A NEW HOPE #AsOne: Exploring Scottish Rugby Audience Behaviours


Image Credit: Pete Linforth/TheDigitalArtist via pixabay.com


During the 2017 Autumn Tests in November, Scotland came agonizingly close to defeating the All Blacks with an outstanding performance. In a history stretching back to 1905, this was arguably the closest they had come to defeating the current world champions.

The Six Nations kicks off on 3rd February, with the first fixture being Wales vs Scotland. We wanted to discover how Scotland’s successful Autumn Test performance has affected fan support of the team. How do fans think Scotland will do in the Six Nations? Who is the biggest threat and, ultimately, who do they think will win? We turned to Brandwatch to find out.

The results from our findings were surprising. Rather than discovering specific fan predictions about Scotland’s performance in the Six Nations, we found a revitalised fanbase, imbued with hope and confident in Scotland’s position as a world class international rugby team. We then used behavioural insights to examine why this has provoked such a unanimous, meaningful reaction in fans.


We looked at fan conversation about Scottish Rugby from 1st November 2017 – 22nd January 2018. This covered anticipation in the run-up to the match against New Zealand, the match itself and its aftermath (including the game against Australia). We also analysed conversation prior to the Six Nations championship.

In order to examine content from fans only, we filtered out posts from organisations.

Topic cloud including retweets

The topic cloud above shows key terms in the conversation at a glance. It includes popular content retweeted from official accounts and shows a good overview of key stories over this period e.g. games against New Zealand and Australia, discussion of the Scotland squad and Scotland’s women at Scotstoun.

Topic cloud excluding retweets

Filtering out retweets from the topic cloud shows the best, most engaged fan conversation, where individuals have produced their own content about Scottish rugby. We can see encouragement (“Congratulations”, “Good luck”) as well as frequent use of key hashtags, such as #AsOne, #BackingBlue and #SCOvAUS.

We wanted to explore this conversation in more depth. What emotions and behaviours did fans display about Scottish rugby?

“DEVASTATINGLY CLOSE”: Reaction to Scotland vs New Zealand

Image Credit: hirobi via pixabay.com

Before the All Blacks match in November, not all Scotland supporters were confident of success. It was framed as a “big challenge”, with fans describing themselves as “nervous” and “no expecting much”. Others were a little more optimistic e.g. “I will be going with faith the boys can make some magic”, “I think we’ll sneak a win against the @AllBlacks…#evertheoptimist”.

The narrow defeat to the All Blacks elicited an emotional and almost unanimous fan reaction. Although the loss was disappointing, even heartbreaking, it was nevertheless “an awesome achievement”:

  • What an outstanding performance from #Scotland today! Congrats to New Zealand but our boys done us more than proud!
  • I hate losing so much but that performance by @Scotlandteam beats anyone else no question
  • Heartbreak again for Scotland. New Zealand might not agree but that was a bloody good game of rugby. Eases the pain slightly.

The praise for a “bloody good game of rugby” suggests that fans really care about the quality of the rugby played, and not just the overall result. It even won over someone who is not a rugby fan:

  • It’s not my favourite sport but got to say that Scotland v All Blacks game was brilliant viewing and Scotland really do play some cracking rugby these days


This outstanding autumn performance was directly associated by fans with renewed hope for the challenges to come at the Six Nations:

  • they will be a force to reckon with in #6nations
  • After the last two weekends it’s fair to say @Scotlandteam long association with the wooden spoon will be history come the #sixnations
  • Perhaps the most exciting side to watch in rugby right now

Scotland’s performance provided an important boost to fans, transforming their experience of the game and creating excitement about the Six Nations:

  • Makes a real change going to Murrayfield expecting a win now…We’re long overdue a successful Six Nations too
  • What a nice change from say 9-10 years ago when we had to find positives in regular drubbings. Very excited for the 6N

Having to “find positives” in frequent defeats would be dispiriting for any sports’ fan, but now for Scotland there is a sense that positives no longer need to be sought, rather they are there to be grasped and celebrated. Scotland now “has a world class rugby team” and, whether they win the Six Nations or not, hope has returned.


We used insights from behavioural science to explain the strength of fan feeling surrounding recent Scottish Rugby successes, looking at the psychology of why Scotland’s recent successes have generated such strength of feeling.

Team success delivers a direct personal self-esteem boost for supporters. It’s not just that they have renewed confidence in the ability of their team to win, but the team’s success could also provide them with renewed self-esteem. “It has been well established that people derive self-esteem benefits from simple associations with successful others” (1)

Strong supporters even feel as though they themselves are scoring the tries. Sports fans experience the success of their favourite team powerfully and vicariously. “Watching someone perform an action triggers mirror neurons, making the viewer feel, to an extent, like he is the doer. The greater the observer’s personal draw to the action, the more intensely he feels that he’s the one hitting the home run” (2)


Fan conversation climbed steadily during the Autumn Tests, peaking on 25th November, the day of Scotland’s success against Australia reinforcing the suggestions above that success, or the hope of success, resulted directly in renewed fan passion for and engagement with the sport.

How can these insights be used by brands and associated businesses?

These insights could give the brands themselves or sponsors of the team the knowledge and opportunity to reactively market to the fans. This could include pushing out key sales messages to them, such as buying tickets for the next match. Content could be produced emphasising the positive experience of being at Murrayfield with this renewed hope and of the joy of watching Scotland play a good game of rugby.

Alternatively from a sponsors’ perspective, creating ambassadors for their brand by giving ‘surprise and delight’ prizes to the fans and engaging them in conversation could be a positive and meaningful way of using their contracted rights to increase consumer awareness.

It would be important for either business to tap into this strong, renewed fan passion and engagement, by reflecting the language and emotions used by them in their own social media content e.g. “A force to be reckoned with”, “renewed hope for Scottish rugby”. It is crucial to understand the audience, their behaviours, emotions and concerns, prior to engaging with them in order to be authentic and meaningful.

Fusing behavioural insights with social intelligence can help to provide this thorough understanding, enabling brands and organisations to engage more effectively with the audiences they are trying to reach.

For a bespoke analysis of the behaviours and emotions of your audience, contact us @DI_insights


  1. McConnell, Allen R., 2015 ‘The Psychology of Sports Fandom: Do you support your favourite team out of love, or something more random?’, Psychology Today
  2. Booth, Stephanie, 2011 ‘Field Guide to the Die-Hard Fan’, Psychology Today

This research was powered by our pals at Brandwatch.