How Much Do We Talk About Soccer?: Data Mining For Answers

 In Research

In the process of any research project, large or small, it is important to ask questions about your topic. Who is talking about it already, what are they saying, and how much are they saying it? Ideally, you are looking for the holes, the blind spots, or just the points that need to be reworked. To get a better understanding I undertook an experiment just to see how often people are writing about soccer.

The premise here is very straight-forward. Use a variety of platforms, perform searches for terms and see how often these terms come up. These techniques produce rather large unwieldy numbers without much nuance, but they can provide a view from ten thousand feet so to speak.

The Set-Up

Beyond the term “soccer” I decided to use the terms “baseball” and “civil war” to create relationships. American football would have been an obvious choice, but the use of the term between two (actually more than two technically) sports would complicate the goal here and wouldn’t provide much insight. Baseball is a term free of ambiguity. As a non-sports term I decided to use “civil war” because I know it to be a popular research topic that is widely written about. Anecdotally, I’ve always believed it to be one of the most researched topics among historians. I’m sure one could make an argument for topics like World War II or broad time periods as well. The term “civil war” will provide the comparison we need though.

As for the databases employed for this inquiry, I am using JSTOR’s Data For Research, Amazon, Google, and Twitter. JSTOR’s DFR has changed since I used it as a graduate student. I’m assuming the new system probably works well for some researchers, but some of the features I preferred seem to be missing now. More on that later. If you aren’t familiar with JSTOR it is an online academic database that gives researchers access to thousands of archived research journals across a variety of disciplines. For Amazon and Google I did basic searches, for Amazon I made searches within the “book” category.  For Twitter I used a limited (read as “free”) analytics tool that gave me a read on the last two days. So in the case of JSTOR we are looking at over a hundred years of research and with Twitter just the past few days.

The Results


These results are what I expected, with a few surprises. First, I’m not surprised that soccer has such significantly few mentions in the academic journals of JSTOR. The term “football” is more widely used by academics in the States as well as those in Europe and other parts of the world. The comparatively massive number for the term “civil war” is also unsurprising. That’s why I chose it, plus without any identifiers like “American” or “U.S.,” this search term is going to capture all the mentions of any civil war.

I think where I was most surprised was in the Amazon search. I know baseball is a well researched topic, but had no idea that twice as many books are written about baseball as either soccer or the Civil War. I’ve always considered the Civil War to be a topic that received plenty of attention from publishers and readers. Does the close ratio of books about soccer and books about the Civil War mean that soccer is being written about a lot? I might have to add some more search terms here to really figure that out, three might not be enough.

The Google search numbers are interesting, especially in juxtaposition to the Amazon numbers. While there are twice as many books written about baseball, there are nearly twice as many internet mentions for soccer.

Searching the Twitter hashtags for #Soccer #Baseball and #CivilWar all produced nearly the same result. Interesting, since it is very much the offseason for baseball (and American domestic soccer for that matter). This suggests that if people are talking about soccer on Twitter over the past two days they are most likely either using #football or simply league, team, or specific game hashtags.

How much do we talk about soccer? If we are talking about academia, not very much it seems. If we are talking about the internet, soccer seems to be a well discussed and extremely hot topic. Maybe that’s the goal of this website in general, to find that sweet spot in the midst of these two conversations.

This has been fun. I enjoy these types of exercises if only because they get me thinking and always seem to lead to other lines of inquiry. What has been your experience with the level of discussion of soccer? Do you run into books on soccer at used bookstores? How often are people discussing games or the topic generally on your social media feeds? Do you think people discuss soccer more than baseball these days? 

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