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Basketballs and Footballs are in the Air, But Are People Watching?

Jess Barfield

Football is back and one of America’s favorite pastimes and the Lakers and Miami Heat are playing for the NBA championship,  but in the current time of protests for social justice and in the backdrop of COVID-19 are people watching? A few years ago, on any Sunday, Thursday, or Monday during the National Football League’s (NFL) season, millions of viewers watched part or all of an NFL game. But recently there has been a declining viewership in professional football and basketball. While the NFL has attributed the decreased viewership to the current presidential race, for example, 73.1 million are reported to have watched the first Trump-Biden debate, some think current protests have caused viewers to tune out. Similarly, the NBA shortened season experienced a 20% rating drop in viewership compared to last season.

Sentiment towards the pressing issue of social justice and the involvement of professional athletes provides the perfect opportunity to apply the software tools from the Adam Brown Social Media Command Center on the UTK campus to learn more about the issue. Using the tools, we first see a 60% positive sentiment of the NFL from tweets from the last 7 days; however, 40% negative seems rather large for one of America’s favorite pastimes. Interestingly, the word cloud generated using the term NFL focuses on COVID-19 rather than protests among athletes. And we know that the virus has resulted in game cancellations and that players have tested positive for Covid-19.

So, to conclude, the media tools paint a complex picture of how people view professional sports in current times, and clearly more is needed to better understand how current events are shaping our view of sports and its role in society, that’s where the tools provided by the Adam Brown Social Media Command Center come into play.