Sport Media Patterns in the UK during Coronavirus Pandemic

In a previous post I have presented the publication patterns in the sport section of four different media outlets in the UK: The Independent, The Guardian, Daily Mail, and Daily Mirror. What called my attention was the fact that football featured between 58-78% of all sport news – so 1/2 and 4/5 of every publication was on football.

But in the current COVID-19 pandemic with the main football leagues in the UK and Europe suspended, I wondered if that pattern continued the same or changed. Are sport journalists still paying large attention to football even without any professional competitions?

Using the same four outlets and adding BBC, I have automatically collected all sport news since the suspension of the The FA, Premier League, EFL, Barclays FA Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship on the 23rd March 2020. Between the five media outlets there were 3,694 sport news items during the 23/03-29/03 period. Similar to my previous post I have applied a machine learning algorithm (Deep Learning) using RapidMiner to automatically classify all items in their respective sport. To do so I have trained the model – where I have manually classified the news – with only 700 items and achieved an accuracy of 85%.

So what have I encountered? Surprisingly – or not – the five media outlets continued on their same pre-Coronavirus pandemic patterns. Putting them all together we can see that football continues to reign supreme with almost 70% of all publications. Unsurprisingly we have the Olympic Games in the second position, not only due to the fact it was postponed to 2021 but in an Olympic year it was expected to feature heavily on the sport sections of all news outlets.

Breaking down into the different media outlets we can see how the patterns I have described in the previous post continued pretty the same. Football having around 70% of the total coverage in the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, around 50% in the BBC and The Guardian, but surprisingly dropping to 56% in The Independent – might be do to the fact that Olympic Games gained interest.

Another interesting finding was that animal racing – and here I am talking about horse racing – featured in the top of three media outlets (Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, and The Guardian). Most likely this was due to the fact that Cheltenham Festival took place just the week before, and that the decision to cancel the Grand National happened during this period. Also interesting was that American Sports – especially the NFL (American Football) – had good coverage in The Guardian even when the league is not having any games.

Maybe trade and signing rumours are good news when there are no live sport to cover. And my guess is that this pattern – focusing on gossip and rumours – also happens when football leagues are in their breaks during summer. At least this was true for the Facebook groups I followed during my PhD.

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