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Still America's Team: An Analysis Of Twitter Behavior Before Cowboys-Redskins

Reuben Fischer-Baum and Chris Riederer

It was a good year to be a Redskins fan. Seven straight wins to close out the season. First playoff appearance since 2007. First NFC East title since 1999. A rookie running back who set the team record for rushing yards. And, of course, Black Jesus.

Given all the excitement they've generated, it's pretty easy to make the case that the Redskins were a sort of unofficial national team—the squad that otherwise neutral fans rooted for, like the Saints in 2009. And as luck would have it, Sunday's NFC East-clinching victory came against the Cowboys, America's Team™. Here was a chance to see if the Redskins had temporarily wrested the mantle from their rivals. So had they?


To test this, we recorded all tweets that contained the words "Redskins" or "Cowboys" in the seven hours leading up to kickoff between the two teams this Sunday (so the actual result of the game would have no impact). The program we ran snagged about 160,000 tweets, 3,600 of which had geolocation data and were tweeted from within the U.S.

Here's a map of 1,335 "Redskins" tweets:

And a map of 2,265 "Cowboys" tweets:


Right off the bat we can see that "Cowboys" was a significantly more common keyword than "Redskins," pulling about 70 percent more tweets.

Two caveats: First, some of the "Cowboys" tweets might be referring to a John Wayne movie or cattle herding or Oklahoma State sports, while (one hopes) everyone who uses the phrase "Redskins" is referring to the DC team. Second, this analysis isn't measuring sentiment. All 2,265 tweets could say "fuck the cowboys" but that doesn't change the fact that people just love talking about the team, in the same way that people love talking about the Yankees and Lakers without necessarily liking them.


Here's the density of the Redskins tweets, measured in tweets/square mile:


And here's the density of the Cowboys tweets:


Both fanbases were obviously excited about their teams, but it's interesting to note that a lot of people in the mid-Atlantic were tweeting about the Cowboys, while relatively few people in Texas were tweeting about the Redskins.

How about the rest of the country, though? By combining the two maps above, we're able to identify what parts of the U.S. were disproportionately tweeting about the Cowboys (blue), what parts were tweeting about the Redskins (red), and what parts were tweeting about each in equal measure (gray):


There you have it. While the Redskins dominated the mid-Atlantic, the Cowboys captured most of the South, Midwest, and Northeast, as well as California and New Mexico. The Redskins may have a fun, likable, and genuinely competitive team in the making, but for now it's still their rivals that everyone wants to talk about.

The Twitter record program used in this analysis was written by Chris Riederer, a computer science Ph.D candidate at Columbia University. If you're interesting in seeing more of Chris's projects, you can check them out here. If you'd like to offer Chris a high-paying tech job, you can find his contact info here.

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