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Published July 10th 2018

Football Data: What Are The Differences Between Online Content in 2014 and 2018?

A team of analysts from Brandwatch and BuzzSumo examine headlines and content types surrounding the World Cup in both 2014 and 2018.

Brandwatch and BuzzSumo came together to analyze a whole bunch of data around football content to see what we could find.

Want to know which domains have done best between this year’s and the last World Cup? What content works best for B2B publishers? How top-performing headlines have changed?

Well stay tuned.

Trigrams and Bigrams: What headlines worked best?

Using an enormous BuzzSumo dataset on article headlines and engagement in 2014 and 2018 relating to the World Cup, the Brandwatch team used Python to uncover the two and three letter phrases that were most commonly used among posts with high engagement.

The criteria we used to include people in this category was that a phrase had to be used ten or more times in headlines across the web and that the articles with those headlines had to have an average of more than 2,000 engagements. (Engagements include public Facebook shares, likes and comments as well as tweets, retweets, pins, repins, and Reddit upvotes.) Our aim was to see what commonalities and differences we could find between popular headlines in the two World Cups.

Once we had our popular and high performing headline trigrams and bigrams we color coded them according to different criteria – were they about a certain player (light blue), country (light purple), story (turquoise, deep orange) or scandal (light pink)?

Here are some of our top findings:


We saw a lot more superlatives used in 2014 headlines than 2018 headlines. The hottest, the fastest and the best were commonly used, often detailing the best players and goals.

Photographs were also more common as a feature of a headline, with “pictures” and “photographs” appearing in the 2014 list and not the 2018 list.

Looking at trending stories, a very popular one in the 2014 list was that of Japanese fans staying after the game to clear up the stadium after they lost to the Ivory Coast team.


Another interesting point was the volume of Brazil-related headlines in the 2014 list compared to a lack of Russia-related headlines in the 2018 list.

The only mention of the host nation in the 2018 list was about Putin’s comments about women having sex with travelling World Cup fans.

While 2018’s top headlines focused less on the host country, there were more mentions of competing countries. Iran, Spain, Portugal and Nigeria were all mentioned in the top headlines.

Both 2014 and 2018

There was one surprising commonality between 2014 and 2018 popular headlines, and it was content about the looks of football players.

Here’s an article from 2018 from Elle:

And another from Buzzfeed in 2014 which has a very similar focus. Both are exemplary of the kinds of “hottest player” articles that appeared and were popular in both 2018 and 2014.

Which domains have done best?

When it comes to World Cup content, YouTube is king and it has been for the last two World Cups at least.

It seems to be getting even better, too. According to BuzzSumo figures, in 2014 youtube.com published 4% of the most shared World Cup content. In 2018, YouTube.com published 8% of the most shared World Cup content.

This boost may not be down to the quality of the content itself, but instead how popular YouTube has become. In 2014, Pew Research reported that youtube.com was the 2nd most popular social networking site in the US behind Facebook. According to 2018 stats, YouTube is now number one in the US.

A look at news sites within those top domains indicates that they are losing traction when it comes to big events like the World Cup.

In 2014 there were 5 traditional news outlets in the top 10 most shared domains for content about the World Cup, and they had 3.48% of the total shares. In 2018, there were only 4 traditional news outlets in the top 10, and their percentage of total shares had fallen to 2.37%.

A potential deviator here that the team noticed is Apple News – it seems to have done a great job of establishing itself. In 2014 it hadn’t even launched. In 2018 it’s the 7th most shared domain for World Cup content.

The top shared domains 2014 - 2018

2014 top 10 domains Percent of total URL shares 2014 2018 top 10 domains Percent of total URL shares 2018
www.youtube.com 4.47% www.youtube.com 8.05%
blog.chosun.com 1.46% footypress.net 1.11%
planetnewsworld.wordpress.com 1.22% www.football-addict.com 0.90%
bleacherreport.com 1.03% www.thesun.co.uk 0.69%
www.bbc.co.uk 0.87% viralgohil.com 0.67%
www.telegraph.co.uk 0.70% www.bbc.co.uk 0.62%
www.theguardian.com 0.67% apple.news 0.54%
www.dailymail.co.uk 0.66% www.dailymail.co.uk 0.54%
www.mirror.co.uk 0.58% www.mirror.co.uk 0.51%
www.football-news365.co.uk 0.44% www.football-news365.co.uk 0.50%
Data source: BuzzSumo

What about B2B publishers?

BuzzSumo were able to isolate and analyze the top shared content from B2B publishers to see what was working best. They found plenty of insights.

The domain that appears to be doing best is Business Insider, while Facebook is significantly better than other platforms for generating engagement around World Cup content – perhaps surprising for the B2B space.

Looking at the content of the headlines of these posts, those starting with “why” outperformed all the rest.

Brandwatch image
Source: BuzzSumo

Meanwhile, BuzzSumo spotted that hyperbole and name dropping football stars appeared to have an affect on getting more shares. Cristiano Ronaldo, Mo Salah, and words like “the best” and “most iconic” were among the headlines of the top shared B2B pieces.

And finally, the team found that the most shared posts all have great imagery in the header. The less frequently shared posts do not, which is a trend BuzzSumo have found within sports and entertainment content outside of the World Cup.

Looking for more football data?

The React team has almost every aspect of the World Cup covered with social match reports, food and drink data and analysis surrounding where and how people are enjoying the games.

And that’s not all – we’ll soon be releasing our Football Report with updated figures showing just how the World Cup went down on social media.

With thanks to Buzzsumo’s Senior Marketing Manager Susan Moeller and Brandwatch’s Senior Research Analyst Peter Fairfax for their hefty contributions to this piece.

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