Internet Fame: UM vs. MSU Football, Dantonio vs. Harbaugh

It was big news three weeks ago when Michigan finally got over the hump and beat Michigan State on the football field for the first time in three years. Leading up to the game, as has been the tradition in recent years, an enormous amount of jawing went on between fans. Of course, this isn’t unusual in intense college football rivalries, but things have reached a high point since Michigan announced the hiring of Jim Harbaugh at the end of 2014 following a streak of futility punctuated by some pretty lopsided losses to Michigan State from 2008 onward.

Michigan State’s program prior to this year was reaching levels of unprecedented success, and in this writer’s humble opinion had become the trendy team for young fans to get behind due to their lofty national profile.

So, with this year’s game settled on the field, I couldn’t help but ask myself “Which team is more popular in cyberspace?” As a search engine marketing nerd, I went to Google Trends and tossed in some phrases to see just how interested the general public was in Michigan football vs. MSU football, and what the level of search interest is between both teams’ coaches.

Michigan Football > Michigan State Football + MSU Football

msu michigan google trends

While recent football results show Michigan State as the dominating force on the field, online search volumes show the phrase “Michigan football” handily beating both “Michigan State football” and “MSU football” both individually and in terms of combined volume. This trend held true from 2011 onward. Interestingly, once Harbaugh joined the fray (and likely due to the anticipation of a competitive game for the first time in years) the search volumes spiked the past two seasons.

Michigan Wolverines Football > Michigan State Spartans Football

wolverines spartans google trends

I realized in the first graph that there were likely many interpretations of terms like “Michigan football.” For example, someone could be looking for a page covering all football news for the state of Michigan. To try another example, I went for a more detailed approach using the university name and mascot. Here again we see U of M coming out on top, but by a much closer margin than the previous graph. Interestingly, again we see the “post-Harbaugh” spike for both teams. Or, it’s also possible that MSU’s continued success after another strong 2014 season drove up interest in the program independent of Harbaugh. I’d say it’s more likely the latter than the former.

Jim Harbaugh > Mark Dantonio

harbaugh dantonio google trends

I once saw a sportswriter refer to Jim Harbaugh by saying, “Jim Harbaugh isn’t a coach, he’s an experience.” Well, if Google’s the judge I’d say that’s about right. While the popularity of Harbaugh searches has been pretty volatile, when he’s a hot topic he pretty much owns the internet. The spike after the Michigan coaching job announcement maxed out his popularity, but he obviously spikes a lot more than your average coach. Though, given his success over Michigan the past decade, I don’t think Mark Dantonio or the Spartans are too concerned about losing this unimportant battle.