Not only is Twitter a great place to hear about the latest celebrity scandal, but it’s also a haven for sports fans. News about the players and teams spreads like wildfire on Twitter, minutes after it breaks. Researchers from Rice University, Houston noticed this trend, and wanted to see just how far they could take it – and it looks like Twitter might just put the folks in the sports commentator industry out of their jobs.
A research paper authored by Rice University’s Siqi Zhao and his colleagues examined Twitter reactions to 101 American football games in the 2010-2011 season. This amounted to about 19 million tweets from 3.5 million individuals. They then had to filter out the non-football related tweets, using hashtags (which were used in 11 percent of the tweets), team names (which were used in 60 percent of the football related tweets) and other indicators.
After gathering all of the relevant tweets from their raw data, the team wanted to discover when an event happened in any given game – a touchdown, field goal or fumble, for instance. Now, they couldn’t just assume that a touchdown occurred if a handful of Twitter users tweeted about it, as they could have been tweeting things like “I wish my team would score a touchdown!”. Instead, they had to use an algorithm that determined the frequency of specific keywords during a short window of time to indicate that the event had actually occurred.
This system was able to accurately indicate when an event happened in any of the 101 games the team examined – except, curiously, the Super Bowl itself. The researchers suggest that this is because of the sheer volume of tweets sent during that game.
Twitter, on average, took 17 seconds to react to an event in these games.
If this technology could be harnessed to actually report when an event occurs in a game like football, soccer or baseball, it could effectively replace – or at least augment – human-based sports commentators. Of course, if it did replace comentators, we’d lose those larger-than-life personalities, which might be the reason people tune in to certain sports broadcasts in the first place.