Michael Dalder - Reuters

Saturday marked the traditional end of the football season(soccer for our American readers) in Europe with the annual Champions League Final played this year in Berlin. Although not quite on the same scale as the World Cup Final, the Champions League is very much an international event with hundreds of millions of football fans tuning in each year from every corner of the globe.

This year’s edition featured two traditional powerhouses of the global game, Juventus and Barcelona. With both teams chock full of world renowned stars like Leo Messi and Neymar for Barcelona and Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba for Juventus, it promised to be quite an occasion.

Having seen the massive levels of social media activity that took place during the World Cup, we decided to use Talkwalker’s social media analytics to understand exactly what happened before, during and after the game on social networks and beyond.

We analyzed over 20 million online posts in over 187 countries tracking more than 10 different written scripts (including the Roman Alphabet, Russian, Greek, Chinese (traditional, simplified), Korean, Arabic, Hindi, Persian and Thai) to create a truly global social story of the Champions League Final and understand exactly what happens on social and online media during major global sporting events.

The Build Up

The build up to the big game was happening throughout the week with the main Champions League Final hashtag – #UCLfinal – being used over 1 million times between June 1 – June 6, before a ball had even been kicked. And the buzz wasn’t just in Europe where the final was being played, with the biggest volume of usage actually coming from North America:

#uclfinal by cont final

(Usage of #UCLfinal by continent between June 1 and June 6)

Fans also weighed in with their predictions of who would win the match using the hashtags #barcatowin and #juvetowin with Barcelona coming out on top:

#baracejuve to win final

First Half – A Social Media Red Card for Arturo Vidal

The game started with a bang as Barcelona scored after just 4 minutes and social media exploded with over 200,000 tweets posted in two minutes after Barca’s Ivan Rakitic scored the opening goal of the final. That’s just under 1700 tweets per second.

However for the rest of the half, social conversation was (relatively) muted and despite Barcelona scoring the only goal of the half, the most mentioned player of the first half was actually Juventus’ Arturo Vidal.

vidal graphic

As the theme cloud above shows, the reason for all this discussion about Vidal was not about anything good that Vidal did on the pitch but rather about his aggression, with posts commenting on the yellow card he received and his subsequent rash tackling. The most shared tweet about Vidal in the first half was from Bleacher Report UK and it summed up the tone of the discussion pretty well:

vidal tweet bleacher

Second Half: The Xavi Love-In and the Rise of Neymar

With the second half featuring 3 goals – with one coming in the final minutes – the level of social conversation was much higher with around 2.5 million posts in the second half compared to around 1.7 million posts during the first half. Naturally the main spikes in online mentions occured around the three goals and the end of the game, but there were other events that caught the attention of the social public.

second half spike analysis

One was a disallowed goal for Neymar and the other big event was the appearance of Xavi, the veteran Barcelona midfielder who was making his final appearance for the Catalan giants. Zooming into the conversation we can see that the feeling towards Xavi was overwhelmingly positive:

xavi graphic

Even the word “hate” which appears relatively frequently in the results was actually linked to people saying “you can’t hate Xavi” rather than fans expressing dislike for the Barcelona legend.

As the game drew to a close, online mentions reached their highest volume with the match ending with a goal from Barcelona’s Brazilian sensation Neymar which produced 330k posts in 2 minutes or around 2750 posts per second.

Post-Match Round Up

With so much social media activity going on around the Champions League Final – there were 5.4 million tweets (2.7m unique tweets i.e. excluding retweets) during the match – it’s hard to single out the most important metrics but let’s look at the players first, as it is after all the players that are at the heart of the game.

Barcelona and Juventus Players: The Most Discussed Worldwide

player sov cl final

The above graph shows the share of voice for the top Juventus and Barcelona players during the match.

What we see here is that although Neymar was the most discussed player overall, the conversation varied considerably depending on where you were. For Europe, North America and Oceania it was Luis Suarez and his pivotal second goal for Barcelona that drove the most discussion, while in South America and Asia the focus was on Neymar and the final goal of the game. But one thing that was the same for every region was that the three most mentioned players were Barcelona’s fearsome attacking trio of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

Juventus vs Barcelona: Who Won on Social Media?

Barcelona came out on top on the pitch and they came out on top in online mentions too, with around two thirds of the share of voice compared to Juventus. They also had much greater reach and engaged audiences more effectively than their Italian opponents:

barca juve reach and engagement

Barca dominated the owned social media conversation as well, with the official FC Barcelona Twitter channel driving around 4 times as much activity as Juventus’ official channel. Even Barcelona’s players, particularly Neymar, used social to good effect with this tweet featuring Luis Suarez, Neymar and Messi posing with the Champions league trophy the most shared tweet of the night:

neymar tweet final

A Truly Global Conversation

For both teams the social conversation was truly global with the highest volumes of social discussion coming from countries on four different continents:

most discussed countries

The languages used to discuss the game were also varied with Spanish used more often than English and non-European languages such as Arabic and Indonesian also featuring in the top 10 languages used to discuss the two teams:

top languages final

Hashtag Battle: #ForzaJuve vs #FCBLive

There were, of course, a wide variety of hashtags linked to both teams in English, Spanish and Italian:

hahstags barca juve

The top Barcelona related hashtag was #FCBLive – used over 270,000 times – the hashtag used by the official Barcelona Twitter channel, showing the success that Barcelona’s owned channels had in engaging their audience. For Juventus meanwhile, the most used hashtag was #ForzaJuve – used just under 110,000 times – a sign of encouragement for a team that was widely considered the underdog heading into this match. Interestingly, there were also a number of Arabic hashtags that were used extensively as well, another sign of the growing popularity of football in this region.

So what does it all mean?

There are all manner of things that could be discussed but here are some key points that emerged from the data:

  • The volume of discussion about the final was pretty staggering with over 24 million mentions of the final and the players involved over the course of the week and around 5.5 million posts during the 2 hours of the final alone.
  • The social conversation was truly global with large volumes of social conversation about the final coming from every continent. There was a particularly high volume of social discussion coming from Indonesia and the Middle East.
  • Neymar was the most socially savvy football star with his Twitter handle and social activity driving far more engagement and attention than any other player involved in the match.

So that’s the European football season done for a couple of months before it all starts up again in July/August. But with more and more players becoming socially active and major clubs increasing their presence and influence around the globe, the social discussions that surround football matches will no doubt continue to increase in volume, representing an opportunity for fans, players and brands alike to take part in a genuinely global social conversation.

Image Credit: Michael Dalder/Reuters