Winners & Losers •


How did news outlets capture football and basketball’s winners and losers?  In the Super Bowl and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, Baltimore and Louisville’s winning teams took home trophies AND more photo coverage.  

The SportPix 2013 study of 16 major U.S. news outlets found that

  1. Winners and losers are depicted unevenly in the photographic coverage — winners are shown far more often. (More>>)
  2. Winners tend to be shown in a more positive light photographically, not just after the game, but during as well. (More>>)
  3. News outlets published far more photos of losing players showing frustration or disappointment — even photos of plays during the games themselves. (More>>)
  4. Fan photos of the winning teams were much more common after the game, but during the game this trend did not exist. (More>>)
  5. Publications were much more likely to post hashtags as captions for positive images — most often of the winning teams.   That confirms other studies that have shown news outlets are much more likely to share or curate good news on social media networks.  (More>>)
Coaches Post-game

The Harbaugh family had both winners and losers after the Super Bowl. The moment was bittersweet for both head coaches Jim (left) and John Harbaugh as the Ravens nabbed the title of Super Bowl champions, and most photographed team in game coverage. — Dave Martin/AP

Better than words, photography can capture the triumph of victory and sorrow of defeat. Many of the most iconic moments in modern sports — Muhammad Ali glaring down at Sonny Liston, Bill Buckner watching the ground ball bounce into right field  — are remembered in photos depicting athletes’ spontaneous and visceral reactions to winning and losing.

Louisville Trophy

Louisville’s winning team was more photographed in NCAA Basketball Championship coverage than its opponent, the Michigan Wolverines, much of which due to post-game coverage. — Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Uneven coverage of winners and losers– Research data found that in both the Super Bowl and the NCAA Championship coverage, publications featured more photographs of winners and losers. This trend appeared even more in post-game coverage, where confetti, trophy and net-cutting shots dominated the visual representation. However during the game, photo coverage was fairly even between opposing teams.

Researchers noted that photos representing only the Baltimore Ravens were featured more than twice as much as photos featuring only the San Francisco 49ers. Likewise, photos representing only the Louisville Cardinals were featured almost three times as often as photos representing only the Michigan Wolverines. In the post-game coverage, the Ravens dominated three quarters of photos and the Cardinals were the sole subject of 80% of photos. During the games however, more than half of photos represented both teams, while photos representing a single team were split almost evenly between the opponents.

Torrey Smith

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith stays positive during the 2013 Super Bowl game. — Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun

Happy Behanan

Louisville forward Chane Behanan in one of many positive Louisville photos coded from the NCAA Championship Game. — Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

Winners depicted more positively – Researchers coded vastly more “positive” photos of the winning teams in both championship games. In the Super Bowl, more than half of all photos coded by researchers as “positive” represented only the Ravens, while a small fraction represented only the 49ers. Likewise, in the NCAA Championship, three quarters of  photos coded by researchers as “positive” represented only Louisville, while a small minority represented only Michigan.

Much of this was due to the post-game coverage, in which the Ravens and the Cardinals, both winning teams, dominated almost all of the positive post-game coverage. During the game, this difference was much less extreme, but still noticeable. At the Super Bowl, one third of  photos coded as “positive” represented only the Ravens, about one fifth only the 49ers, and almost half represented both. For the NCAA Championship, Louisville dominated more than half of the “positive” photos, Michigan appeared in just over a quarter of them.

NB:  The different nature of the sports may account for some of the differences in how frequently both teams appeared in the “positive” photos. Basketball provides photographers more opportunities to get photos of a single player, as the athletes are moving around more independently. Football plays are often shot across a wide expanse of field, with very long lenses, making it more common for photographers to take any photo, including positive photos, which include members of both teams.

Sad Kap

The 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick is depicted in defeat after the Super Bowl. — Evan Vucci/AP Foto

Upset Burke

Michigan star player Trey Burke’s disappointment is palpable post-NCAA Championship Game. — Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

Getting emotional: more frustration and disappointment shots of losing teams – This was especially prevalent in the Super Bowl coverage. Of all photos coded by researchers as showing “negative” emotions by the players or coaches, etc. (e.g. disappointment, frustration, etc.), more than three quarters depicted the 49ers — and almost none showed dejected Ravens. 

Researchers found no photos from the NCAA coverage of the Louisville Cardinals looking disappointed, and only 20 photos of sad or frustrated Michigan (only four of which were taken during the game).  These low numbers are likely due to the fact that basketball moves more quickly than football, so athletes may have less ability to express their negative reactions before they are caught up in the play of the game.

Ravens dancing

One of many celebration photos taken during the Super Bowl. The Ravens rejoice after Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard touchdown return. — Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun

… And Celebration – Surprisingly, researchers coded an almost equal number of Louisville and Michigan players celebrating a great play during the NCAA championship, with  Louisville having only a slight edge of more positive photos.

In the Super Bowl photo coverage, on the other hand, more than twice as many celebration photos showed only the Ravens than showed the 49ers, and one third showed both teams.

The Super Bowl coverage included twice as many photos of play celebration as the NCAA Basketball Championship coverage. While the NCAA celebration photos were fewer, they were more evenly distributed between teams. This difference between football and basketball makes sense.

NB:  The different nature of the sports may account for some of the differences in how frequently both teams appeared in “celebration” photos.   In basketball, both teams have more opportunity for celebration because the game moves more quickly and points are scored more frequently. However, with less time between plays, photographers are less likely to capture every quick celebration. As for football, not only are there fewer opportunities for celebration, but the Super Bowl game was more often in favor of the Ravens, providing more opportunities for celebration photos of the team. While the game was close at the end, Ravens were making better plays during the whole first half and parts of the second. Regardless, based on the celebratory photos, an unknowing viewer may have thought that the game was more hopeless for the 49ers than it was.

SF Fans

Even though San Francisco lost the Super Bowl, media coverage on the whole included more pictures of 49ers fans than Ravens fans. — Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle

Fan photos more evenly distributed – The number of photos of fans was not especially affected by whether the fans were rooting for the winning or losing team. 49ers fans were depicted more in the media on the whole. However, nearly half of the Super Bowl fan photos were taken before the game. When looking only at photos during the game, news organizations published many more 49ers fan photos than Ravens fan photos – four times as many. After the game, the situation flipped, and organizations published more photos of Ravens fans than 49ers fans — understandable considering the outcome of the game.

For the NCAA Championship, news outlets overall published significantly more photos of Louisville fans than Michigan fans (more than three times as many). Most of these were taken during and after the game. During the game, this difference was less dramatic, but still noticeable — about a 60-40 split. After the game, nearly all of the fan photos (95%) were of Louisville.


This Instagram photo, posted by a Louisville fan, served as a tribute to point guard Peyton Siva, saying “Thanks for 4 years #cards #l1c4”

 #ChampsGetHashtags — Researchers noted that publications across the board were much more likely to include hashtags in photos of the winning Baltimore Ravens and Louisville Cardinals than in photos of the losing 49ers and Michigan Wolverines, and much more likely to attach hashtags to photos that coders evaluated as “neutral,” “slightly positive” or “very positive” photos.

Researchers coded 137 Super Bowl photos that included a hashtag. More than double depicted the winning Ravens rather than the losing 49ers and only four included names of key 49ers personnel (2 of Jim Harbaugh and 2 of Colin Kaepernick).  Researchers noted the same trend in the March Madness photos — researchers coded none of the hashtag-ed photos as “negative,” and only one photo exclusively depicted the losing Michigan Wolverines.

The data reaffirms what previous studies have suggested — that there is a greater disposition to sharing positive stories or images on social media networks.  Previous research into social media sharing behavior has found similar statistics. In a recent study led by a University of Pennsylvania social psychologist, a research team investigated the nature and disposition of New York Times articles shared to social media outlets.

Ultimately, the U Penn team concluded that NY Times readers were much more likely to share or curate good news on social media networks. They also noted a strong tendency among Times readers to share science-related posts, and stories or articles that stimulated the brain’s areas of social cognition (stories or ideas about people).

Similarly, in a study of 2012’s trending topics, Twitter released its Top-10 list of the year’s biggest “conversation starters.”

1.  #nowplaying
2. #oomf (one of my followers)
3. #blessed
4. #quote
5. #lrt (last Retweet)
6. #salute
7. #news
8. #followfriday
9. #throwbackthursday

The hashtags above spark discussions about music, quotations, and weekend fun, all of which are positive topics.

* NB: Researchers applied the same collection methodology for all the news outlets studied. It is likely that the researchers on this survey did not collect every photograph published, and, on occasion, certain photographs that could be viewed were not collectible by Pinterest. The total number of photographs studied, therefore, should be understood to be representative of those published on the news outlets, not an absolute set of all photographs published on all sites.