As reported in the last blog post, football has been changing throughout the last years, and now is the moment for clubs to keep up with this evolution.
We did a short analysis focusing on the North London Derby to gain insights into football fans’ digital behaviours. The Derby is one of the fiercest matches in English football, running high with emotions and expectations from both sides (Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal).
The research was done an a basic level. Nevertheless, the overall findings obtained through this research were relevant, since they showed patterns and behaviours that could lead to different digital strategies from clubs in the future. For instance, it was observed that:
- Twitter is, by far, the most used social media platform, followed by Instagram;
- The period right before, during and right after the match were the ones in which the fans engaged the most with their social media platforms;
- The volume of shared content varies according to the result of the match;
- Supporters in the stadium’s area seek to interact with their club’s social media, even in a greater level in comparison to those that are not near the stadium.
In the following sections, you will better understand why we have selected Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, as well as how we conducted the study.
Brief History of the North London Derby
Considered one of the major matches in England, the North London Derby was firstly contested in 1887, but it was only in 1913 that a rivalry emerged. The reason for that was Arsenal’s move from Plumstead to Islington, located in North London.
Afterwards, the tension between both clubs continued to rise, and now it’s one of the most anticipated matches for the fans of both clubs. The derby is played at least twice per year and both matches are highly contested and are crucial from a fans’ point of view.
The penultimate Saturday (February 10th, 2018) was marked by one of the most intense matches in English football. Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal contested a strained match at Wembley, that ended up with a 1-0 victory for the Spurs. However, we have analysed the fans’ behaviours on the previous three matches between both clubs.
Our approach to the analysis
The matches we selected were the following:
We picked these matches because, apart from having the same importance to both fans, there were no differences between the results; a draw and a 2-0 victory for each side. Thus, it was easier to analyse the differences on the behaviours between the fans from both clubs.
Regarding the analysed social media channels, we selected the posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, blogs and forums that were published in the United Kingdom. Moreover, on each match, only the posts relating to the home team were analysed.
As one of the study’s main goals was to observe the fans’ behaviours in the stadium, we decided to focus on the home team because there was a much higher number of home team supporters in the stadium in comparison to the away team.
In the analysis, the main four hashtags for each club were included. For Arsenal, the used hashtags were #Arsenal, #AFC, #Gunners and #WeAreTheArsenal. For the Spurs, the hashtags #Spurs, #COYS, #THFC and #Tottenham were applied.
Moreover, the tweets and posts including the hashtags or terms related to other Premier League clubs that played on that same day were excluded, since most of them were not done by supporters.
The aim of this brief report was to obtain a general knowledge regarding the fans’ online behaviours before, during and after the match, considering the volume of published content, their sources, the sentiments attached to them and the locations from where the content was being displayed.
How much and when?
The Match Week
The match day is the day all fans are expecting to arrive. It is easy to grasp why this day, among all three matches, was the one that had the highest volume of shared content within the match week. It is when fans want to express and share their thoughts, expectations and emotions.
Naturally, the volume of shared content per fanbase varies, since football clubs do not have the same number of supporters. On this case, as Arsenal has a larger fanbase in comparison to Tottenham Hotspur, it was expected that their fans would share more content.
Regardless of the volume of content shared, it was interesting to observe the same pattern of content sharing among the three matches.
The Match Day
Within the match day, there were differences in regard to the time that had the highest amount of shared content. On November 6th, the peak occurred at 11am, thus one hour before kick off.
However, in the other two matches, therefore the ones that had a winner, the peak did not occur before kick off. Instead, most of the posts and tweets were published during the match. At White Hart Lane, most of the content was shared at 5pm, whilst at the Emirates Stadium at 1pm and 2pm.
This is still a general observation, but we perceived that the result of the match might have an influence on the fan’s proclivity to publish content on social media. As a draw is not the best result for neither of the clubs, the highest interaction occurred when the fans were expressing all their anxiety regarding the beginning of the match, as the ongoing result was not appealing to both fans.
Nevertheless, when there was a winner, even though there was a high amount of content shared right before kick off, the highest interaction occurred when a positive result was taking place. The fans’ need of expressing and sharing their joy regarding the partial victory had definitely surpassed their anxiety before the beginning of the match.
Among the three selected platforms, Twitter was by far the most used social media channel, with around 83% and 87% of usage among all matches. A possible reason for that is the fact that Twitter is a very direct and brief tool, since there is a limited number of characters to be inserted.
Especially during the match, fans might want or feel the need to share their opinions or a fact regarding the match itself, and Twitter is a tool that would not deviate much of their attention from the pitch.
Instagram was the second most used social media platform, with around 12% and 15% of usage. Pictures are usually taken by the fans on entertainment venues, and this would not be different in a football match. As sharing images is Instagram’s main role, it is quite natural to grasp why this platform was the 2nd most used among all supporters.
Conversely, Facebook, Reddit, blogs and forums were rarely used among the supporters, embracing not more than 1% of the published content during a match. A quite surprising finding was Facebook’s low popularity, considering the fact that it is the most popular social media platform with around 2.1 billion users worldwide.
One of the main goals of this brief study was to observe the fans’ digital behaviours during the match. Curiously, most of the supporters’ interactions on social media one hour before, during and one hour after the match occurred around the stadiums where the match was being held.
For instance, on the match that ended up with a draw, almost 47% of the content was shared in London. Within this number, only 431 posts and tweets were able to be geotagged between 11am and 3pm. Among the shared content that was able to be geotagged, around 84% was published around the Emirates Stadium.
The same could be observed on the other two matches. When Tottenham Hotspur were the winners, 359 tweets and posts were geotagged, with 86% of them being published around White Hart Lane, whilst when Arsenal won, among the 630 geotagged posts and tweets, 74% were shared at the Emirates Stadium’s zone.
Therefore, after observing the fans’ behaviours at all matches, it was perceived that the fans who are at the stadium represent the largest portion of those who interact with their club’s social media.
This was a very interesting finding, since it shines a light on when and where football clubs could engage with their fans through social media.
The Fan’s Sentiment
Unusually, the sentiments attached to the published content did not differ significantly among the three matches. The matches that ended up with a winner displayed a higher amount of positive content. Nevertheless, the difference in comparison to the match that finished with a draw was not very significant.
The amount of analysed content and the limited accuracy on the analysis of the sentiments attached to the posts and tweets might have weighted on the results. It was expected a much greater proportion of positive content on the matches that ended up with a winner, and apparently that was not the case.
The Next Goal
As this study’s findings were quite relevant, further analysis on football fans’ digital behaviours will be conducted, but next time considering other aspects, so that the limitations that existed on this study are reduced.
For instance, the first match ended up with a draw, and the other two with a winner. It might be also interesting to analyse the loser’s fans reactions as well.
Moreover, there might be a difference on the fans’ reactions in minor and international matches. Therefore, the competition the teams are playing should also be considered.
Lastly, we have only analysed two English clubs. As football has a worldwide appeal, it is necessary to study the fans’ behaviours from other countries, such as Spain, Italy and Brazil for instance.
In conclusion, considering the range of options the digital world provide the fans nowadays, it is even more necessary to fully understand when, why, where, how and especially, what the supporters want.