The European Football Championship that starts today will not be lived with the same passion throughout Spain. Ávila, Cuenca, Salamanca, Zamora, Teruel, Castellón and Valladolid are now, in this order, the provinces where in proportion there will be more fans pending the selection. Guipúzcoa, Barcelona, Álava, Girona and Vizcaya will be the ones with the least interest in Spanish players at the moment. At least this is indicated by the data from the platform that Facebook and Instagram make available to advertisers, and that the geolocated information and massive data analysis company Tyrceo has extracted for EL PAÍS.
This level of interest places Spain in an intermediate position within Europe. The data from the technology indicate that the Portuguese, Hungarians, Turks and Italians are by far the fans most devoted to their national teams. Next are the Belgians, Spanish and French.
Facebook allows you to customize ads to users to whom you attribute interest in, for example, “Eurocopa”, “Spanish team” or “Sergio Busquets”, as well as other types of profiling according to age, region or hundreds of other variables (yoga, veganism, sports cars, whatever adds taste). Through this tool we can see how many people have been assigned the label of one selection or another in different geographical areas.
Juanmi Carrascosa, engineer and founder of Tyrceo, assures that “the reliability is high”. “It’s like surveying millions of people daily based on geolocated information,” he adds. The data includes 19 teams out of the 24 participating in the tournament. Tyrceo will make a barometer of the Eurocup to see how interest in national teams and other possible variables such as sponsors or players evolves as the matches progress. In Spain, for example, Badajoz is the province that shows the greatest growing interest in the week that Tyrceo has been measuring, although the differences are still small. In Carrascosa’s experience in other sports, when the games start is when you’ll see noticeable jumps in interest.
Facebook obtains this information not only from the interaction that its users have in its services (Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp), but also thanks to the information they receive from the navigation of its users thanks to the cookies that they place on a multitude of pages. What is not known for sure is what exact combination it uses to profile users. “With this system you reach a larger population volume but you cannot specify the question, as in a survey. Maybe there are people taking an interest in something because they don’t like it. Ultimately, it is about understanding how interest is distributed, ”says Carrascosa.
The map shows the interest in the Spanish team that Facebook detects in each province. The figure measures the percentage of users attracted to the topic and reveals significant differences, from 16% in Ávila, to 9% in Madrid or 7% in Álava and Barcelona.
THE COUNTRY has had access to this data also by postal codes but few details were seen apart from what the provinces show. It must be taken into account that interests can be different even among neighborhood residents and that it is not known how the definition of Facebook’s geolocation is determined for each user. For example, as a capital, it would make sense for Madrid to be one of the cities with the greatest support for the national team. But the interest is quite low, similar to that of Barcelona and much lower than in neighboring provinces such as Ávila. This probably contributes to the fact that Madrid is a place with mobility and with inhabitants of many origins. “Madrid has a capital effect. The interest is more distributed by the people of different origins who live in it. In addition, many people come from other places and Facebook may include their data in the province of origin ”, says Carrascosa.
A plausible but difficult to prove hypothesis is that interest in the capital has declined somewhat because there are no Real Madrid players in the national team. Putting the magnifying glass on the data of interest in Sergio Ramos, it is verified that there are a couple of districts of the capital where the defense interests more than the selection, although it does not seem that it is anything definitive or evident.
The Basque Country and Catalonia are the two autonomous regions with the least fondness for the national team, according to Facebook, and coincide with those where more people feel alone from these communities – only 22% Catalan and only 30% Basque, according to the CIS post-election survey November 2019. A survey by the same body in 2007 found that even then they were also the communities in which the most people who said they had little or no interest in the national team.
The greatest fans in the provinces of the so-called empty Spain can be explained because they are places without a team in the main national categories, which could increase interest in the national team. Age can also play a role, for example if football is more attractive to older people.
The other selections
Facebook also offers figures on the second teams that receive the most interest in Spain. In total, Portugal is the second, especially because of the interest it arouses in Galicia and Huelva. France would come next. This effect may be due to interest in the national team itself, interest in some of its stars (Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema) or that of the Portuguese and French who often live or visit Spain. Huesca is, for example, one of the provinces with the most interest in France, also on the border.
Interest in Italy and Germany does seem to be definitely linked to foreigners residing in Spain. In Barcelona there is a high and growing interest in Italy (as in two other Catalan provinces, Tarragona and Girona), and in the Balearic Islands, Germany’s follow-up stands out. The differences are small but substantial.
Regarding the interest in other countries, Portugal and Hungary are the two where Facebook detects the most fervor for its selections, as the graph at the beginning showed. In Portugal the second favorite team is Spain, perhaps for the same reasons that Portugal is for the Spanish (although twice as many Portuguese are interested in Spain than vice versa). Then comes Turkey and Italy. After those four teams appear Belgium, Spain, France, Germany and Denmark. Immigration is surely an engine of interest as well, which would explain why in Germany the second selection by interest is Turkey.
To check if there is a correlation between interest in “football” and interest in “your team in the Eurocup”, we have looked at how users in each country are interested in that sport in general. In almost all countries the interest is massive, over half the number of users. Germany, Finland and Sweden are the countries with the least interest in this sport in general. Where is there more interest? In North Macedonia, Hungary, Portugal, Italy and Croatia. It is extremely likely that the Macedonian interest is linked to the success of their team, classified for the first time for a major competition, but it cannot be confirmed because Facebook has not created the “Macedonian team” as a label for its users. Four other teams also do not have their own label in the Facebook system: Finland, Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Interest in football is highly correlated with interest in the respective teams, except in the Turkish case, where it is seen that the national team has a greater pull. In Croatia it seems the other way around. Interest in football in Spain is medium high, above France and Poland but below Belgium, Slovakia or Turkey.
The United Kingdom is perhaps an incomplete case. Facebook defines the United Kingdom as a country but then the selections are England, Wales and Scotland. That distinction can alter the results and give that seemingly minor interest in his selection in England. Carrascosa admits that something strange may happen but supports the figures: “My hypothesis is that this is the data. The volume is lower at an absolute level because it parts the UK in three, ”he says.
Facebook tagging isn’t foolproof, either. In Spain, the second selection that receives the most interest, according to the data, is Switzerland. “I am sure it is a labeling error. It must be taken into account that this is automatic and there are errors, which are later rectified, ”says Carrascosa. This apparent error has been ignored in the table so as not to create confusion.
Along with the Swiss rarity in Spain there is another strange issue, linked to a possible problem with the platforms. Interest in Russia and Ukraine for their national teams is almost zero. Tyrceo attributes it to the fake accounts in those two countries. “There are tens of thousands of fake accounts that have no associated interests,” he says, which dramatically lowers the average number of users interested in the selection.
Profiling, the holy grail of platforms
User profiling is one of the great mysteries of platforms. At the same time, it is his holy grail. Facebook lives off ads and that its services offer a better option to reach people interested in bicycles, pots or yoga. We do not know how he attributes this data, apart from the fact that if someone visits pages on how to make baked hake and Chinese spaghetti they will be interested in cooking topics. One thing is likely: over-profiling.
When an advertiser wants to show their products to Facebook users, the network cannot reply that they have no target audience. “They probably want to give you the maximum profile: you like German football, you have looked at the national team a bit, because I put you in the complete package: Bundesliga, German footballers and national team. If they were very strict, they would have little audience for their marketing platforms ”, explains Carrascosa. For example, Spain is the second preferred team in Portugal, Hungary and Turkey. It is likely that in the case of Hungarians and Turks, interest related to La Liga has something to do with it.
Even so, to put things in perspective, we must consider that, although it seems that national team football matters to everyone, Facebook only detects this interest in 23% of Portuguese, 16% of Italians or 10% of Spaniards have an account on the platform.