"This is why we play": Characterizing Online Fan Communities of the NBA Teams

Jason Shuo Zhang, Chenhao Tan, and Qin Lv.
In Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW'2018).

Professional sports constitute an important part of people's modern life. People spend substantial amounts of time and money supporting their favorite players and teams, and sometimes even riot after games. However, how team performance affects fan behavior remains understudied at a large scale. As almost every notable professional team has its own online fan community, these communities provide great opportunities for investigating this research question. In this work, we provide the first large-scale characterization of online fan communities of professional sports teams.

Since user behavior in these online fan communities is inherently connected to game events and team performance, we construct a unique dataset that combines 1.5M posts and 43M comments in NBA-related communities on Reddit with statistics that document team performance in the NBA. We analyze the impact of team performance on fan behavior both at the game level and the season level. First, we study how team performance in a game relates to user activity during that game. We find that surprise plays an important role: the fans of the top teams are more active when their teams lose and so are the fans of the bottom teams in an unexpected win. Second, we study fan behavior over consecutive seasons and show that strong team performance is associated with fans of low loyalty, likely due to "bandwagon fans." Fans of the bottom teams tend to discuss their team's future such as young talents in the roster, which may help them stay optimistic during adversity. Our results not only contribute to understanding the interplay between online sports communities and offline context but also provide significant insights into sports management.


retention of top and bottom teams.

     author = {Jason Shuo Zhang and Chenhao Tan and Qin Lv},
     title = {``This is why we play'': Characterizing Online Fan Communities of the NBA Teams},
     year = {2018},
     booktitle = {Proceedings of CSCW}