December 27, 2012

The Bluegrass Basketball Battle

In Kentucky, basketball means everything -- especially college basketball, and especially the intrastate rivalry between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals, one of the greatest in all of college sports. Growing up in Louisville, one can't help but choose sides and develop one's debating skills, arguing with classmates, family and friends over whether Patrick Sparks traveled in 2004 or whether Rick Pitino is the modern-day basketball equivalent of Benedict Arnold. But given our connections to the University of Kentucky (and Taylor's fandom), the upcoming game and the tools at our disposal, we thought it might be time to wade in on the age-old debate between the two sides.

A recent public opinion poll of Kentucky by Public Policy Polling piqued our interest, as it found that Kentucky fans outnumber Louisville fans in the state by an overwhelming 66% to 17% margin. But how do the two fanbases stack up on Twitter?

We took to DOLLY to collect references to the two general-purpose hashtags used by fans of each team and promoted by the respective athletics departments -- #BBN (for Big Blue Nation) and #L1C4 (for Louisville First, Cards Forever) -- in geotagged tweets created between June 21, 2012 and December 20, 2012, in order to measure the both the absolute numbers and geographic distribution of UK and UL fans at the national, statewide and local scales as reflected by Twitter.

Number of Tweets referencing #BBN or #L1C4
According to the aforementioned poll's 66-to-17 margin, there are ~3.9x more UK fans than UL fans in Kentucky. This finding is mirrored almost exactly by our measures of tweeting, where the 6,371 geotagged references to #BBN in the state are also 3.9x greater than the 1,628 references to #L1C4. And while the number of tweets for each team are essentially equal within the city of Louisville, UK fandom becomes even more dominant once one moves outside of the Commonwealth, with there being over 10.5x more #BBN tweets than #L1C4 tweets in the US outside of Kentucky, for a total of 4.9x more UK tweets than UL tweets nationwide. So not only does UK hold an ever-so-slight advantage within Louisville's homebase, it shows increasing popularity as one moves to the larger scales of the state and nation.

#BBN vs. #L1C4 Nationwide
But when we visualize these tweets, we get a better idea for just how geographically concentrated these patterns of fandom are. For instance, 599 of the 3,141 US counties had references to either #BBN or #L1C4. But of these, only 35 counties had a greater number of references to #L1C4, with Butler County, KY holding the dubious honor of being the only county in the Commonwealth with more references to #L1C4. Of the remaining counties, 554 had more references to #BBN, and only 10 counties in the country had an equal number of tweets referencing #BBN and #L1C4.

#BBN and #L1C4 in the Commonwealth of Kentucky
Also interesting is that no county in the US apart from Jefferson County, KY (Louisville and Jefferson County have a merged government, and so are coterminous) has more than 100 tweets with references to #L1C4, highlighting the essentially limited spatial distribution of UL fans. And though Jefferson County does have a few more UK tweets than UL tweets, one doesn't have to go far to find the county with the largest margin of UL-related tweets over UK-related tweets; right across the river from Louisville in Clark County, Indiana there are 20 more #L1C4 than #BBN tweets.

Meanwhile, Kentucky holds a decisive advantage in its hometown of Lexington-Fayette County, with 1,588 more #BBN tweets than #L1C4 tweets. But the county with the second-highest margin favoring UK is all the way south in Broward County, Florida (Ft. Lauderdale) with a +299 margin favoring UK.

#BBN vs. #L1C4 in Louisville
Within Louisville, the absolute number of tweets are almost equal, as mentioned previously; but, interestingly enough, the geographies of UK and UL tweeting are quite different. The clustering of #L1C4 tweets tends to be around the UL campus and downtown areas, while UK tweeting tends to be more spatially distributed, with many tweets coming from more suburban, residential areas in the city. So while the vast majority of UL tweets across the country are located in Louisville, a still significant number come from within just a handful of square miles surrounding the UL campus in downtown Louisville, perhaps indicating the limited appeal of a team that's lost four-straight games to the defending-champion Wildcats.

#L1C4? More like #L1C4.9xLessPopularThanUK.

UPDATE: See today's article over at, "The Commonwealth's great divide", which discusses some of the same geographic dimensions of UK and UL fandom we are showing here. It includes this interesting passage:
In 2005, the Courier-Journal polled fans on their sports loyalties and 53.7 percent within the city counted themselves as UL fans compared to just 33 percent who identified themselves as Cats fans. And according to the two schools' alumni associations, Louisville understandably has a far greater base in Jefferson County (54,872 living alumni) than Lexington (16,112). 

But here's the catch: There are just 22,160 living Louisville alumni in the rest of the state and other than Fayette County (where Lexington sits), none of Kentucky's 120 counties boasts more UK grads than Jefferson.
While we weren't aware of these figures at the time of our initial post, they not only tend to confirm some of our findings, but indeed only lend even more credence to our assertion that UK fans seem to be more voracious tweeters than their UL counterparts, as the roughly 50-50 split in tweeting in Louisville is significantly askew from the 54-33 numbers from the Courier-Journal's 2005 survey.


  1. I applaud you for so thoroughly pointing out the the UK fanbase is so overwhelmingly superior nearly everywhere other than Louisville.

    But you do a disservice to your readers by leading off with "In Kentucky, basketball means everything --...especially the intrastate rivalry between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals, one of the greatest in all of college sports."

    The rivalry is only great, indeed only significant, in the minds of Louisville fans. Nearly every other person in Kentucky, indeed in the nation, is much more concerned about the rivalry between Kentucky and Indiana or Kentucky and Georgia.

    This shows the bizarre cognitive disconnect in most Louisvilians who simultaneously show hubris at being the state's largest city while acting as if they are not even located in Kentucky, but rather in some vapor-state known as "Kentuckiana".

    News for you Louisvillians:

    1. The rest of the state barely knows you exist.
    2. You are the only large Southern city that is considerably LESS sophisticated than the rest of the state.

    1. All of your comments about Louisville aside, when did Kentucky/Georgia become a rivalry in any sport?

    2. Fair enough. Replace "Georgia" with "anybody else"

  2. Wow, who knew there was such a contingent of Kentucky fandom in the Worcester, Mass area?


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