Social Users Say: What NFL Crisis?

We’re not even halfway through the regular season, but the NFL’s had to face a PR crisis big enough for the entire year.
The now infamous Ray Rice abuse scandal reached a full boil in September after the release of a video revealing the full extent of Rice’s suspected abuse.  Then there was Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, and a number of other offending players that came out of the woodwork.
What ensued was a full blown brand and PR crisis for the NFL and its commissioner Roger Goodell, who were criticized for  fumbling in their respective responses. Everyone from Saturday Night Live (who took a few swings at the league in their season opener), to protesters retouching CoverGirls’ “Game Face” campaign, have vocalized their outrage.
NFL- Cover-Girl Image


With hashtags like #goodellmustgo and #covergirlboycott, social media has served as a platform for the angered discourse.  And from reading tweet to tweet, you might assume some things about the conversation.

But enough tweet reading (you should know better than that).  Let’s actually analyze the 7,383,393 million relevant posts just since August 1st.
To start, here’s what the general sentiment of NFL conversation looked like from last season (August 2013-February 2014), with a slight leaning towards the positive at 35% and a basic negative of 24%.
NFL Scandal Sentiment 1
And what about after the scandals?  We looked at the first few months of the season (August 2014 – Present) and the sentiment is largely… unchanged, with only a 5% increase in negative sentiment and 4% decrease in positive.
NFL Sentiment Analysis 2
Even more revealing, is the nature of the chatter, with the conversation heavily favoring positive themes such as “Love the NFL”.
NFL Topic Wheel Image
Negative sentiment centered on things like lost games, player stats, and bemoaning the league’s ramped up penalty rules (and I’ll admit as a die-hard Patriots fan, I’m pretty tired of the incessant penalty calls too).

Tweets specifically talking about “abuse” only represent a meager 1% of the conversation. But wait, isn’t everybody angry about the abuse scandal?  Our massive Twitter data set (remember, over 7 million posts since August 1st alone), says well, no. Actually, the data shows that NFL fans, and the massive social conversation they create – exceeding 13 million tweets from last season alone – are more upset about penalties than domestic violence. So what does this all mean to the PR team at the NFL?
First, don’t assume things from basic sentiment, volume, or individual tweets or hashtags.  Second, find out who is the source of the negative discourse.  In this case, they really don’t need to worry about their gigantic following. So who should the NFL PR crew worry about?  Thanks to ForSight’s Affinities feature, we’re able to identify the specific interests and associations of the people participating in the “after scandals” conversation versus those chatting “before scandals”.
NFL Affinities 1
This reveals that starting in August 2014, the NFL’s social conversation received an infiltration of new voices who cared way more about “world news”, “politico”, “law”, “CNN” and “liberal politics” than their original fanbase who love sports, sports, and… homework.  Even more, the NFL’s new politico-loving friends represent only tiny percentages of the conversation (for example, people who are interested in the NFL and “Politico” represent 1.7%).
So here are the take-away’s for a brand facing a crisis: don’t assume, always analyze, and then strategize. Since social media represents the largest source of unsolicited consumer opinion (trust me, it’s very unfiltered, especially when passionate fans aren’t happy about a call), you’ll gain direct, real-time insights into why, and who, is unhappy with you – allowing for the most targeted and relevant response possible.

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