On Facile and Tendentious Interpreations of Provacative Data

whereweliveBrother-in-Blog Mike has a post up on an ESPN ratings gimmick SportsNation Poll reporting that given the nonexistent choice of watching an NFL Preseason Game or Game 7 of the Caps-Pens series, 37 percent of respondents would opt for the NFL Preseason Game. In a style of analysis I’m sure totally divorced from his contempt for bandwagon DC sports fans, Mike opines:

The results: A brutal 37% pick the NFL game.

The NFL game is in red and the NHL in blue.  And the states have voted remarkably similarly to how they did in the 2008 Presidential Election.  I think we can say with some confidence that excepting the coasts, Americans are not open to new sports. And even the coasts aren’t open to soccer, which is just like hockey but at half speed, with 1/10th the shots, 1/3 the goals, and no checking or fights.

First, a few minor things: your link to the poll hub was useless — learn how to take a screen shot. Second — and more to the point — is this a joke? Brutal? Shouldn’t the NHL be ecstatic about this? I mean, millions of people gather every year to watch 350 pound men-with-breasts run around touching orange cones, so in the off-chance that come April when they gather with other men to watch Roger Goodell open envelopes at the world’s biggest sausagefest, they might be able to offer some jejune conjecture about the dynamism of some oaf’s feet and impress their friends, or Mel Kiper’s hair, or whatever. When you face that sort of competition, I think you have to be pretty happy that two-thirds of the country would rather watch hockey, a sport with worse primte time broadcasting appeal than Barack Obama’s press conferences. Moreover, should we be surprised that the region inspiring teen soaps sports dramas like Friday Night Lights and Two-A-Days isn’t all that in to watching Canadian socialists skate around on ice?

Finally, I’d just like to mention that we should be wary of generalizations that begin with “…excepting the coasts, America…” Here’s an example of why we should resist conclusions drawn by ignoring a majority of the data set:  “I think we can say with some confidence that excepting the 80 percent of Americans living in metropolitan areas, Americans are a rural people.” It might be more useful to make a statement like, “I think we can say with some confidence that ESPN SportsNation polls are mostly useless from an analytical perspective, and generalizations based upon their findings should be taken with commensurate seriousness.”

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2 Responses to “On Facile and Tendentious Interpreations of Provacative Data”

  1. mike Says:

    Having aroused sufficient bandwagon fanboy ire, I think my purpose is served and I can contentedly return to work. I’ll leave you with this:

    If you’re trying to lambast the practice of demographic generalizations, it doesn’t help your case to make them yourself, and then cite no other data.

    So let’s try something that though still not perfect, is a little tighter. Actual, rather than hypothetical, consumer behavior. The Caps-Pens series has averaged around 400k viewers this year. Cable broadcast NFL preseason games average 3 to 4 million viewers each. Granted they can’t go head-to-head, but the numbers are still pretty hilarious. If we add up all seven games of the series, we might just barely be able to break the Cowboys/Saints ESPN game from last season (5.0mm).

  2. Jon Says:

    How much data do I need to cite — the link I use sources the Census Bureau…

    As for your latter point, nobody is saying that hockey is anywhere near as popular as football. Indeed, the thrust of my argument is that given the overwhelming popularity of football, it’s remarkable that hockey would even snag 2/3 of the viewers. And with respect to the ratings, it makes sense to approach with caution given the relative number of available games to watch. This is why NASCAR is the “most watched” sport (or whatever the stat is) — NASCAR happens once a week, and all the “games” are happening at the same time, on the same track. Likewise with football, each time plays less games in a season than a hockey team does in it’s first half of the season. Of course on a game to game basis football will attract a greater audience. Also, I assume your example benefits from the fact that it includes “America’s team”, which just so happens to be based in Football mecca.


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