carnegieXchange: School of Sport

The FIFA Women's World Cup and Social Network Analysis

The first semi-final of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France saw the reigning champions, United States of America, clash with England’s lionesses.

With all the media anticipation before the game, including Megan Rapinoe’s protest and absence in the starting XI, to England’s chance of reaching the final for the first time, this provided a perfect setting to see what a social network analysis would reveal.

To run that analysis, I used Gephi to stream and collect the user network of tweets (tweets, mentions, and retweets) from the following handles: the USA Women’s National team (@uswnt), the English Women’s National team (@lionesses), the official FIFA Women’s World Cup (@fifawwc), the official broadcasters in the UK (@bbcone and @bbcsport), the official broadcasters in the USA (@foxsports and @telemundosports), and the official FIFA Twitter beats for each national team (@fifawwc_usa and @fifawwc_eng). I started collecting the tweets one hour before KO and finished when the Brazilian referee blew the final whistle. This generated over 100,000 users (nodes), with over 220,000 interactions (edges). Using a ForceAtlas 2 layout algorithm, and sizing and colouring nodes based on their Weighted-in degree (how many times the node got mentioned in the network). The resulting network map looks like this:

The network has three distinct ‘communities’; (i) @uswnt, (ii) @lionesses, and (iii) multiple media outlets apart from the official broadcasters in the UK and the USA. Surrounding the two national teams are their top players and the game’s goalscorers (@ellsbells89 for England, and @christenpress and @alexmorgan13 for the USA).

This social network analysis reflects something I wrote about regarding the men’s World Cup in Russia last year (see this blog post). Social Media platforms, and especially Twitter (see Murthy, 2018), allow parasocial relationships to emerge. In an ‘old media’ context mediation occurs primarily in both one-way and one-to-many fashions, whereas ‘new media’ (see Delfanti and Arvidsson, 2018), mediation can become two-way and many-to-many. This means that, rather than interacting with media conglomerates - the ones who traditionally mediated the information – fans are now interacting directly with athletes or clubs/teams. This is shown in the size and colour of the nodes on the above pictures (bigger and redder).

As such, in a world where digital and Internet-connected gadgets become ubiquitous, athletes and clubs/teams have become surrogates for media companies. Now they not only generate the content that was previously mediated through media conglomerates, but also control both content generation and distribution. Smart athletes, clubs and teams have already recognised this paradigm shift and have grasped the importance of media to their core business; they are realising the immense opportunities the presence gives them.

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