Data Journalist

What does your preferred sport say about you? Data from YouGov Profiles reveals an intriguing personality distinction between NBA fans and NHL fans

With both the NHL and NBA in the final round of their respective playoffs (Sharks vs. Penguins; Warriors vs. Cavaliers), we ran a comparison of die-hard fans of each sport across the massive YouGov Profiles dataset. The system works by scanning over thousands of facts and opinions to see if there are any statistically significant differences — any defining traits.

Interestingly, the most dramatic differences are related to personality. One of the definitions of being an "extrovert" rather than an "introvert" is that you get energy from being with other people — introverts tend to need alone time after being in a group situation. By this definition, people who follow the NBA closely tend to be extroverts, while NHL fans tend to be introverts.

Along the same lines, NBA fans are as likely to prefer to work as part of a team as work alone, while NHL fans are nearly twice as likely to prefer to work alone. For whatever reason, as a group they show signs of being demonstrably more introverted.

This distinction might make more sense if, say, we were comparing a team-based game with an individual sport, such as golf or tennis, but we're not. So what accounts for the difference?

Demographics explain some, but not all, of the difference. Blacks and Hispanics, for example, make up nearly 60% of NBA fans, and, as a group, report higher levels of extraversion than Whites. NHL fans, however, are 75% White, and Whites are more likely to prefer working alone and require time to themselves after being in a group situation than either Blacks or Hispanics. Other factors that might contribute: professional hockey fans skew a bit older and primarily reside in either the Midwest or Northeast. The majority of NBA fans, on the other hand, live out West or in the South.

So demographics may provide some clues, but they alone aren't enough to form a comprehensive explanation. Ultimately, the difference comes down to a difference in personality between two groups of sports fans, no matter how similar they might look on the surface.

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