Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wikipedia and WNBA Player Popularity

For those of you who don't know much about the internet, Wikipedia is a user-defined encyclopedia with several million entries. Users can edit encylopedia entries and accept that their own work will be edited. Just about every WNBA player has an article - those articles might not be up to date, but the articles exist.

One interesting fact about Wikipedia is that there is a statistics page where a user can enter an article name and determine how many hits the article gets. Wikipedia hits appear to measure popularity of articles both familiarity as well as intensity - an article which is being continually edited or read by the same subgroup of people will get lots of hits. Both depth and intensity of popularity can be measured in the same number.

Given that, I looked up how many hits each Wikipedia article devoted to an individual member of the Atlanta Dream received in the month of December 2009. All eleven current players of the Dream currently have articles; I duly entered each person's (article) name and counted the hits.

Wikipedia Hits for Dream Players in December 2009

Chamique Holdsclaw: 2090
Ivory Latta: 744
Angel McCoughtry: 707
Michelle Snow: 707
Coco Miller: 394
Iziane Castro Marques: 266
Armintie Price: 249
Erika de Souza: 225
Sancho Lyttle: 224
Jennifer Lacy: 186
Shalee Lehning: 146

The numbers all seem to pass the "smell test". Holdsclaw, having a decade-long history in the WNBA, having been the #1 Draft Pick and considered the future of women's basketball should be getting a lot of hits in a month.

As for the players of foreign nationality - Castro Marques, de Souza, and Lyttle - they don't get a lot of hits. In the case of the Brazilians it's because they didn't have college careers in the United States.

Some placements are real head scratchers. Michelle Snow might get hits because she dunked in a college game and because she's a Tennessee alumna. And why does Shalee Lehning have the fewest hits of all? At least it gives an idea of why it was so surprising that Marynell Meadors would let Ivory Latta (#2 in hits) go for a relative unknown.

However, there are WNBA players out there who make the Atlanta Dream's total number of Wikipedia hits seem paltry. Becky Hammon's 2266 total hits exceed Chamique Holdsclaw's. Sue Bird's 4621 hits make her Wikipedia article more popular than the articles of the six leading players in article hits among the Atlanta Dream.

Diana Taurasi's 6336 hits make her - by herself - more popular than the entire Atlanta Dream! As for Candace Parker's 21,547 hits, it makes Candace Parker a force to be reckoned with.

Can we do this for teams as well as players? Why not?

Wikipedia Hits for WNBA Teams in December 2009

WNBA: 5797

Los Angeles Sparks: 5308
WNBA Tulsa: 3450
New York Liberty: 2600
Phoenix Mercury: 2306
Seattle Storm: 2267
Chicago Sky: 2047
Atlanta Dream: 2042
Connecticut Sun: 1974
San Antonio Silver Stars: 1895
Washington Mystics: 1793
Minnesota Lynx: 1733

Do these numbers mesh with official attendance statistics? No, they don't. However, it makes sense that the Sparks and the Liberty would be the two most popular teams. Maybe going to Wikipedia can make sense out of the attendance numbers supplied by the WNBA. If Wikipedia is a better indicator of team popularity than announced attendance, it might give us a better idea of which teams have the most solid fan support.

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