What. A. Series. If you’re a basketball fan, you know exactly what we’re talking about. None other than the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals between the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics. With the sport’s increasingly international fanbase, we wondered: how did UK and US fan reactions to the NBA Finals differ?
All eyes were courtside on June 17, which saw the spectacular final showdown between the Eastern and Western conference champions [spoiler alert – the Warriors won four games to two].
Various news outlets have written about the jump in viewer numbers compared to the 2021 series, with more and more fans tuning in from abroad.
So using our audience insights software, we compared the tweets of two demographic groups – UK and US basketball fans – to understand how they felt about the finals.
Who leaned towards cynicism and who was the unashamed dreamer? Our social media analysis taught us that our assumptions don’t always play ball…
US fans are quick to point out foul play
A noticeable feature of US fans’ language is how regularly they bring up ‘foul play’, referring to fouls 75.3% and ‘playing dirty’ 19.5% more often than UK fans.
US fans show an acute frustration at the sport’s culture of fouling, though are divided in the specific target for their anger, variously choosing individual players, teams, or the NBA as a whole:
“So you reached for racism instead of fans not liking Draymond for his dirty play?”
“celtics are selling fouls like hotcakes”
“so many fouls in the Nba… let them play!”
This general US frustration and cynicism in comparison to UK optimism could stem from the heightened cultural significance of basketball in the US, in contrast to the sport’s comparative newness in the UK.
This idea of ‘otherness’ for UK fans perhaps even glamourizes the very elements that frustrate US fans.
While UK fans romanticise the sport
Where US fans cynically condemn foul play, UK fans are more likely to use the language of bravery, with words like ‘heroic’, ‘courage’, ‘fearless’, and even war-like terminology:
“that was a courageous game, beyond just like wow 😱 😱 😱”
“what a battle in the garden for g4 of #nbafinals @nbauk @skysportsnba. #dubnation bouncing back against #celtics on their floor to make it 2- 2”
This dramatic language doesn’t glorify violence as such, but it certainly glamorizes the ‘battleground’ of the sports field, adding an epic quality in tone.
The unexpected language of ‘we’ and ‘they’
As US fans have grown up with basketball in their culture, you might expect that they would use the language of ‘we’ more than ‘they’. But interestingly, our Twitter audience insights found that it’s the UK fans who are 81.8% more likely to use plural subjective pronouns:
“btw warriors have the best defence in the league. glad we finally showed that”
“the celtics only got 4 chips. we really gotta evaluate their modern presence in the Nba”
Basketball is far more of a cultural cornerstone in the US than in the UK, so it could be that beyond the die-hard fans, the distance in language is indicative of them being more general sports fans who might follow basketball alongside baseball, ice hockey, or football, as examples.
UK fans, meanwhile, must go out of their way to follow their teams from afar. But being a step removed from the action doesn’t appear to stop the UK fans from getting their fix.
Accessibility is a problem, but not commitment
It’s hard to be a dedicated basketball fan when you have to make a concerted effort to watch it:
“the issue for basketball is making the Nba accessible for the Europe. I’m a big fan of basketball, based in the Uk, but it’s damn near impossible to watch. every finals games starts at 2 am. just not doable”
This accessibility issue means that UK basketball fans really have to work hard to be fans, it’s not something they can casually watch in a bar or stream live on a Thursday night like in the US.
This idea of ‘working harder’ suggests that some UK fans could be more committed to the sport than their US counterparts. This is backed up by the display of emotions shown by both demographic groups. Where US fans are more straightforward and broad in their emotions – “Ngl I don’t like most of his minutes but I just love the guy” – UK fans bring more nuanced emotions like ‘bravery’ and ‘frustration’ to the conversation:
“the warriors so damn annoying bro I can’t stand that team”
“heroic effort put in by Stephen Curry”
This nuance and knowledge exhibited by UK fans doesn’t necessarily make them more committed as fans, but it certainly makes them more focused.
What do these social insights show?
The NBA finals were undoubtedly dramatic, but it’s clear the flair for drama exists as much on the court as off. How this manifests, however, is where the nuance appears.
Where US fans are frustrated, cynical, and at times broad and impersonal, UK fans are idealistic, determined, personally involved and granular.
Our Twitter audience insights on US and UK fan reactions to the NBA Finals have shown that neither camp can comprehensively be labeled cynics or dreamers. But the one thing they have in common? Passion.
This comparison using our audience insight tool is just one example of how we can help our customers take more from their social listening, analyzing text data from any source to explore what’s going on beneath the surface.