker is completely empty. In the time of social distancing, virtually every sports event has disappeared off the calendar.
Looking to measure the audience reaction to this unprecedented absence; ListenFirst aimed our social media analytics capabilities at Twitter, to gauge what sports events or leagues were mentioned the most around being either canceled or postponed.
Here’s what we found:
The Top 10 Sporting Leagues Or Events Mentioned Around Being Canceled Or Suspended I March 1-24, 2020
Fact #1: The NBA Is The Most Talked About Suspended League Or Event
The NBA suspended their season on March 11 around Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19, and it appears that event has by far been the sports stoppage that’s been the most discussed on social media. Between March 1-24, 2020, there were 1,666,728 Tweets discussing the NBA related to the topic of being Suspended or Canceled which was at least 517% more than the volume of Tweets mentioning a stoppage around any other sports league or event. During the same time period, there were 269,974 Tweets that mentioned the Olympics being either suspended or canceled. The Tokyo Olympics were finally officially postponed until 2021 on March 24, 2020. Meanwhile, there were 239,016 Tweets mentioning the NHL that were around the topic of being suspended or canceled, as the NHL season was suspended on March 12.
Fact #2: The Audience Was Very Upset With The NFL… Up Until A Very Specific Point
For the NFL, there was a lot of negative audience sentiment around the perception that they were dragging their heels about even entertaining the possibility of postponing games. For instance, between March 1-17,2020 there were 36,024 Tweets that mentioned the NFL around the topic of either canceling or postponing games with those Tweets being 44% negative and 16% of those Tweets expressing the emotion of anger. Then on March 18, NFL free agency started. Between March 18-24, there were only 5,870 Tweets mentioning the NFL around the possibility of games being either canceled or postponed, with those Tweets only 36% negative. Free agency changed the conversation around the NFL.
Fact #3: Lack Of Competition Is Lifting Social Interest In The NFL Offseason
Between March 1-24, 2020, there were 167,889 Tweets mentioning the NFL Draft, an increase of 52% in the volume of Tweets mentioning the NFL compared to that same time period in 2019. Meanwhile, there were 103,275 Tweets mentioning both the NFL and “Free Agency” between March 1-24, 2020, an increase of 31% from the amount of Tweets mentioning both terms during the same time period in 2019.
That said, it’s largely one specific topic that has generated audience interest around NFL free agency. For instance, between March 18-24, 2020, 4 of the 5 ESPN social media posts that were NFL related that generated the most responses were about Tom Brady.
Fact #4: Participatory Events Like Marathons Make People Especially Fearful
There were 16,346 Tweets mentioning the Boston Marathon in a cancelation or suspension context, between March 1-24, 2020 around that event getting postponed until September 14, 2020. 27% of those Tweets expressed the emotion of Fear. That’s an unusual percentage of fear related Tweets but a marathon also has an unusually large number of participants in close proximity to each other.
Overall Fear had been the most frequently expressed emotion in Tweets talking about sports around the coronavirus outbreak. Between March 1-24, 2020, there were 666,266 Tweets mentioning both Sports and the Coronavirus, with 17% of those Tweets expressing the emotion of Fear.
Fact #5: The NBA Is Actually Generating More Responses On Social Media
Since sports effectively shut down, the NBA has shared -76% less new posts on social media, looking at March 12 – 24 compared to February 28 – March 11, 2020. However during that March 12-24 time period, the NBA still shared 341 posts on social media and has kept fans engaged with highlight packages. Their top performing content during that time period was an Instagram post sharing a video of Kyrie Irving’s 5 best crossovers, which generated 1,371,520 responses. Meanwhile, video footage of Ray Allen and Steph Curry also generated over 1 million responses each on Instagram.
Overall, the content response rate for posts the NBA shared on social media was 0.06% during March 12-24, 2020 which was a 10% increase compared to the content response rate during February 28-March 11, 2020. With no games being played, for many NBA fans, social media is the only place they can get their basketball fix.
Another place NBA fans have been looking to get their basketball fix is esports. NBA 2K generated 45,619 new fans on social media from March 12-24, 2020, an increase of 47% compared to the previous February 28-March 11, 2020 time period. The top performing social media post for NBA 2K since the NBA season was suspended is an Instagram video of NBA player and coronavirus patient Donovan Mitchell showing himself playing the game, which generated 162,549 responses.
Meanwhile the second top performing social media post for NBA 2K generating 121,660 responses was an Instagram post showing highlights of celebrities like Offset playing simulations of missed games from the paused season.
While sports might be gone from our lives at the moment, sports fandom is not. By better understanding how the audience is processing the absence, sports brands can get a clearer picture of what’s needed to draw fans back in when that moment arrives.