The Sentiment of Sport


This week has been a crazy week for me – analyzing trends across our growth markets and busily setting our strategy for 2013. Which unfortunately meant I missed the controversial game between Sloane Stephens and Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open yesterday. I was curious to know how the public had responded to her so called “medical time out” – but had no idea what time the “incident” had occurred.

Fortunately, IBM and Tennis Australia have been monitoring and analyzing public sentiment towards all of this year’s players throughout the course of the event, so it didn’t take long to find out!

A quick visit to the Fan Center at the Australian Open website gave me access to a wealth of insight into which players have been mentioned most over the course of the event, and how much of the social chatter was positive or negative towards them. Looking up profiles for both Stephens and Azarenka gave me the answer I was looking for.

Over the course of the game, both players had been receiving steady mentions on social media, up until 5:15pm when Azarenka left the court for a suspect medical time out right as Stephens broke serve to stay in the match. Whilst comments about Stephens were 87% positive and peaked at 2,253 around the time she left the court, comments about Azarenka peaked at 3,052 at 5:29pm as people started to respond negatively to her extended time out – almost 41% of comments at the time contained negative sentiment.

It’s no surprise that in the hours following the game, as she’s responded to the media claims of faking the need for medical treatment, she’s continued to receive a mix of both positive and negative sentiment.

Some might argue that any publicity is good publicity, and this increased focus on Azarenka can only serve to increase her public profile even further. Others might simply look at the data captured from social media over the course of the event and conclude that you don’t need fame to be loved. Whilst this event gave Azarenka her peak focus in social media, Stephens has received steady positive sentiment throughout the course of the event, peaking at 13,087 comments, of which 84% was positive.

After all is said and done, we’re here to watch the tennis. So why do we care about sentiment in social media?

Companies today have a wealth of information available to them in social media to understand the community’s sentiment towards marketing campaigns, brands and products – or in this case, athletes. This valuable insight helps them make more informed decisions about where to invest their money – selecting new campaigns, product lines, or sponsorship deals.

Think about it – would you buy a product from the world #1 player who is suspected of cheating to get there? Or a product from the world #2 player who you admire, respect, and love to watch on court?

Would you invest in Azarenka or Stephens?

That’s the answer many companies are trying to understand – and with IBM Social Media Analytics, they can capture and analyze millions of tweets, blogs and forum comments to better understand community sentiment and invest their money to maximize returns.

Keep your eye on the Australian Open Fan Center to see how the community responds to Azarenka in the finals, and other players left in the competition.