Data Science and Soccer: Understanding Sports Fandom
Toronto FC Supporter Groups
On December 10, 2016, Toronto FC lost in penalty kicks to the Seattle Sounders in their first MLS Cup final appearance, but the season was a major win for both the franchise and Canadian soccer. On average, 1.5 million people tuned into the game on TSN, making it the most-watched MLS game in Canadian history.
The success wasn’t restricted to TV. Toronto FC was the 7th most mentioned pro sports team on Twitter in Canada in 2016, more than the Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact, or any CFL team. They even had more mentions than Toronto mayor John Tory, highlighting the team’s growing appeal in the city.
“The audience for Toronto FC and MLS in Canada, definitely grew in 2016 thanks to the success of our Canadian teams,” says Christopher Doyle, Head of Sports with Twitter Canada. “Especially in the playoffs, we saw a huge uptick in player and team mentions plus use of the #TFCLive hashtag. Overall, the team’s playoff run was a textbook example of how excitement around a team can instantly translate on to Twitter.”
Following the Toronto FC’s 2017 home opener on March 31st against Sporting KC, the team’s Twitter audience sits at 285,000 followers, representing a 600% increase since 2013. This includes 57,000 new followers in 2016. But where are the new followers coming from? Do they live in Toronto? Do they follow the Premier League? NHL? CFL? Thanks to data provided by Affinio, we have answers. Here’s what we learned:
Toronto FC fans are primarily Torontonians.
Soccer, life, Toronto, and sports is how the ‘Canadian Premier League’ cluster describes themselves and most of these followers are located in the GTA. Toronto also appeared in the names of two clusters.
Diehard Canadian soccer fans follow Toronto FC. The ‘Team Canada’ cluster is where we see a ton of support for Canadian soccer, particularly the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team. Interests include Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott, Karina LeBlanc, and Stephanie Labbé, among others.
NHL Fans = Toronto FC Fans.
The NHL was the only major league (outside of soccer) to appear as a cluster. That said, an argument can be made that this is in fact ‘Canadian Sports Fans’ as their interests include most CFL teams, the Toronto Raptors, and the Toronto Blue Jays. As we’ve learned in past analysis, big moments draw in the Canadian sports fan, and as a result, this cluster likely fuelled the team’s Twitter audience growth over the past year.
Toronto FC are drawing international attention.
Two of the clusters, albeit smaller, were ‘Worldwide TFC Fans’ and ‘Premier League Fans (worldwide)’. These could be Canadian expats cheering from afar, or fans who follow Toronto FC players like Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley.
Lurkers south of the border.
There’s a cluster of ‘MLS Super Fans’ who live and breathe MLS (they even follow MLS Commissioner Don Garber!). Based on top hashtags used by this cluster (#usavcrc and #ufmnt), most appear to be located south of the border. This cluster skews male (68.4%) and 55% are between the ages of 25-34.
As Toronto FC begins their quest towards a second straight MLS Cup Final appearance, it will be interesting to see if they can become a bigger part of the everyday sports conversation in Toronto and capture the attention of more Canadian sports fans.
About the Author
Adam Puddicombe is a digital marketing professional who, by day, works in the ad agency world, and by night, covers the intersection of Canadian sports, media, and technology. Adam holds a degree in commerce, with a focus in marketing, and previously worked for Hockey Night in Canada’s Play On! and the St. John’s Fog Devils of the QMJHL. Follow him on Twitter @AdamPuddicombe
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