Taste of Informatics

Know Rivalry: What makes rivals?

June 18, 2021 Informatics+, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University Season 1 Episode 4
Taste of Informatics
Know Rivalry: What makes rivals?
Show Notes Transcript

Sports rivalries are an important and fun part of being a fan. Whether it's the Bengals v. Steelers, Reds v. Cardinals, or FC Cincinnati v. Columbus Crew, the recipe for rivalry has consistent ingredients, but also some unique qualities.

NKU Professors Joe Cobbs and Marius Truta discuss their work studying sports rivalries, and how NKU students are assisting them with data capture, cleaning and analysis in support of this important international study that focuses on the question: What makes a rival a rival?

Share your opinions on your favorite team's rivals,  and learn more about their study at KnowRivalry.com.

Mike Nitardy:

Welcome back to the Informatics Cafe. Hi, I'm Mike Nitardy, and I'm pleased and proud to be your host today, as we welcome into the Informatics Cafe. Professor Joe Cobbs. He's professor of the sports business in the Haile/US Bank College of Business here at NKU. And along with him is Professor Marius Truta. He's Professor of Computer Science in the Associate Chair of the Department of Computer Science here at NKU. And we're so excited to have them here, because we're going to be talking about a website that they run called KnowRivalry.com. And this is going to be a fantastic conversation. I'm so excited to have both of you gentlemen, here. Thank you for being here.

Marius Truta:

Thank you.

Joe Cobbs:

Yeah, thanks for having us.

Mike Nitardy:

So I guess we'll just start off right from the very beginning, tell us what Know Rivalry is.

Joe Cobbs:

Sure. So I started Know Rivalry, or cofounded it, with my partner on the project at the time, David Tyler, who's a professor at the University of Massachusetts, and, and he's still very much involved, the two of us sort of, sort of run it. And we've had the fortune to bring Marius in on it, as well as Seth Adjei also in computer science, a faculty member and a lot of students. And the project started back when I was getting a PhD at the University of Massachusetts. And we started to look at the research that existed around rivalry, like the academic research, and surprisingly, even though it's, you know, widely talked about in the media, and fans love to debate it.

Mike Nitardy:

Yes.

Joe Cobbs:

But there was not very much research around it. And so David, and I started to, to think about, you know, how we might develop a research stream, and that turned into Know Rivalry. And that's k-n-o-w rivalry. And the project website is knowrivalry.com, where we put up results, and engage with fans and the media and other researchers as well. What's amazing is that this is some academic research into rivalries is was there a way that is specifically started out at specific sports specific areas? Yeah, we started with college football, I had previous to being a professor, I had worked in intercollegiate athletics, at Miami, University of Ohio, and then also at Ohio State. And so that was kind of my industry background. And as part of that, you know, promoting rivalries was part of my job, and also determining maybe, who we could promote as a rivalry and who maybe that would be kind of inauthentic, if you will. And so I was kind of making that judgment, as a professional as a marketing professional. And so that just kind of carried over once I transitioned full time and academia and to being a professor, and I started to think, okay, you know, what kind of data would we need to gather and how we go about doing that? If we wanted to dig into, you know, what, what is rivalry?

Mike Nitardy:

Exactly.

Joe Cobbs:

And what contributes to it.

Mike Nitardy:

So can you define help us out with what would a rivalry be?

Joe Cobbs:

Sure. I mean, we have an academic definition...

Mike Nitardy:

Sure, yeah.

Joe Cobbs:

...but usually I refer to kind of a common definition of, it's the opponent that sticks out more than the other opponents. So in the case of competition, you know, this is all kind of contextualized in sporting competition in this case. But we do expand beyond sports a little bit. And I think we'll get into that more in the future. But when that schedule comes out for your favorite team, and it's released, and you look at it, there are certain games that matter more to you than other games, and that is essentially, the rival. From an academic side, it get we get into the social psychology of it in terms of in groups and out groups, there was a fan you're in group is that team that you're affiliated with, it's part of your identity...

Mike Nitardy:

Right

Joe Cobbs:

...and it becomes part of your identity.

Mike Nitardy:

Right.

Joe Cobbs:

And at the same time in sports, once a team becomes part of your identity, the opponents become out groups to you because they're in opposition to you. And so it's that in group/out group kind of tension, and that's higher between certain groups compared to other groups.

Mike Nitardy:

This is this is completely fascinating. And I think that there are so many potential applications here. Obviously, not just for for sports, when you get into the psychology of it all. And, Marius, we're going to talk to you here in a second about the computer science aspect and what we're doing here at NKU. And how we're blending together the obviously the sports business aspect, the computer science aspect, I know that there's a psychological aspect, but but I guess my question is, is that why do you think studying rivalry is important in and of itself?

Joe Cobbs:

Yeah, that's a great question and one that we get a lot. As you can imagine, I think it's important, beyond just intellectual curiosity because it's so prominent in our society that we should know more about it. But beyond that, from a more practical standpoint, a lot of business decisions are made based in rivalry. So sticking to the sports context, when you look at scheduling and league scheduling, the perceptions of who rivals are can play a big role and how those games are scheduled and what games appear at what time and on what channel, you know, like the NFL schedule recently came out. And you look at the Monday night games or the Thursday night games and see a lot of correlation to the rivalries that we've identified in some of our research. MLS provides great example they have a whole rivalry week...

Mike Nitardy:

Yes

Joe Cobbs:

...that Heineken sponsors and so getting to the business side of it, that is another aspect when you can package rivalries and do it in an authentic way, which was difficult for MLS early and when they first started rivalry week, there was some tension between the fans because the fans thought that some of the matchups they chose were .. Manufactured? [laughter] Exactly. They weren't authentic rivalries they were manufactured. And so yeah, so getting back to your question, you know, understanding rivalry is important if you're going to promote rivalry, because the fans will see right through it, if you're trying to manufacture them.

Mike Nitardy:

Definitely.

Joe Cobbs:

But once you can promote it authentically, it becomes a sponsorship inventory item, you can sell that to a sponsor, right, and you can raise, raise your revenue streams.

Mike Nitardy:

Wow. And this is this is amazing, because this just works in I think, in so many different ways with really the information and data-driven economy that we're that we're looking at right here. And so it makes sense to me. And it should be making sense to these advertisers and the businesses to sell the fans what they want. And they want the marquee matchups between the teams that that really don't like each other.

Joe Cobbs:

But yeah, and if I if ...

Mike Nitardy:

Please, go ahead.

Joe Cobbs:

...I can interrupt you for a second, I think it's also important to understand kind of the broader implication of what we're doing. It's not all about kind of making money in sports, although that's my area. But I like to think that there's that there's certainly broader implications here in

Mike Nitardy:

Definitely. terms of like the polarization that we've seen in our political

Joe Cobbs:

...you know, and understanding some of the, you environment... know, certainly there's political scientists that study that, you know, specifically and in more detail, you know, we're studying in group out/group conflict in sports. But I think a lot of if you look at our research, a lot of what comes up can also provide some insights to that area. And we take some of what those political scientists have done, and apply it in sports as well.

Mike Nitardy:

See that's, it's another thing that you bring out. And I said before we went on the air that we could do this all day and talk about this all day, because this, because I've often wondered, and maybe you guys have already looked into this and or maybe you will, is that which groups in groups or out groups are more, uh, are the strongest? Because I've also often wondered if I'm, you know, screaming at a game with the fans sitting right beside me, and we're in the in group, this is our in group for this one specific team. But it turns out that politically, we're completely apart, you know, will that destroy the in group of being a sports fan? You know, and so I don't know if that makes any sense to what I'm what I'm saying to you here. Are there certain affiliations that are stronger are sports affiliation stronger than political affiliations? And if so, is that a way maybe to bring us back together as a society after such political tumult?

Joe Cobbs:

Yeah, I think, and that gets into some of the idea of identification and these different sort of facets of identification and what is active in a certain context, right. So in that example, you just described, like, if you're at a game, or you're watching a game, your sports fan identification is activated, mentally. But as soon as the conversation turns to politics, or if you're at, you know, a rally or something like that, then your political identification is activated. Right. And so one of the things that I think is important for us to understand is, you know, how do we activate sort of more, sociologically healthy identifications, and sometimes that can be thinking about the superordinate identification, and by that, I mean, like, let's just keep it in sports for a minute. I know in some sports context, there's violence that comes along with rivalries and ...perceptions of rivalries. Fortunately, not as ...

Mike Nitardy:

Right. much in the United States. But we've recently started collecting data internationally. And in some other contexts, where there's politics behind the sports teams, and religion as well. And so by understanding this idea, hopefully an appeal to sort of the super ordinate identification so for example, instead of saying that we're maybe fans of a certain club in MLS so here locally, it might be FC Cincinnati, you know, to get fans to think about well, we're all fans of MLS. Right.

Joe Cobbs:

You know, it's not fans of the Columbus Crew and fans of FC Cincinnati. We're all fans of MLS and we all care about professional soccer in the United States, or even more super ordinate, hey we're all soccer fans, we all appreciate this beautiful game. And so thinking about that, and thinking through the implications of how you kind of go about that is really important, I think, for sport managers and responsible kind of sports marketing.

Mike Nitardy:

So let's talk a little bit then about the data and how you've collected it and what you're looking for. Can we do that? So what exactly if I go to, and I have been to your website, but if I wanted to get involved and start plugging in my numbers, what would I do?

Joe Cobbs:

Yeah, so if you go to the website, knowrivalry.com. And you'll see right sort of front and center on the main page is a button for take the survey. And I would recommend that anybody that goes to the website takes the survey first, before they start looking at the data, because as a researcher, I don't want them to be... ...biased by what other fans have already said.

Mike Nitardy:

[laughter] And so I always encourage that first. And if they take the survey, it is a rather lengthy survey, you know, it takes a good five to 10 minutes, you know, I think the average is about eight minutes or so to go through the survey. The survey will ask you first of all, "What league do you want to take it for?" So you can take it for like Major League Baseball, or you can take it for like English Premier League Soccer now or, there's, we have a whole bunc of leagues on there now. And ithin the survey, it'll ask you hat's your favorite team. An then once you identify who your favorite team is, say you say he Cincinnati Reds, it'll as you to allocate 100 points, ivalry points over the Cincinna i Reds opponents. So you can Right. llocate all 100 points to a sin le opponent. Or you can divide t ose points up and allocate them across several differen opponents, depending on how y u as a fan view the rivals of the Cincinnati Reds. And so th t's sort of the baseline f what you see on the website. n terms of data. The survey it elf has a lot more questions about sort of discrimin tion toward rival fans, prejudic toward rival fans, the idea of chadenfreude, which is German wo d for "joy in other people's mis ortune." So there's some questi ns about that. And that's a lo of what we publish academicall about is our findings in those areas, more so than kind o that 100 point measure. Bu the 100 point measure is ort of once you kind of understa d and take the survey, it' fun then to go on the website and look at Okay, what did ot er Reds fans say?

Joe Cobbs:

What did the Cardinals fans say about us? What did the Pittsburgh Pirates fans say about us?

Mike Nitardy:

Right, right.

Joe Cobbs:

And then, well, an important part in that process is kind of cleaning the data...

Mike Nitardy:

Exactly.

Joe Cobbs:

...and getting it to the point where we can put it up on the website. And that's where involving the computer science faculty and students has been really helpful.

Mike Nitardy:

Yeah, let's talk about that, Marius.

Marius Truta:

Sure. I would just say that you are very optimistic that the survey takes only eight minutes.

Mike Nitardy, Joe Cobbs:

[laughter]

Marius Truta:

I think it takes longer than that.

Joe Cobbs:

That's what the data says.

Mike Nitardy, Joe Cobbs:

[laughter]

Marius Truta:

Well, you know, I mean, the way the survey is, is definitely some people at some point may just came through the survey, and they may just complete it faster without going to the to the survey until the end. So maybe considering that is true. But if someone really looks at all the questions in details, I will say 10 minutes would be bare minimum, but closer to 15-20 minutes. Now, the reason why I know this is because I work a lot with computer science students in cleaning the data from the survey. And when we look at this data, we realize that while the beginning of the survey, usually it's very clean data from the beginning so people pay more attention towards the end, some of the fans obviously will just skim through the survey, just click on agree or disagree on all the answers. And we look at how much time they spend on on those questions. And if the time is way lower than the amount of time needed to read a question, we realize that those answers are incorrect. So we have to discard them. So we are doing this. So the data that is right now on the website, is clean. So we discard answers we believe are incorrect because people didn't read them in detail. In addition to that there are other reasons why the data may be incorrect. For instance, if someone entered as the rival her or his own team...

Mike Nitardy:

Right.

Marius Truta:

..like Detroit Pistons is the favorite team and the Detroit Pistons is the rival team, then obviously something is wrong. So we have to discard that particular answer. And there are many other situations like that. What I will say that in this particular part, we were very fortunate that we could work with many computer science students, and we were held by the Informatics+ grant to support the students financially. And it was a very, very nice group to work with. We had actually I just realized before coming to this podcast that we worked already with seven students during this past year, and it was the most diverse computer science group of students I've ever worked with. And that was just, I will say coincidence that we didn't even realize that but we have an African-American, we had two female students, we had a school-based scholar, which is a high school student in our group.

Mike Nitardy:

Fantastic.

Marius Truta:

And one freshmen student and three international students.

Mike Nitardy:

Wow.

Marius Truta:

Yes.

Mike Nitardy:

That is great.

Marius Truta:

So that was something, I must say very specific to this project, we showed that sports is something that unites people of different...

Mike Nitardy:

Definitely

Marius Truta:

...different groups.

Mike Nitardy:

Definitely. And we were kind of getting into the the cleaning aspect. But are there other ways in which data science plays into assimilating the answers? And then, you know, kind of taking that and explaining people's behavior? How does that all work?

Marius Truta:

So first of all, in addition to just getting the

Joe Cobbs:

Yeah, I think were it really, you know, the data, the data needs to be in a database. And for that, actually, our partner, David Tyler from University of Massachusetts, he was the one that started working with Neo J. And currently, this is the atabase management system hat supports all the data. A d it allows us an easier way to query the data to get whatever e want from from the system. B t in terms of analyzing the data, it's something tha actually we didn't do in omputer science students and e didn't do it that much, you and David did a lot more. And in publishing the results fro from this data and und rstanding the data aspects of t, that is something that is we till have to do a lot more in he future. I will say, Informatics+ grant really helped connect us, Marius and I and then Seth as well, and then and then the students, I have some students that work for me work on the project in the College of Business as well but what they really brought to the table was, we had had a mechanism for cleaning the data in the past, that used Excel and was more labor intensive than what he was able to develop and what they were able to develop and computer science. So they were able to automate it, they were able to kind of to make it a more smooth process to make it more I'm sure it's more accurate, you know, than then our cleaning process was before. And so that's why it was kind of funny when I was saying eight, you know, eight minutes is because I'm thinking of everybody who takes the survey. And so you've got people that are actually eliminated on the bottom end, because, you know, they're only in that survey for a minute. And so they're bringing that average down. But when you look at the clean data, yeah, it's gonna be longer, right?

Mike Nitardy:

Right.

Joe Cobbs:

Because we know that it takes a minimal amount of time to read every question and respond to it.

Marius Truta:

And you know, we use, I mean, in addition to Neo4J which I just mentioned, we use Python to clean data. So students are proficient in Python and in data and data i , in order to collect the d ta, we use Qualtrics. So the d ta is collected via Qualtrics s rvey system, then the data is p lled from Qualtrics and then we have Python, we modify it, an then we enter it in Neo4J an then once the data is in Ne 4J, then it can be queried us ng Cypher query language.

Mike Nitardy:

Okay.

Marius Truta:

And you can get whatever information you want from this data, in addition to that the data from Neo4J is also used at least part of the data is also used for the website where everybody can see the current rivalries.

Joe Cobbs:

So when you go to the website, and you click on something, it queries the database in Neo4J to pull up sort of the results then that you see.

Mike Nitardy:

Very good, very good. So I have like I said, we're gonna have to do a follow up podcast on this because this is ... there's so many, I think, potential questions and also permutations of this where you can take it, I think that you're really onto something here. And everybody that's listening to the, to the podcast, obviously needs to go to the website and needs to take the survey. And you can take it for as many sports leagues as you want, or are you limited?

Joe Cobbs:

No, you can take it for as many that you're a fan of, you know, and so if you've got, you know, a favorite team and three different leagues, even if they're in different countries, you can take it. We don't have a translated survey yet so they're all still in English. But we have surveys for Indian cricket, and we have surveys for like I said, English Premier League Soccer, we have rugby surveys...

Mike Nitardy:

So I'm gonna have to take one. I feel that I'm I'm kind of I'm a fan I have been since 2009. My team plays a big game tomorrow. I'm a Chelsea fan. I have been since 2009. I got to throw that in there it's not... But Chelsea really doesn't have a major rival. You know, and being a fan of theirs for several years since 2009 I got into it because of my brother they've they've got some London rivals you know in Arsenal and Tottenham and I guess they always call it a derby whenever you're playing somebody that's that's, you know, supposed to be a rival. It's another way to potentially manufacture I guess something you know...

Joe Cobbs:

We're playing Fulham, that's the Fulham-London Derby.

Mike Nitardy:

[laughter] No, it's not. Yeah, there you go. Yeah, exactly right. I mean, so...

Marius Truta:

Or West Brom.

Mike Nitardy:

But when you look at the EPL you've got Man U - Liverpool you know, and you've got Man City now and Man U because they're both in the same city. You've got Everton - Liverpool because they're both you know, Liverpoolians or whatever you want to.. I'm gonna mess this up, I know. But Chelsea because they they kind have become more popular as of late they don't have that historic rivalry like Arsenal-Tottenham, within London, you know. And so I'm gonna go in there, and I'm gonna fill it out, and we're gonna see what we get, you know, maybe I'll contribute to some kind of...

Joe Cobbs:

Oh, yeah, I mean, we're, I think we, we just started collecting Premier League data, maybe a month or a month and a half ago. And I think we have over 1600 respondents so far.

Mike Nitardy:

That's awesome.

Joe Cobbs:

You know, and obviously we want, you know, as many as we can get, because we try and collect data from every single club. And we also have surveys for the lower leagues n English soccer. I think we g all the way down to League wo.

Marius Truta:

I mean, talking about Chelsea, I was always thinking, what is the impact of Pulisic playing at Chelsea having for American fans? Because I, when I heard that I was thinking, Oh, this is a team I should follow more.

Mike Nitardy:

Exactly. Well, and you know, and the cynic in me thought that was part of the reason they signed him. But he's, but he's been, you know, he's been great. That's exactly right. I have a lot of friends that are fans for other teams that have told me specifically, they're rooting for Chelsea because Pulisic being there. So oh, well, big game tomorrow. And I know that I've just dated this podcast, so my apologies.

all:

[laughter]

Mike Nitardy:

So where do you have some interesting findings to date, that that you can share with us some things that, you know, our listeners should know, in the in the time that we have left?

Joe Cobbs:

I think I'll just mention two things kind of briefly. One of the things that I think people tend to find most interesting is and these are listed on the website on the main page if you scroll down but we've discerned sort of 10 elements that contribute to that perception of rivalry. So just to give you an example of what those might be, one of the ones that always comes out as being the most important is the consistency of competition, you know, so, so how often do you see that opponent in competition, right? Another one that is usually pretty important, although it varies by sport and league is the spacial proximity. You know, you mentioned the London derbies, right? So you've got all of these clubs in London, that are not that far from each other, and some of them closer than others, right in terms of their home grounds or home pitch. But that's another one of those elements. And so there's these 10 elements that show up over and over. Now what I think is most interesting is not just kind of that we've sort of discerned the 10 elements across a wide range of rivalries, but every rivalry has kind of a different mix of the elements. So it's almost like a recipe right? And these are the ingredients these are the 10 ingredients. But you know what contributes to one rivalry, like Arsenal-Tottenham, that recipe is a little bit different than like you said, Man U and Liverpool.

Mike Nitardy:

Right.

Joe Cobbs:

Man U and Man City. Right. The recipes a little bit different you now. And so I think that that is is pretty interesting to see how we call them sort of rivalries, or derbies. But, but they're all a little bit different from each other, you know, but yet those 10 elements, some mix of them seems to be pretty consistent across, you know, the hundreds of rivalries that we studied. The other thing that I mentioned is kind of this idea of unbalance, right where one team or one teams fans see a certain other opponent as "oh, that's our big rival." But that team doesn't reciprocate...that team's fans doesn't reciprocate. And that's, it's really relevant to us here in Cincinnati because both the Reds and the Bengals, we have lists of the most unbalanced rivalries. And Bengals-Steelers is on that list. It's number two in the NFL, and then Reds-Cardinals is also on that list, I think at number six in Major League Baseball, because our opponents when I say "our" I'm showing my own identification...

Mike Nitardy:

I'm with you.

Joe Cobbs:

...here in Cincinnati, you know, they don't reciprocate those rivalries as much.

Mike Nitardy:

See I was about to say "reciprocate" is the big word, right? It's that it's almost it's an unrequited hate or an unrequited love notes. In some ways, it probably makes it even more infuriating.

Joe Cobbs:

Yeah, and that's part of what we use to study. You know, like, that's kind of the ongoing, you know, we've kind of discerned where those imbalances exist quite a bit. And we're just now kind of getting into you know, what are the implications of that sort of, we call it like the big brother little brother.

Mike Nitardy:

Yes, no, that is so good. So, where's this going? Where do you want to take it next?

Joe Cobbs:

Yeah, I think you know, we did a thanks to a lot of students help in terms of data collection you know, we did a big data collection starting in college football. We've done a couple rounds in college football, we did a round 2013. We did another round around 2016 of data collection. We did the major professional sports in the US 2018 and we just are doing another round right now. But as I said, we're expanding internationally. And, and I think what we want to see is, is the findings that we found in North America, you know, how do those apply worldwide because once you get into some specifically soccer, but not only soccer, or football, if you want to call it football rivalries, you get much more cultural elements in there. By that I mean, religion, politics, immigration status can be a big one as well tied to certain clubs. And so, to study those rivalries, I think we're going to get some unique sort of formulas of that recipe, within the rivalry. And, and so we want to, we want to do that. And then another element that we want to get into is kind of the individual sports, you know, where we're not talking about necessarily sort of pride in place, which tends to be a big aspect of sports, identification with teams is that they represent a place and individuals do also to a certain extent, individual athletes, but I think, you know, looking at some of the tennis rivalries, I know Marius is a big tennis fan, and I am as well and Formula One is a great, I'm a big Formula One fan and do some research there as well. But looking at some of those rivalries, I think that we'll also find some other interesting aspects that we don't necessarily, or I should say that are unique, very apparent team sport. Sure. Our pleasure.

Mike Nitardy:

Very cool. Well, I want to thank you both so much

Marius Truta:

Thank you very much. for joining us in the the cafe today. It has been my pleasure

Mike Nitardy:

Informatics Cafe is a production of Informatics+, to speak with both of you and I look forward to the next opportunity for us to meet back in the cafe and continue this conversation. I know that our listeners are going to absolutely love it. And hopefully the listeners are oing to go and increase the f ndings even more. I know that I m going to and want to stay tu ed and learn more about it. And o thank you both for being here today. the outreach arm of Northern Kentucky University's College of Informatics. Hosted by Mike Nitardy, produced by Chris Brewer, music and engineering by Aaron Zlatkin. Recorded at the Informatics Audio Studio in Griffin Hall.