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Analyzing social media to discover how sports fans feel about video technology

On the cards we have The Premier League, The Six Nations and England vs India Test Series. But aside from team rivalry or country patriotism, there is one topic of discussion that unanimously splits fans down the middle. The trials and tribulations of video technology.

The aim of video technology is to help referees make accurate and consistent decisions throughout a game. But what exactly do fans think?

To understand how people really feel about video technology, we turned to comparison. Using Relative Insight’s text analytics technology, we conducted a social media analysis spanning from Jan 1st to Feb 14th across three different sports – rugby, football and cricket.

Relative Insight pinpoints the linguistic differences and similarities between various language sets, layering on top of social listening data and supercharging otherwise one-dimensional social insights. Through comparison, brands, agencies and organizations can find important information on specific groups and demographics, to help better understand their audiences.

Rugby (Television Match Official)

Respect for the referee’s decisions
Well-known Welsh referee Nigel Owens once humored a player who contested his decision, uttering “the football stadium is 500 yards that way…”

This is because, in rugby, players treat referees with the utmost respect. When compared to cricket or football, rugby fans on Twitter are 18.5x more likely to praise the level of respect that exists between players and officials. As rugby is a full contact sport, referees and the TMO are essential for ensuring the safety of all players. Which is perhaps why fans are more likely to accept controversial TMO decisions.

Rugby fans are 12.1x more likely to discuss the transparency between viewers and officials during a game. In rugby, the dialogue between the TMO and on-field referee is heard by viewers watching the game, whether from their television or the stadium. Fans talk about hearing this commentary, and how it enables them to understand the thought process behind certain decisions. Even though they might not always agree…

Other sports should take note
In comparison to football and cricket, rugby fans believe that the TMO reigns superior as a form of video technology assistance, and rugby fans on Twitter adopt a slightly patronizing albeit truthful tone. They suggest that other sports could learn from rugby’s use of the TMO as an example of bettering the game.

Football (Video Assistant Referee)

Lack of communication and respect
VAR was first introduced to the Premier League in the 2019/20 season. Since then, it’s caused controversy amongst spectators. Football fans speak about the lack of communication between the VAR, refs and fans, expressing how they wished decisions were better explained. Consequently, football fans have no respect for the referee or VAR, with Twitter users often describing officials as clowns, idiots and an embarrassment.

Negative emotions
In true football fashion, fans are 4.5x more likely to get over emotional when discussing the topic of VAR, expressing their hate, anger and shock. Lockdown protocols have left fans embarrassed to be a football fan, and hate everything that football has become as a result of VAR.

Furthermore, the use of negative language was 3.3x more prevalent in the conversations of football fans globally when compared to other sports. Tweets were filled with verbatim such as ridiculous, incompetent and ludicrous.

Ruining the game of football
Keeping in theme, football fans conversations are packed with dramatic claims of how VAR is ruining the game. This group of supporters use words such as killing, dead and destroyed 18.0x more than other sports fans on Twitter, claiming that referees read too much into little things and disrupt the flow of the game. Dramatic emphasis or would you agree?

Cricket (Decision Review System)

The importance of DRS
The key feature which differentiates video technology in cricket from many other sports is the fact that teams can review an umpire’s original decision. Currently, teams have three unsuccessful reviews per inning in test cricket.

The discussion of cricket fans revolves largely around the importance of these reviews, showing how video assistance has become a vital part of the sport for both umpires and players.

Gutsy captains
Interestingly, cricket fans are the only demographic in this comparison who directly correlate video technology to the performance of players. Cricket fans speak about the bravery of players who make difficult review calls, or perform well despite bad DRS decisions. Fans describe players as gutsy and audacious, and even judge captains by how they act under pressure.

Social insights are essential to understanding the emotions of supporters and specific audiences. Video technology is respected by rugby fans. It’s vital to cricket. Yet, it’s killing football. Although video technology is clearly here to stay, the role of the referee is coming increasingly under scrutiny as a result. Leagues and sporting associations should consider fans’ thoughts and opinions when approaching this subject in their communications.

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