Big Ten CFB Rankings & College versus Pro Fandom

The Big Ten rankings start with the University of Michigan.  A passionate fan base that fills a massive stadium even when losing to the teams ranks 2 (Ohio State) and 3 (Michigan State).  In positions 4 and 5, we have Nebraska and Penn State.  It’s an interesting aside that the Big Ten has most of its premium brands concentrated in one of its divisions (East).

In positions 6 through 10, we have Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Maryland.  Seems about right.  Full disclosure – I’m an Illini.  Next we have Northwestern.  I did my PhD at NU and I don’t think I ever met a true NU fan.  We then have Indiana (basketball school) and Rutgers.  Purdue rounds out the league.

I’ll be interested to hear the complaints about this ranking.  OSU never wants to be behind Michigan.  And I could see some objections to Penn State and Nebraska trailing Michigan State.  The relative rankings of some of the recent additions does raise some questions.  Were Rutgers and Maryland the right moves?  As the importance of cable television wains over the next decade, the East coast expansion strategy may be less relevant.

College versus Pro Fandom

At the level of the individual fan, I suspect that college fandom is often even deeper than professional fandom.  Students and Alumni are directly connected to their teams.  When college fans say “We” they are talking about an institution to which they permanently belong.  In the case of the “Pros”, the fan often “just lives there.”  This isn’t always the case and pro fandom can be intense and borderline crazy.  In the past when people tended to be less mobile (and ordinary fans were not priced out of stadiums), affinity for and connection to a team may have started before kindergarten and been a lifelong affair.

When I publish my NFL fan base rankings I get some very aggressive hatred (Go Raiders!).  There are towns where pro fandom dominates.  Chicago is one such town.  It’s a Cubs and Bears town (and sometimes Bulls).  And the college teams (at least when I used to live there) get a lot less media.  It’s an aside, but DePaul basketball would be a fascinating case study as a college team that had and lost a significant media presence.  I also believe that Illinois is something of a “sleeping” brand equity giant.  On the unfortunately rare occasion when Illinois sports are relevant they are able to have an impact in Chicago.  In sports brand development, winning big is key but consistency also matters.

Everyone in Chicago can affiliate with the Bears or Cubs but it almost feels a little artificial to root for a school that you did not attend.  But at the level of the individual fan being a graduate or a school results in a deeper affiliation than being a resident.  The marketing challenge is how to leverage this natural fan base to come up with an aspirational brand that attracts non-attendees (and potential future students).  The Chicago metro area has a population of more than 9.5 million while I’m guessing that the Urbana-Champaign alumni base is less than half a million spread out across the globe.

A problem with any discussion of fandom (on the internet) is that we are talking about the “average” fan.  And we always have the classic problem that fandom varies with team performance.  I’m an Illini so I can speak to how fan passion changes over time.  As a student in the 1980s the football team was solid and the basketball team was great.  The Flying Illini were the best team in the country in 1989.  Don’t care that they didn’t win it all. It was easy to be a fan of the Flying Illini.

But the 1990s brought a collapse of both the football and basketball programs and I admit I tuned out.  But then we had Bill Self, Frankie Williams, Dee Brown, Juice Williams, Ron Zook, an NCAA finals appearance and a trip to the Rose Bowl.  And I was back in.

Now we are back in the wasteland and I’m tuning in less and less every year.

But, if they turn it around, I’m almost sure that I’m back in.  I think what the college affiliation ultimately provides is a reduction in fair-weather fandom.  If the Illini go 500 in football, I’m tuning in to see the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl appearance.  And I’m in for the next year.

This goes to the heart of the pro versus college fandom issue.  With “my” school I’m more resilient to mediocre or even poor performance.  Even now I follow recruiting for both Illini sports and tune in to a lot of first halves.  It also takes less for me to become fully engaged.  A 7 and 5 year with competitive games and I’m watching everything I can find.  Being an Alumni is forever and it’s often a key part of someone’s identity.

For the overall college football fan rankings, click here.

Fanalytics Podcast: Nike and Colin Kaepernick

In this episode, economist Tom Smith and I analyze Nike’s decision to feature Colin Kaepernick in its “Just Do It” campaign.  This is a complicated and controversial issue with lots of moving pieces.  It’s also a great topic because there are elements of branding, demographic trends and politics.

Is Nike pursuing the right branding strategy?  Are they using Kaepernick to reposition the brand closer to Millennial and Generation Z sensibilities?  Does growing the relationship with this segment make-up from alienating the segment that is currently burning shoes and cutting up socks?

Why has Nike waded into this perilous political territory?  Are they doubling down and supporting the existing star who also happens to be in a feud with the current president? Can brands in the entertainment space be non-political in 2018?

It’s a wide ranging and fuzzy conversation.  But it’s a fun subject.  Multiple elements of fandom with a backdrop of politics.

Click logo below to listen to the episode.

Fanalytics Podcast: Fandom and Consumer Psychology

In some respects, sports “fandom” is no different than “brand loyalty” in traditional marketing categories.  We have preferences for teams just as we have preferences for soft drinks or cars.  But in other respects, fandom is something very different.  The level of engagement with sports brands tends to be off the charts relative to consumer goods.

If I look through my closet I have plenty of shirts that promote the Fighting Illini or the Chicago Bears.  I don’t have any clothing that projects my preferences for Pepsi or Lexus.  I will acknowledge that it’s really a continuum.  While it’s a rare individual that wants to wear a shirt that proudly identifies a favorite shampoo, I can easily imagine people promoting their favorite fashion brand or coffee shop.

Identification with brands is a key part of fandom. I report a lot of studies that focus on how fans behave in terms of attending or spending.  These “behaviors” are things that I can observe in the market place.  However, a lot of fandom happens between the ears.  In other words, a lot of fandom, such as identifying with a team, is about consumer psychology.

In the current episode of the Fanalytics podcast, I sit down with consumer psychologist Morgan Ward to talk about social identity theory.  Morgan is not a sports fan but she has amazing insights into how consumers use objects or associations to construct their identities.  I learned a lot from the conversation.

There is also an important “analytics” lesson in all this.  Sports Analytics is frequently about predicting human behavior or human performance.  When this is the case, we should start from the “human” part.  Don’t just jump into the data and start “mining” for insights.  Build the models based on how humans think and behave.

Click on the logo below to listen to the episode.

College Football Brands and Fans – 2018 Edition

College sports inspires amazing passion and loyalty.  But which team has the most passion and loyalty?  There are lots of ways to look at this question.  Who has the most fans?  The loudest fans?  The fans most willing to travel?  It’s a debate where the participants can’t agree on the criteria for success.

One way to proceed is to flip the question.  When we talk about fandom, we are really talking about the relationship between teams and fans.  If we focus on the team side the way forward becomes a bit clearer.  On some level, college (and pro) teams are brands just like Apple or Coca-Cola.  If we cast the question of fandom in terms of brand strength, then we can turn a bar room debate into a marketing science based analysis.

Today we are going to take a look at college football brand strength.  We will start with an overall look at FBS schools and then dig into each conference in later entries.  The highlight of today is a Top Ten list and a Bottom Five list.

Interestingly (a good wishy washy academic word), it’s the top ten list that’s going to cause the trouble. I can already hear the hatred coming.  Shockingly, I can also predict the zip code for the hate (35401).

In a futile attempt to limit the hate, I’m going to start with some comments about the methodology.  The basic idea is to rate the college football brands using some ideas from the field of marketing analytics.  In most categories, we can look directly at the market place and come up with judgments of the strongest or best brands.  It gets a little tricky in sports because there is so much variability in team quality over years.  This is the key point – if we want to assess brand strength then we need to look beyond the simple metrics.  A full stadium for a winning team means less than full stadium for a team that is struggling.

The way I get to the final rankings is too boring for most fans so I’ll just give a broad outline.  I start from the notion that college sports teams can be viewed as brands.  While sports fandom is intense, conceptually it isn’t that different from consumer loyalty to brands in categories ranging from cars to soft drinks.  When we think of the team as a brand, we can use theory and methods used in industry and academia to take an analytical look at fandom across schools.

For this year’s study, I rely on three different measures of brand strength.  The first measure is based on the idea of a “revenue premium”.  One way to look at brand strength is to compare the revenues produced by two brands with similar quality.  The idea is that if we control for quality differences then the difference in the revenue can be attributed to differences in preferences for each brand.  In other words, we want to rate marketing place performance while “controlling’ for variations in team performance and other factors such as size of the alumni base or stadium capacity.  I calculate these revenue premiums by comparing each school’s reported football revenues with the revenues predicted by a statistical model that includes factors such as stadium capacity, alumni base, won-loss record and other school level attributes.

The second metric is a measure of ROI (return on investment).  ROI is related to brand strength because a stronger brand yields many benefits in the market.  For example, in the case of college basketball (I want to avoid using college football examples for a moment), we might expect the blue blood programs to be more efficient operations in terms of recruiting investments.  A less prestigious program might spend years building a relationship with a prospect to lose out if a last minute offer arrives from a Kentucky or Kansas.

The third metric is simply the relative football revenues reported by each school. We can probably think of this as a measure of pure market share.  I like to include a top level estimate of revenue because this measure says something about the scale of each brand.  The revenue premium metric is more focused on the intensity of fandom and the ROI measure captures some notion of brand efficiency. Top level revenue is a nice compliment to these measures.

To generate a single ranking, I use a statistical technique that identifies a single latent variable that drives the three brand equity rankings.  I’m happy to discuss the method in depth.  But the results are likely of more interest.  So who are the winners and losers?


The Winners

There is a lot of passion across a lot of campuses.  But when you crunch the numbers, one brand stands out.  The University of Texas Longhorns dominate the rankings.  Texas reports the highest revenues, achieves the best ROI and wins the revenue premium competition.  Even when Texas struggles on the field the football program delivers amazing economic results.

Texas is followed by Tennessee, Notre Dame, LSU and Oklahoma to round out the top 5.  These are all solid programs.  Programs that regularly appear on national TV and in major bowl games.  Tennessee has struggled in recent years but they deliver financial results and amazing attendance.  Notre Dame is a true national brand and might “still” be the team that most fans associate with college football.  The LSU ranking might surprise some folks outside of the SEC but LSU is a program with crazy passionate fans.  Oklahoma like Notre Dame is college football royalty.

In positions 6 through 10, we have Georgia, Michigan, Oregon, Auburn and Florida.  This is almost a good list. But, as I noted above, one program, in particular, seems to be missing.  Alabama finishes 12th.  Auburn at 9 and no Alabama?!?!  The methodology is flawed!  Why does Emory pay you?  Have you ever been to an Alabama game?  And now I have probably insulted Ohio State.

I’ll get back to Alabama in a later entry.  But, the key point is that we are looking at market place performance after controlling for team success.  I think the omission of Alabama is particularly brutal because Auburn finishes in the top ten in position 9.  The question that needs to be asked (and we will keep this in the SEC) is what would happen if Tennessee had a run like Alabama’s.  Would the Volunteer fan base be as intense as the Crimson Tide?  How about LSU?  Or Georgia?  As someone who has lived in SEC territory for the better part of the last twenty years I think the answer is yes.


The Bottom of the Power 5

At the bottom of the Power 5 we have Purdue!  Working upwards we then have West Virginia, Rutgers, Virginia, and University of Miami.  It’s an interesting list.  Probably not too many objections to teams like Purdue and Rutgers.  Purdue is in a tough sport for a football program.  It’s located in a small state that has multiple college programs.  It is also more of a basketball school.

Miami?  Miami is a storied program but Miami’s reported football revenues are nowhere what would be expected based solely on the team’s history of major bowl games.  And this is the key. We are not looking at team success.  We are focused on market place metrics relative to team success and investment.

The bottom of the list does raise some interesting questions.  Why do these schools fail to perform on the fan metrics?  Is it winning?  Miami has been an elite program at times.  Is it a lack of stars?  Purdue has a history of great quarterbacks from Bob Griese to Drew Brees.  Is it something about campus culture?  But Virginia and Rutgers would seem to be very different places?

It’s complicated and while winning is probably the key to developing a fan base, the factors that result in a less engaged fan base can vary.  Too much competition?  The weather is too nice?  It’s a pro town?

In some ways this whole fan base analysis is a great marketing case study.  One obvious path to success but many potential ways to fail.  And even if you do the right thing and win, sometimes it’s just not enough.


The Top Non-Power 5

The non-power 5 rankings are interesting in a variety of ways.  A lot of conference expansion and realignment was driven by access to TV markets (the Big Ten adding Rutgers).  But brand strength is another critical aspect (the Big Ten adding Nebraska).  The non-Power 5 rankings can help identify potential additions to the elite conferences.  I could almost imagine an approach similar to the relegation system used in European soccer – but the movement in and out of the top leagues would be based on brand strength.

At the top of the non-Power 5 list we have Boise State.  Boise is followed by University of Central Florida, North Texas, Wyoming and BYU.  North Texas is the eye-opener for myself.  But this is the beauty of taking a quantitative approach.  We are able to identify possibilities that our intuition might miss.

To listen to the 2018 College Football Fan Rankings podcast episode – click on the logo below.

Fanalytics Podcast: NFL Marketing Preview

The NFL has long been considered the premier American professional sports league.  In this episode, I sit down with a former professor colleague and current tech industry analytics leader Manish Tripathi to discuss some of the marketing challenges facing the NFL as the 2018 season approaches.

It is an interesting conversation because after years where the NFL almost seem to be impervious to scandal and on an ever upward trajectory when we think about the NFL in 2018 we seem to run into one marketing challenge after another.

We talk about the perennial issue of the “Washington Redskins” team name and symbols, concussions and youth football, and (of course) the anthem protests.  In each case, we actually find ourselves talking more about politics than analytics.  This is important because it serves to highlight the marketing challenges faced by the league.  While the NFL has seemed to be a “Teflon” brand for decades, is it impervious to the political and cultural upheaval of 2018?

Click on the (new!) logo to listen to this Fanalytics podcast episode:

Fanalytics Podcast: Sports Sponsorships

Maybe the thing that sets sports apart from other industries is the incredible passion, loyalty and, in fact, fanaticism, shown by customers.  Sports fans proudly wear logos and describe themselves as brand loyalists.  The end result of this level of passion is that sports brands are incredibly powerful marketing assets.  In addition to figuring out the direct value of sports brands (how they influence customers to attend and spend), another important question for “Marketing Analytics” is the power of these brands to change behavior in other categories.  In other words, how can sports brands be used in sponsorship deals.

On the current episode of the Fanalytics Podcast episode, we have Nick Mentel of Vantedge and a discussion of sports sponsorships.  Nick provides insights into how these deals get done.

The discussion is wide ranging but we find ourselves focusing on the idea of using “comparables.”  This is a very common topic in the real world. It’s also an important concept for the analytics community and I think there are opportunities to add some analytics horsepower to enhance “comparables” based methods.

Nick Mentel is the Vice President of Sponsorship Insights at Vantedge, helping lead the company serve the needs of an array of Fortune 500 clients.  His marketing insights and analytics experience ranges from sponsorship valuation and targeting to social and digital metrics reporting and analysis.  Nick has experience delivering customized client solutions to clients in wide-ranging industries, having previously worked for Lehman Brothers and Deloitte Consulting.

At Vantedge, he has had an opportunity to leverage his quantitative skills learned from being a diehard sports fan to help maximize the earning potential of CSE Talent’s clientele.  Nick holds bachelor degrees in Business Administration and Spanish from the University of North Carolina and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.  He also holds a Limited Certification as a Player Agent on behalf of Major League Baseball Players Association.

You can learn more about Vantedge by clicking here:


Click on the logo to listen to the podcast episode.

Fanalytics Podcast: The Analytics of Paying NFL Running Backs

The Le’Veon Bell contract situation was one of the more interesting NFL stories of the past month. In today’s Fanalytics podcast, economist Tom Smith and I talk about the story from a statistical and economics perspective.

NFL running backs are an incredibly interesting position for analytics and salary cap management.  The dilemma for teams and the frustration for players comes from the nature of the position.  Running backs are often at their peak during the early career years when the player’s salary is most constrained by the leagues collective bargaining agreement.

In the case of Le’Veon Bell, he is entering the region where past carries (and touches) combined with age start to build some uncertainty about future performance.  This future uncertainty combined with the fact that running backs are a relatively inexpensive position create an interesting situation for the Steelers.  Bell may be the best running back in the league but can they “replace” a significant amount of his production at a much lower cost?

This conversation was wide ranging and had some technical elements.  Probably our most technical episode yet as terms like “hedonic pricing model” and “constrained dynamic optimization” were thrown around.  That said – it was a great conversation.  The economist (Tom) combined with the Operations Researcher (Mike) offers a unique perspective of analytics and decision making.

Hope you all enjoy the podcast and please rate and subscribe on iTunes.


Click icon below to listen:

Fanalytics Podcast: Wrestling Fandom

One of my favorites category of sports is “combat sports.”  Combat sports have a few characteristics that make them different than traditional team sports.  Sports like MMA, Boxing and (even) professional wrestling are sold as pay-per-view events, sold as cards or bundles of events, and are usually very “star” focused.  One of the long-term plans for the podcast is to bring in people with a variety of experiences related to the combat sports industry.

In this episode we start with the fan perspective.  Really, I should call this, “the sophisticated fan” perspective.  Today’s guest is a former MBA student and current consultant named Hari Gopal.  Hari brings both business acumen and incredible passion for professional wrestling.  Our plan for the podcast was to have a wide ranging discussion of the fan side of the industry.  Our goal is to understand how fan interest is driven by “stories” and “stars”.  This “understanding” becomes the foundation for thinking about marketing and operating combat sport businesses.

To listen to the podcast episode, click the Fanalytics icon below.


NFL Fan and Brand Report 2018

Each year, I do an analysis of NFL fandom.  The analysis is grounded in economic and marketing theory, and uses statistical tools to shed light on the question of which teams have the most loyal or “best” fans.  The key point of differentiation is that this is a truly quantitative analysis.  It’s driven by data, not by emotion.

On a side note, I also regularly podcast on sports and sports analytics topics.  You can find the accompanying episode (and all sorts of other cool stuff) via the link below.

The fundamental question that guides the analysis is simple – Who has the best fans in the NFL?  For the business folks maybe we say this as – What are the best brands in the NFL? These are simple questions without simple answers.  First, we have to decide what we mean by “best”.  What makes for a great fan or brand?  Fans that show up even when the team is losing?  Fans that are willing to pay the highest prices?  Fans that are willing to follow a team on the road or social media?

Even after we agree on the question, answering it is also a challenge.  How do we adjust for the fact that one team might have gone on a miraculous run that filled the stadium?  Or perhaps another team suffered a slew of injuries?  How do we compare fan behavior in a market like New York with fans in a place like Green Bay?

My approach to evaluating fan bases is to use data to develop statistical models of fan interest (more details here).  The key is that these models are used to determine which city’s fans are more willing to spend or follow their teams after controlling for factors like market size and short-term changes in winning and losing.

I use three measures of fan engagement: Fan Equity, Social Equity and Road Equity.  Fan Equity focuses on home box office revenues (support via opening the wallet). Social Media Equity focuses on fan willingness to engage as part of a team’s online community (support exhibited by joining social media communities).  Road Equity focuses on how teams draw on the road after adjusting for team performance.   These metrics provide a balance – a measure of willingness to spend, a measure unconstrained by stadium size and a measure of national appeal.

To get at an overall ranking, I’m going to use the simplest possible method.  A simple average across the three metrics.  (similar analyses are available for the NBA and MLB).  The rankings are based on multiple years of data, use multiple performance measures and sophisticated statistical techniques.  But nothing is perfect and I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss some of the issues and controversies surrounding the NFL.

Its an understatement, but it’s been a tumultuous last few years for the NFL.  Concussions, anthem protests and domestic abuse scandals have all “complicated” fan’s relationships with teams.  The analytics I present use historical data to provide insight into recent of fan interest.  The analytics provide a measurement of the “fandom” that has been built over decades.  So, what is the impact of the current controversies?  Its impossible to say.

The problem is that while we can measure current fandom with snapshots of spending and social media behavior, the impact of incidents or events such as the anthem protests or the concussion lawsuits may play out over years or decades.  These types of issues might have an immediate impact on some metrics but the salient question is how will they influence long-term preference levels.

There may be “signals” in the data such as changes in TV ratings or higher no-show rates, but it’s tough to tell if these are blips or trends.  In terms of the observed decline in TV ratings, there is no shortage of theories – the aforementioned controversies, key player retirements, the 2016 presidential election, too many games, and just too many entertainment options have all been mentioned as root causes.  The existence of so many theories means that an analytics based approach is going to be difficult if not impossible.  This is especially true because while fandom can dissipate faster than its built, fan loyalty and passion is more likely to fade over years rather than disappear over weeks.

My conjecture is that the concussion issue and the anthem protests are both very significant problems for teams and the NFL brand.  The issues related to concussions may lead to lawsuits and decreased youth participation.  The anthem protests are something about which I’m reluctant to write (given the unfortunate state of the modern university).  But to keep it simple – the anthem protests have inserted some ugly “politics” into what is fundamentally an entertainment category.  If the product becomes less fun, why would you expect fans to enjoy it as much?  And while the phrase “less fun” might seem to trivialize the issues, spending on sports entertainment is about as discretionary as it gets.

Nevertheless, while the NFL has challenges, it is still the preeminent US sports league.  How the league fares in the future is probably going to be based on the strength of its strongest brands.  Which brings us back to our fundamental question – What are the best brands or fan bases in the NFL?


The Winners

The top five fan bases (team brands if you prefer) are the Cowboys, Patriots, Eagles, Giants and Steelers.  This is unchanged from last year.  The first switch in the rankings is the number 6 and 7 positions with the Bears moving ahead of the Saints.

The Cowboys excel on all the metrics.  They win in terms of Fan Equity (a revenue premium measure of brand strength), Road Equity and finish second in social media.  The underlying data (I will spare everybody the statistical models) reveals why Dallas does so well.  The Cowboy’s average home attendance usually leads the league, fans are willing to pay high prices, and the team’s twitter following is exceptional.  The Cowboys are America’s team.

The similarity across rankings gives me faith in the results.  However, the fan in me still questions some of what I see.  In terms of full disclosure, I grew up a Steelers fan in the 1970s and lived in the Chicago during the Bear’s glory days.  As such, I bring my personal biases to the interpretation of the findings.  I can’t help but to think of the Patriots as having bandwagon fans, and the Eagles ranking above the Steelers just does not seem right.

The analyst in me understands that the value of using a statistical approach is that the data can help correct my biases.  A couple of comments.  Patriot fans may be bandwagon fans.  But they have been on the bandwagon a long time.  A couple of decades of success likely means that the Patriots will remain NFL royalty even after Tom Brady leaves the game.

The Eagles surprise me, and probably most of western Pennsylvania.  They do get a bump from playing in the NFC East in terms of the Road Equity metric.  The NFC East is a strong collection of brands that benefit each other.  The Giants also benefit.  It is not easy to disentangle these effects.  And perhaps we shouldn’t since we can make a case that the rivalries that benefit these teams are because of the interest in the individual team brands.


The Losers

At the bottom of the rankings, we have the Browns, Jaguars, Chiefs, Rams and Titans.  This is an interesting group.  We have the struggling Browns, but we also have some teams like the Titans, Jaguars and Chiefs that have had recent success.

The important fact is that the statistical model I use, evaluates each team’s results based on how the league works on average.  If a team wins but does not convert the wins to increased revenues or social following, then the team will suffer in the rankings.

The good news for these teams (Jags, Chiefs, Titans) is that on-field success is the best way to create brand equity and fan loyalty.  The bad news is that it takes a good amount of success to move the needle long-term.

For the Rams and the Chargers, we should probably include an asterisk. Moving markets and playing in temporary stadiums can lead to some questionable findings.


The List

The complete list follows.  In addition to the overall ranking of fan bases, I also report rankings on the fan equity, social equity and road equity measures.  Following the table, I provide a bit more detail regarding each of the metrics.

2018 NFL Brand Rankings


Further Explanations

Fan Equity

Winners: Cowboys, 49ers, Patriots

Losers: Rams*, Raiders, Jaguars

Fan Equity looks at home revenues relative to expected revenue based on team performance and market characteristics.  The goal of the metric is to measure over or under performance relative to other teams in the league.  In other words, statistical models are used to create an apples-to-apples type comparison to avoid distortions due to long-term differences in market size or short-term differences in winning rates.

Just like last year, the 49ers are the interesting winner on this metric. After the last couple of years, it is doubtful that people are thinking about the 49ers having a rabid fan base.  However, the 49ers are a prime example of how the approach works.  On the field, the 49ers have not performed well.  Despite the on-field struggles, the 49ers still pack in the fans and charge high prices.  This is evidence of a very strong brand because even while losing the 49ers fans still attend and spend.  In terms of the overall rankings the 49ers don’t do all that great because the team does not perform as well as a road or social media draw.

In terms of business concepts, the “Fan Equity” measure is similar to a “revenue premium” measure of brand equity.  It captures the differentials in fan’s willingness to financially support teams of similar quality.  From a business or marketing perspective this is a gold standard of metrics as it directly relates to how a strong brand translates to revenues and profits.

One important thing to note is that some teams may not be trying to maximize revenues.  Perhaps the team is trying to build a fan base by keeping prices low.  Or a team may price on the low side based on some notion of loyalty to its community.   In these cases, the Fan equity metric may understate the engagement of fans.  I suspect that this is the case for the Steelers.


Social Media Equity

Winners: Patriots, Cowboys, Steelers

Losers: Rams, Jaguars, Titans

Social Media Equity is also an example of a “premium” based measure of brand equity.  It differs from the Fan Equity in that it focuses on how many fans a team has online rather than fans’ willingness to pay higher prices.  Similar to Fan Equity, Social Media Equity is also constructed using statistical models that control for performance and market differences.

In terms of business application, the social media metric has several implications both on its own merits and in conjunction with the Fan Equity measure.  For example, the lack of local constraints, means that the Social Equity measure is more of a national level measure.  While the Fan Equity metric focuses on local box office revenues, the social metric provides insight into how a team’s fandom extends beyond a metro area.

Social Media Equity may also serve as a leading indicator of a team’s future fortunes.  For a team to grow revenues it is often necessary to implement controversial price increases.  Convincing fans to sign expensive contracts to buy season tickets can also be a challenge.  Increasing prices and acquiring season ticket holders can therefore take time, while social media communities can grow quickly.  Preliminary analysis suggests that vibrant social communities are positively correlated with future revenue growth.

A comparison of Fan Equity and Social Media can also be useful.  If Social Media equity exceeds Fan Equity it is evidence that the team has some marketing potential that is not being exploited.  For example, one issue that is common in sports is that it is difficult to estimate the price elasticity of demand because demand is often highest for the best teams and best seats.  The unconstrained nature of social media can provide an important data point for assessing whether a team has additional pricing flexibility.


Road Equity

Winners: The NFC East, Raiders, Patriots and Steelers

Losers: Texans, Titans and Browns

Another way to look at fan quality is how a team draws on the Road.  There was a famous case in Atlanta just a few years ago, when Steelers fans turned the Georgia dome Gold and Black.

The Road Equity measure can be interpreted in multiple ways.  If a team has great road attendance, is it because the fans are following the team or because they have a national following?  In other words, do the local fans travel or does a team with high road attendance have a national following. When the Steelers turned the Georgia Dome Gold and Black was it because Steelers fans came down from Pittsburgh or because Steelers fans are everywhere.

I suspect that we are capturing a measure of national following rather than a tendency to travel.  The Road Equity rankings are dominated by high profile teams such as the Cowboys, Patriots and Steelers.  These teams also do very well on the Social Equity measure (which also measures national following).  This correlation gives me a confidence that the Road Equity picks up a measure of national following.





How Mad is Too Mad?: Cinderellas, Blue Bloods and TV Ratings

Each Spring I teach a course on sports marketing analytics.  As part of this course I ask student to develop a research project focused on either a marketing or player analytics topic.  What follows is a project that looks at the relationship between upsets and TV ratings in the NCAA tournament.  This project is interesting in several respects.  It has an interesting foundation in consumer behavior theory as it is motivated by an open question of whether fans prefer a tournament dominated by Cinderellas (upsets) or Blue Bloods (high brand equity teams).  This underlying theory then drives the data collection and modeling efforts.  Finally, the results speak to what fans actually prefer.

I think this project was interesting as it could be the starting point for deeper analyses.  Additional data could be collected and we could develop different models.  This is a great lesson because this is the case with almost all analytics projects.  We also did a podcast episode where we talked through the analysis and possible extensions.


How Mad is too Mad?

by Katie Hoppenjans

“March Madness” is a fitting nickname for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Since its inception in 1939, the tournament has been characterized by Cinderella stories; in years that are particularly “mad” with upsets, the underdog winners seem to be on everyone’s mind. In a year of historic upsets like this one, however, I have to wonder whether the level of excitement in a tournament really has any impact on fans’ engagement. Do people really love an underdog, or would they prefer to watch the same old powerhouses? Is “madness” really what viewers want?

To examine the value of an “exciting” March Madness, I built a model examining the relationship between the number of upsets in a tournament and the number of viewers who watch the championship game. The model includes data from 2005 to 2017, and upsets are defined as games won by teams seeded 11 or lower. Since no team seeded 11 or lower has ever made it farther than the Final Four, only the first four rounds of competition were counted. Finally, since significant upsets in later rounds are arguably more unexpected than those in early rounds, I assigned more points to the later rounds in my analysis; 1 point was given for each upset in the Round of 64, 6 were given for the Round of 32, 12 were given for the Sweet Sixteen, and 24 were given for the Elite Eight.

Using this model, I found that there is actually a significant negative correlation between the number of upsets in the early rounds of a tournament and the number of viewers who watch the championship game. In other words, the more “exciting” the tournament, the fewer the viewers who stick around until the end. One possible explanation for this may be that many people only watch March Madness because they have filled out a bracket; if their bracket is “busted” by early upsets, they might tune out of the tournament entirely. It may also be true that historically strong teams (like Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas, etc.) have more fans than small, Cinderella-story schools. Since powerhouse teams win more often, their fans are also more likely to be engaged and loyal viewers than smaller teams’ fans. As a result, when a major team is taken out of the tournament by a smaller school, viewership may drop off as the larger school’s fans lose interest. This is only conjecture, and further analysis would be needed to determine the cause of the relationship between viewers and upsets. However, as demonstrated by the graph below, upsets certainly seem to have an impact on how many people watch the championship game.

As advertising spend for the March Madness championship game continues to climb (per the graph below), the continued volatility in viewership must be troubling to sponsors. Particularly in a year like this one, in which a 1-seed lost in the Round of 64 for the first time in history, things are not looking good for the championship game ratings; with a tournament this unpredictable, it may be more important than ever for advertisers to find reliable ways of predicting the impact of their championship game sponsorship. Early-round upsets may be one factor in determining viewership, but there are many more questions that need to be answered before championship game ratings can be accurately estimated. “Madness” in the NCAA tournament may sound exciting, but if its negative correlation with viewership is to be believed, it’s actually bad news for fans and sponsors alike.


“NCAA Men’s Final Four Ratings Hub.” Sports Media Watch,

“NCAA Records Books.” – The Official Site of the NCAA, 17 Jan. 2018,