Fanalytics Podcast: A Visit To Every NFL Stadium

In this Fanalytics episode, sports enthusiast and author Rhett Grametbauer joins Mike Lewis to talk about his thrilling journey visiting every NFL stadium in 16 weeks. Grametbauer took his 1967 Volkswagen bus named Hail Mary to visit the 32 football teams. He wrote about his adventure in his book called “25,000 Miles to Glory.”

This episode delves into the incredible escapade, study of consumers, ethnography, childhood memories, and what makes a stadium special.

To learn more about Rhett Grametbauer: https://www.rhettgrametbauer.com/

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ACC College Football Fandom Report: The Importance of Culture

Culture and fandom are connected.  The culture of a city or a university often includes a significant sports fandom sub-culture.  Because culture itself is largely driven by the shared knowledge and interests of a population.  The Cubs and the Bears are a big part of the city of Chicago.  The Cardinals might be the most universal shared passion in the city of Saint Louis.

At the college level, many universities with big time sports refer to themselves as the “blank” nation.  I worked at the University of Florida for a few years and this place was clearly the Gator nation.  In other words, the mascot or team name essentially became the focal point for the university community.  It makes sense.  The football team provides a good chunk of the common experiences and knowledge that creates a common University of Florida culture.

Why am I talking about the SEC in an article about the ACC?  “Fandom” is interesting because it goes beyond “consumer loyalty” and becomes a cultural force.  I think the SEC is probably the best example of where football fandom drives university culture.  Maybe this doesn’t happen as much in the ACC.  In other words, maybe the ACC institutions just don’t have the same football culture as the other Power 5 leagues.  The ACC might be the inverse of the Big 12.  The Big 12 has a strong football culture but a lousy media foot print.  The ACC has great media markets but far less football culture.

The economic analysis of college football brands highlights the relative weakness of the ACC (versus other leagues).  The rankings are based on relative economic performance relative to winning rates and investment.  The analysis gets beyond fair-weather fandom and schools buying their way into winning on field.

The ACC results are “interesting” and I think revealing.  The best football brands in the ACC are Georgia Tech, NC State, Syracuse, and Florida State.  Let me say that again – the best brands.  Not the best teams.

The ACC might be best viewed in terms of where the league has potential.  Georgia Tech is a clear number 2 in Atlanta, but Tech may have more potential as a brand than the rest of the ACC.  It’s in a football mad major metro area in a football mad state.  NC State is interesting because its local competitors are elite basketball schools.  NC State could be the premier football brand in North Carolina.  Syracuse is also all about potential.  New York is a pro market.  But if there is room for a college brand then Syracuse has a lot going for it.  Florida State is, historically, probably the class of the league.  They do well in terms of revenues but they invest heavily in their program.  FSU’s investment dwarfs what Georgia Tech or NC State invests.

The next group features Virginia Tech, Louisville, UNC, Duke and Pitt.  Louisville is one of the most interesting college sports brands.  Louisville is innovative and almost seems to operate with more of a pro model (in terms of marketing).  It’s also located in an almost pro like market.  But Louisville, also lacks some of the tradition that the best football brands possess.  It will be interesting to see how the Louisville brand develops over time.

The lower part of the league includes Wake Forest, Boston College, Clemson, Miami and Virginia.  I’ll admit that I’m mystified by Clemson.  Brand equity moves slowly and there is a bit of a lag in the department of education data.  The key to building brand equity is high level success.  Clemson might be the ACC’s best hope for a premium football brand.  Or maybe Clemson is just an outlier and doesn’t charge high enough prices.  Clemson might be the one school on the list that deserves a deeper dive (but I’m not getting paid for this so…). Then there is Miami.  Over the years, I have done rankings across all the pro leagues and the college ranks. Florida teams often lag the field.  Maybe it’s the weather.  Maybe it’s the demographics.  Whatever it is, Miami just doesn’t generate the economic returns of a premier college football brand.

While I expect to take some heat for these rankings (GaTech over Clemson), the ACC illustrates how the model works.  We are evaluating brands while controlling for on-field success and investment.  This means that schools can rank high if the support they enjoy exceeds the support they might reasonably expect based on performance.

Ranking the SEC Football Fan Bases

The SEC is the dominate college football league at the moment.  Okay for the last 20-25 years.

The rankings prove the point with 5 of the top 10 teams coming from the SEC.  If we go farther down the list, the SEC has 7 of the top 12 or 9 of the top 18.  In terms of the league itself, Tennessee is the winner followed by LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Arkansas and Alabama.

The middle group of the league includes Texas AM, Ole Miss, and South Carolina.  The bottom group features Kentucky, Mississippi State, Missouri and Vanderbilt.

The best way to look at the SEC is in terms of these groupings.  Seven truly elite college football brands and a second tier that includes a very solid group of brands.

That’s all fine.  But after all these years I know what readers are thinking…  Especially readers in Alabama.

These rankings are crap!  The methodology is flawed!  You are looking at the wrong metrics.  What about applications and alumni engagement?! Professors don’t know anything about sports!  Emory should be embarrassed to have this guy on faculty!

Fair enough.

I will happily accept the statement that Alabama currently has the best college football program in the nation.  So why doesn’t Alabama lead these rankings?  One way to look at this is through a thought experiment.  What if we could transfer Alabama’s recent success to another team – What would happen?  What if Notre Dame or Texas or Tennessee had Alabama’s level of success?  How about Ole Miss or Oklahoma State?  It’s tough to say but that’s what I’m trying to get at by throwing a bunch of theory, data and statistical analysis at this topic.

I’d also like to add that there is no criticism of Alabama.  The “football” strategy might be optimal given Alabama’s position in the educational marketplace.  The football team is a great marketing asset and brings a lot of attention to the school.  Much is made of Nick Saban’s salary but if the investment was redirected away from the football program, where would it go?  Alabama has a great asset in its football brand.  It has the brand equity that comes from having a winning tradition.  And it makes sense for Alabama to use this asset.

At its core is this equity any greater than a lot of schools?  If the next coach at Alabama starts to have 7 or 6 win seasons is the passion still there?

The PAC 12 CFB Fan Rankings & Fair Weather Fandom

Sports and Weather?

Why is fandom a regional phenomenon?  I spend a lot of time analyzing fandom across leagues and cities.  I can’t help but to observe patterns (discovering patterns is actually kind of the point).  For example, if you ask me to compare the fan bases in Boston versus Tampa or Chicago versus Atlanta, I can tell you the better team brand without even knowing the sport.

Why some regions have better fan support than others, is a question for another day. Is it about team histories?  I’m sympathetic to this idea as I do believe that sports brands are built on a generational time frame?  Is it the demographics?  Maybe. I don’t want to touch the racial angle but we know that a city full of transplants is likely to have less intense fandom.  How about the weather?   Does Florida or Southern California weather deter fandom?  It probably doesn’t help. It’s the why go to the game when you can go to the beach explanation.  Fair weather fandom is more prevalent when the weather is, well, fair.

It is a tough problem because all of these factors matter.  And these factors probably interact (having a short history and nice weather is probably a double whammy).

The PAC 12 is the league that makes sense if it’s about the weather.  We have Oregon at the top followed by Washington, Utah, Washington State and Oregon State.  This seems to be the colder half of the league.  It might not be the best known of the football programs but it seems to be the best customer bases.

Oregon is interesting because it’s mostly known for innovative uniforms and Phil Knight.  Sort of classic branding.  Also some (relatively) recent success despite a few tough recent years.  It’s interesting because sports brands are usually built based on long-term success.  Washington is a solid program across the board.  The next three teams’ programs suggest that the league is a bit skewed.  It appears that the programs with the most potential tend to be the least prominent.

At the other end of the scale we have Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, USC and UCLA as the bottom 5.  These schools are also located in the most appealing tourist destinations in the conference.

USC is the head turner.  An amazing tradition.  Championships and Heisman trophies.  But when you crunch the numbers the fans don’t show up like they do at places like Ohio State, Alabama and Texas.

Fanalytics Podcast: Social Media Branding

In this episode of the Fanalytics podcast, I sit down with Brian Penter of the Harlem Globetrotters.  The Globetrotters are an iconic brand that is reinventing itself for a new generation of fans.  Older fans probably remember the Globetrotters from mass media outlets like ABC’s Wide World of Sports or Saturday morning episodes of Scooby-Doo.

In today’s era, the brand and team have needed to embrace the digital and social worlds.  Brian implements the Globetrotters brand strategy through YouTube based content and social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

We talk about a variety of issues including:

  • How social media provides a connection point for the fan community
  • How the Globetrotters leverage the fandom of an older generation to target new customers
  • How the Globetrotters deal with the challenges of converting social media metrics to the bottom line
  • How social media is used to communicate the Globetrotters brand

Brian was a great guest with lots of insights.  Social is a challenge for all teams (and brands) and Brian provides first-hand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities of using this new marketing tool.  It’s an especially cool story because of the brand under study.  The Globetrotters might be the perfect mix of sports and entertainment.  You add that the team faces some really interesting marketing challenges such as trying to engage fans while only visiting each city once a year and you have a truly fascinating business to study.

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Fanalytics Podcast: Business of Sports

In this Fanalytics episode, Mike Lewis and Goizueta Association for Media, Entertainment, and Sports (GAMES) President Taylor Prewitt discuss the business of sports. More specifically, they focus on how students can leverage a MBA program to develop a career in sports. What job positions are realistic for students coming right out of graduate school? What skills do employers look for?

They also talk about how sports players build their brands and how politics play into sports. At the end of the episode, Mike takes questions from other Goizueta students curious about the world of sports.

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Esports Fandom Partnership with Skillshot

I am thrilled to announce a new research partnership devoted to the study of fandom in esports (I know opinions vary on the spelling – eSports, etc…).  We are partnering with the Skillshot division of Hi-Rez studios.  This is a great opportunity to do some very cool stuff in one of the hottest categories of sports and entertainment.  In particular, the digital world of competitive gaming provides some unique opportunities to study fandom.  The key is that in the digital world we can link watching, playing and buying.

As part of this new partnership I recently sat down with Zhe Han.  Zhe is my PhD student and he is working on a dissertation that examines how players respond to dynamic incentives in video games and other mobile applications.  Zhe is also an avid gamer and a big time consumer of esports.  In this episode we talk about a range of issues related to gaming and this (relatively) new phenomenon of esports.  There will be a LOT more to come.

Click logo below to listen to this Fanalytics podcast episode.

 

The official press release is below:

Esports Fandom Research Initiative Announced by Emory University and Skillshot Media

Partnership to explore the relationship between Watching and Playing within the rapidly growing esports sector

 

ATLANTA. November 1, 2018 The Marketing Analytics Center at Emory University and its Influential Analytics Lab are partnering with the Skillshot Media division of successful Georgia-headquartered gaming company Hi-Rez Studios to study consumer behavior and fandom in the rapidly growing esports sector.  The interactive entertainment industry, which includes video games, mobile gaming and competitive video gaming known as esports, generated over $100 billion in global revenues in 2017 alone.

The purpose of the Esports Fandom Research Initiative is to apply cutting edge analytics techniques informed by sophisticated psychological theories in order to study how the consumption of esports fosters consumer interest. The partnership will provide data and access for multiple PhD students to explore how passive consumption of esports leads to active engagement with games. Learnings can then be applied to better identify, understand, and utilize the explosive growth in business opportunities for game publishers, media companies, and brand sponsors within the esports space.

Most leading game publishers now have an intuition that an esports ecosystem supports higher player engagement and perhaps even higher in-game monetization”, said Todd Harris, President of Skillshot Media and co-founder of Hi-Rez Studios.  “We certainly share this hypothesis and are excited to test it more rigorously.  We’ll be supporting this experienced Emory research team to better quantify the relationship between watching esports and playing esports, which should help inform publishers and other partners on their esports investment and expected return.”

The Emory Marketing Analytics Center has been actively studying fandom in categories ranging from sports to politics. Gaming and esports provide exciting new opportunities to study evolving fandom, and the digital nature of esports programming and its consumption supplies researchers with extensive data with which to study behavior of casual consumers and hyper-invested fans alike.

The Research Program

The partnership between Emory University and Skillshot Media, the largest esports producer on the U.S. east coast, is focused on creating innovative and meaningful research projects related to esports and gaming. The core of the program is an emphasis on the consumer and gaining a better understanding of how the interactive nature of esports creates a new type of engagement and fandom. The research program aims to translate its outcome to a relevancy well beyond gaming, as trends in culture and technology all point to a future where industries ranging from education to fitness include digital delivery and gamification systems based on behavioral decision making theories.

Initial Projects:

Investigating the Interplay between Watching and Participation:
Interactive entertainment such as gaming provides opportunities for both active and passive consumption.  Traditionally consumers have interacted with games by being active players.  This active play has expanded in scope and scale and can now cross cultures and continents.  More recently, we have seen the growth of esports as a category where fans participate by watching high level players compete against each other.  This competition can be consumed in traditional physical arena settings or via streaming services or videos on demand.

Investigating Consumer Behavior in the Video Gaming Industry:

Gaming applications often feature a variety of dynamic incentive schemes and social community structures that can greatly influence consumer behavior.  Current research projects investigate how gamification systems such as rewards, leveling up and earning community status alter consumer preferences and purchasing behavior

For more information about the Esports Fandom Research Initiative, please contact mike [dot] lewis [at] emory [dot] edu at Emory University.

 

About the Marketing Analytics Center at Emory University

The Marketing Analytics Center at Emory University connects academic, business and student communities interested in the analysis of consumers.  It is directed by Professor Mike Lewis, who also conducts academic research through the Influential Analytics Lab.

 

About Skillshot Media:

Skillshot provides a turnkey esports solution for leading competitive titles, including online and offline tournament organisation, industry-leading esports production and active community management.  Skillshot has over five years of esports experience, hosting thousands of global competitors, paying out millions in tournament prizing and serving over one billion esports views to date.

 

 

 

 

Fanalytics Podcast: 2018 NBA Competitive Balance & Super Stardom

In today’s episode, economist Tom Smith and I talk about the upcoming NBA season.  Specifically, we discuss the trends towards “super” teams comprised of multiple all stars.  The conversation covers everything from Tom’s love of musical theater to how the collective bargaining agreement (the max salary provision) leads to the concentration of all stars in just a few cities.

The NBA has long been more of a star powered league than MLB or the NFL.  It’s an interesting strategy because it means that the NBA often has players that are true popular culture icons.  This provides tremendous marketing benefits.  On the other hand, relying on stars to drive fan interest means that the league is always looking for the next big thing.

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Fanalytics Podcast: Political Moneyball

Every now and then, I go beyond sports and do some work related to politics.  I think it’s a natural extension because, just like sports, political campaigns are contests between human competitors.  In this addition of the podcast, Ada Chong and I discuss the role of appearance in political campaigns.

It’s an interesting topic that should be of interest to voters and campaigns.  There has long been a theory that attractiveness and generally looking more competent provide a benefit to candidates.  We take this idea to the next level and look at the role of appearance across political parties.  This is an important extension because the Republican and Democratic parties are very different brands that appeal to increasingly different constituencies.

In this episode we discuss a research paper I wrote with Dr. Joey Hoegg from the University of British Columbia.  The paper investigated how inferences about personality based appearance influence campaign results. One of the topics we discuss is the role of appearing “intelligent” versus looking “competent”.  We found that Democratic candidates gained an advantage from having more academic or intellectual types of appearances while Republicans benefited from having appearances that suggested more practical types of competence.

For those that are truly interested the abstract and citation for the research are below.

The Abstract

Spending on political advertising has grown dramatically in recent years, and political campaigns have increasingly adopted the language and techniques of marketing. As such political marketing efforts proliferate, the factors that drive electoral success warrant greater attention and investigation. The authors employ a combination of laboratory studies and analysis of actual election results to reveal influences of candidate appearance and spending strategies in campaigns. They analyze how personality trait inferences based on candidate appearance interact with political party brand image, advertising spending, and negative advertising. The results indicate that appearance-based inferences about candidates influence election outcomes, but their impact is driven partially by trait associations at the party brand level. This interaction between appearance and party alters the effects of advertising spending, particularly the effects of negative advertising. The findings have implications for the marketing of political candidates in terms of their party’s brand image.

The Citation

Hoegg, Joandrea, and Michael V. Lewis. “The impact of candidate appearance and advertising strategies on election results.” Journal of Marketing Research 48, no. 5 (2011): 895-909.

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The Big 12 Brand Rankings, Competitive Balance and Conference Realignment

Conference realignment was a hot topic a few years ago.  The Big Ten grabbed Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers.  The ACC grabbed a big chunk of the Big East.  A lot of these changes were driven by marketing considerations.  Maybe all of these changes were driven by marketing considerations.  The goal was always to acquire football brands that either had great brand equity or provided access to new media markets.

The Big Twelve was continuously raided.  They lost a historical power in Nebraska to the Big Ten.  A Colorado team that provided access to a solid media market fled to the PAC 12.  Texas AM and Missouri took off for the SEC.

While much of this movement was driven by the dollar, it does raise some questions and concerns about competitive balance.  Competitive balance is thought to be important based on the theory that fans prefer competitive events and that every team needs to have a shot at winning a title (at least now and then).

Moving forward, the Big 12 may have more marketing and competitive imbalance than the other Power 5 conferences.  Texas might be struggling on the field but long-term it’s hard to imagine that Texas’ revenue advantages won’t leave the Longhorns the dominant program.  In terms of marketing, while cable TV deals are fading in importance, the Big 12 footprint leaves the league at a disadvantage.  It’s also a league where a single school probably dictates the league’s future.  A move of Texas to the Big Ten or PAC 12 probably finishes the league.

In terms of the Big 12 fan bases, the league is headlined by Texas and Oklahoma.  These two elite brands are followed by Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Kansas State.  The bottom half of the league includes Iowa State, TCU, Kansas, Baylor and West Virginia.

In some ways this is a tough league to love.  It’s incredibly top heavy in terms of football and its standard bearer has struggled in recent years.  It’s also a geographically limited league with so many teams in Texas and Oklahoma.  This is a league that could really use a little more brand power.  Of course, it’s hard to imagine where that would come from with the loss of schools like Texas A&M and Mizzou.  Boise State and UCF?

Postscript: I’ve been doing fan base / brand rankings for half a decade or so.  One observation is that the fans and brands at the top of each list do not respond with much more than a satisfied “of course.”  At the bottom is often a different story.  In the NFL, the Raiders fans are the angriest.  They often go straight to threats of violence.  Cleveland fans are the funniest.

When I posted the overall college football brand rankings, I learned something about the West Virginia fans.  These folks have a lot of passion about their fandom.  This passion created a lot of complaints about me and my personal failings.  If I ever do a list of the angriest fan bases, West Virginia will be up there.

However, within all the hate there is an important point.  These rankings are based on decades of data, careful statistical models and marketing concepts that are used across a wide variety of industries.  But, the haters are correct.  No ranking is perfect.  This one is driven by financial results and I have never seen a ranking with anywhere near the rigor.  But it is also limited.  At the end of the day, a fan’s passion is something that we can never truly observe.  Maybe West Virginia has a different business model than other schools (brand equity building rather than revenue maximization), or maybe West Virginia uses different accounting assumptions.  This is a good faith analysis that uses the best data available.

For the aspiring analytics professionals, there is one final lesson.  You do the best analysis you can.  And then you look at the results.  And sometimes the analysis becomes a springboard for taking a deeper dive.  This might be one of those times.  A follow up analysis on the puzzle of West Virginia would be a valid follow up.