Ogling Sports Googlers

Are you tired of simply obsessing about sports? Ready to obsess about people obsessing about sports? Let a new Google product act as your accomplice. Named Google Trends, it provides a peek at what teams, players, leagues, and sports others are searching for. The program tracks words and phrases Googled in the past two years. If you enter the phrase google trends, a graph shows a sudden spike of interest last spring when the new Google toy was unveiled. Enter two terms, the site offers a graph comparing their search frequency.These graphs can illustrate the obvious, more interest in ESPN than PBS. Or the surprising, family makes a strong showing against a formidable foe.

Classic rivalries play out on the site. The Yankees and Red Sox are, as always, running a tight race. In Chicago, the White Sox trail the Cubs. Natural vs. juiced is too close to call.

The site also lists cities where search terms are popular. For example, Charlotte, North Carolina, searched for NASCAR more than any other city. Minneapolis wants to know more about synchronized swimming, while California seems to be all alone in its affection for water polo.

Google Trends can also provide damning results. St. Louis, for example, proved the most likely to search for basball. In their defense, St. Louisans searched as fervently for the correct spelling.

Hockey provides a good chance to unpack another feature of Google Trends. In addition to cities, you can see what regions or countries appear most interested in a given topic. Type in NHL and you get a picture of an internationally popular sport relegated to second tier status in America. Not surprisingly Canada sits at the top. But relative to their size, five other countries, including Switzerland, search more for the NHL than Americans. You can also see in what language people are searching. For hockey, Slovak, Czech, Finnish and Swedish beat out English, and remember, that includes Canadians.

But the truth is, we spectators don’t love the organization, we love the sport. Be it hockey, football, or baseball. The NBA has successfully tied its brand to the sport itself. Golf sails free effortlessly from the PGA.

Going global, in the run up to the World Cup, and increasing number of people headed to Google for answers. Baseball’s status as an international also-ran can be seen clearly by comparing searches for World Cup versus World Series. The Superbowl, on the other hand, holds its own.

The site offers a chance for sociological inquiry. It can show social schisms as well as reassuring numbers about the world’s sporting interests.

By stacking terms, you can get an overview of where America’s collective sporting interests lie. As spectators, the picture changes.

Sports manages to divert our attention, sometimes at our peril.
But reassuringly we also can think about other things.

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