Fanalytics Podcast: Ezekiel Who? Analytics & the Collective Bargaining Agreement

 

In this episode, Professor Lewis discusses why the Ezekiel Elliott holdout is the most important off-season NFL story. It’s a story about how the collective bargaining agreement’s rules for rookie contracts comes into conflicts with analytics. The conflict occurs because for some positions, like running back, NFL rookie contract rules allow teams to avoid paying market rates for the majority or entirety of players’ careers. The episode talks about how last year’s Todd Gurley and Le’veon Bell deals have gotten us to the point where players may be increasingly willing to hold-out and teams may be less likely to invest in running backs.  

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Fanalytics Podcast: Sports Analytics – Getting Your Foot in the Door

Houston Dynamo Data Analyst and Emory alumni Sean Steffen joins Mike Lewis on this Fanalytics podcast episode where they discuss how to get into the field of sports analytics. Getting your foot in the door can be quite competitive. Sean shares his “non-traditional” journey.

Some background on Sean: In college, he majored in creative writing. From there, he started writing for American Soccer Analysis, a blog that focuses on Major League Soccer. The key to Sean’s success was that he backed up his writing with data and analytics.

The conversation gets a little deep in the weeds and even includes a discussion of the competing programming languages – R and Python. For prospective analysts, Sean recommends learning excel and linear regression.  Mike says SQL, R, and linear regression are good starting points to analyze data.

They also talk modern soccer analytics such as the logic and mechanics behind expected goals.

You can reach Sean on Twitter @SeanSteffen or search him on LinkedIn.

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Fanalytics Podcast: FIFA World Cup Gender Pay Gap

A big topic making headlines right now is the FIFA Women’s World Cup. More specifically, the gender pay gap at the FIFA World Cup.

Professors Mike Lewis and Tom Smith discuss their thoughts on the wage differences between the men and women’s soccer teams on this Fanalytics podcast episode.

Tom also looks at the earning ratios of men and women athletes primarily in the United States.

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NFL Fandom Report 2019

 

Time for our yearly look at NFL fandom.

Each year, I do a quantitative 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 fundamental question that guides the analysis is simple – Who has the best fans in the NFL?  For the business folks, maybe we phrase this as – What are the best brands in the NFL? It’s a simple question that requires some complicated analyses.  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 social media? Fans that show up to see the team play in other markets? All good options.

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 uses data on attendance, revenues, social media following and road attendance to develop statistical models of fan interest (more details here).  The key is that the 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.

Similar to past years, 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 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 balanced analyses of fandom – 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 use a statistical tool that looks at the correlation across the three metrics to create a “Brand Equity Factor”.  Similar analyses are available for the NBA and MLB.

The Winners

 

The top five fan bases (team brands if you prefer) are the Cowboys, Patriots, Eagles, Giants and Steelers.  This is unchanged from the last two years – leaving me with little to say. The Cowboys have long been NFL royalty and the Patriots are now firmly established at the top of the league. It remains to be seen if the Patriots will remain near the top when Brady and Belichick move on.

In past years I have noted that the Eagles are a bit of a surprise.  But the strong social and road scores keep the Eagles near the top. The Steelers could probably be a bit higher on the list. The Steelers tend to price near the middle of the league and this limits their Fan Equity score.

The Giants are an interesting case. They do well on Fan Equity (especially compared to the Jets) and the Road Equity score is impressive.  The Social Equity score suggests that the Giants are more of a regional brand but when your region is NYC it’s not a major problem. The Road Equity score is an interesting one to debate. The teams in the NFC East all do well on this measure. I could adjust for divisional affiliation but the NFC East is, for whatever reason, the glamour division of the NFL. My feeling (like I said it’s debatable) is that the teams in that division should be given credit for the divisions appeal.

The next group of five includes the Packers, Broncos, Bears, 49ers and Saints.  A lot of face validity to these results. The 49ers might raise some eyebrows, but it is a team that does very well in terms of attendance and pricing power. The Bears, Packers and Broncos are all strong brands with impressive histories. The Saints are the relative newcomer in the top ten. Like the Patriots, it will be interesting to see how Saints fandom responds when Drew Brees retires.

 

The Losers

At the bottom of the rankings, we have the Bengals, Jaguars, Titans, Chiefs and Rams. Only minor changes from last year. The Browns have edged out of the bottom 5. These teams all suffer from the same issues – relatively weak pricing power and limited social followings.

The Chiefs are the team that will generate push back. The Chiefs have had some success and they have significant star power. The problem is that the Chiefs lack pricing power and do not have much of a social following (I use Twitter). However, the Chiefs and Browns are probably the best positioned teams to make moves up the charts the next few years.

For the Rams (and the Chargers), we should probably include an asterisk. Moving markets and playing in temporary stadiums can lead to questionable data. The Rams – like the Chiefs and Browns – are well positioned for on-field success over the next few years.  The good news for these teams 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.

 

The Business Implications: Why does this Matter?

This study is about measuring fandom intensity or engagement. The logical foundation is that we attribute over or under performance in revenues or social following to fan engagement. To do this, we have to control for factors like market size and winning. This is the key point. Fan engagement is a little different from brand equity (the value of a brand) because we are controlling for market differences. The preceding results are more about intensity or passion of a fan base rather than the value of the fan base.

Fandom intensity is an important and often overlooked part of brand equity. In a full brand equity analysis, I would want to combine structural elements of a market (population, income, arena, etc…) with a fan engagement factor to assess a team’s brand equity. The value of the fan base is probably best thought of as a product of the passion (or intensity or engagement) and the size of the fan base.

Why do we care about fan intensity?

A standard approach to value sports assets (teams, players and sponsorship deals) is to use comparables. The idea is that you evaluate a future deal based on the characteristics of similar past deals. It’s the same concept used in real estate where housing prices are usually dictated by factors such as square footage, number of bathrooms and the previous sales in the neighborhood.

In the world of sports, there are many deals that are valued based on the fans. Stadium naming rights and sponsorships are two prime examples.

But in the case of sports deals, it’s important to consider the passion of the fan base. Let’s consider a non-NFL example to illustrate the point. How might an analyst value similar deals (naming rights, sponsorships, etc…) related to the Clippers and Lakers. Both teams play in the same city so there is little difference in market related factors. If we tried to rely on current winning rates then the Clippers would appear to be the more valuable deal. The missing factor is that the Lakers have a fan base (created through a history of All Star Players and Championships) that is incredibly engaged with and attached to the Lakers brand. If we were valuing competing deals across the two clubs, it is critical that we also consider the passion (and staying power) of each team.

While I present my results as rankings, behind the scenes there are a set of numerical scores for each metric. These numerical scores provide a tool for valuing promotions and sponsorships. The numerical scores provide a basis for valuing the passion of fans across teams. The use of multiple metrics is again useful because each metric has a different behavioral interpretation.

Two quick examples.

The Fan Equity metric is a measure of willingness to spend. Critically, it is a measure of willingness to spend that controls for differences in market characteristics (population, income levels, etc…) and current team performance. In this year’s results, the Cowboys rank number 1 in Fan Equity and the Texans finish number 21. The (behind the scenes) analyses suggest that Dallas’ spend premium relative to the league average is positive 7.79% while Houston’s premium is .39%. This suggests that in a sponsorship deal where all things are equal (number of impressions, median income, etc…) that the sponsorship of the Cowboys would merit a 7.4% premium versus an identical partnership with the Texans. In some ways, this seems like a conservative estimate given the prominence of the Cowboys. But, NFL fandom is intense everywhere and the Fan Equity metric is geared towards local markets.

The Social Equity metric is a measure of transmission or amplification. In terms of Social Equity, the Cowboys rank 3rd and the Texans rank 12th. For this metric, the differences across teams are much more substantial. Relative to the league average the Cowboys have a social media equity index score of 87% (the Cowboys social amplification factor is 87% greater than the average team). The Texan’s index is 1% above the league average. The results suggest that the Cowboys would merit an 86% premium for a nationwide or social media oriented promotion versus the Texans. Again, these results are based on models that adjust or control for differences in team performance and market characteristics.

The Complete List

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Fanalytics Video: NBA Off-Season & Draft

Here’s the latest sports headlines on the Fanalytics video this week! Mike shares his thoughts going into the NBA off-season and the draft happening on Thursday.

 

Fanalytics Podcast: Lucy Rushton and Building Atlanta United FC

How do you build a new team, like the Atlanta United, from the ground up?

In this Fanalytics episode we meet Atlanta United’s Lucy Rushton. As the team’s Head of Technical Recruitment and Performance Analysis, she provides analytics, data and insights that help the team build their roster.  In the conversation with Lucy we talk about two types of analyses.  One part involves the subjective analysis which is watching the players on the field. The other part is the objective analysis which involves data and statistics, emotion is taken out of the analysis. Rushton says it’s important to get a balance between the two in order to drive a successful department.

So what’s the game plan when searching for players for the team? Rushton says to get data and find players that fit in with the club philosophy and playing styles. Styles include players who have fast attacking skills, can entertain, athleticism, and speed. You also have to ask, what are the key attributes of a player for the position they look for? How much do these players cost?

When it comes to statistical forecasting, how much of that do decision-makers want to see? They want to see the insights not the models.

What’s next for Atlanta United? The head scout says the goal is to get better, get another chance to play in the CONCACAF Champions League, and growth in analysis.

In the second half of the episode, we talk about some of the larger lessons related to performing and presenting analytics in any organization. Analytics is seldom a magic bullet for any organizational challenge. More often, analytics informs rather than directs decisions.

Along these lines, we frame the interview with Lucy and the challenge of building a championship roster in terms of decision support realities such as biases in human decision making and the limitations of statistical models.

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Fanalytics Video: NBA Finals & FIFA Women’s World Cup

This week on the Fanalytics video, we discuss the big story lines happening in the NBA finals and FIFA Women’s World Cup. Thanks for checking out the trending sports stories with us on Monday mornings!

Fanalytics Video: NBA Finals

Fanalytics Podcast: Three-Point Field Goal

This week, Professor Mike Lewis and Emory student Alex Notis examine the three-point field goal (also 3-pointer) in the NBA.

The modern NBA has been transformed by the three-point shot.  Points are up, turnovers are down and NBA rosters are now built to shoot the three.

Some key facts…

When the three-point line was introduced in 1986 only 3% of shots were three-point attempts.

This season, 36% of shots were three pointers.

In this episode, we talk about Alex’s project which looks into trends and outcomes related to the three-point shot.

In the second half of the episode, Professor Lewis takes a step back and talks about the concept of expected value.  Expected value is a key concept in sports analytics. In decisions ranging from taking a three-point shot in the NBA, pulling the goalie in hockey, going for 2 in the NFL, or bunting to move a runner to second in MLB, expected value calculations are the key.

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Fanalytics Podcast: Mascots & Sports Team Names

In this Fanalytics podcast episode, we are doing a deep dive into mascots and team names in the sports world. Marketing Professor Mike Lewis, MBA student Al Multani-Kohal, and I kick off the episode by talking about a viral tweet.

A little background before getting to that…

Professor Lewis has been studying issues surrounding team names and mascots for several years.  This OpEd discusses the business case for changing a controversial team name such as the Washington Redskins.  A full series of posts focused on team names and mascots can be found here.

The topic of team names and mascots has since entered the classroom. Professor Lewis teaches a Sports Marketing class and recently gave an assignment where groups of students had to choose a sports brand that they believed could benefit from an updating.  Students were also asked to propose a solution to the potential branding “problem.”

Al’s group got caught up in a Twitter storm after they proposed changing the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators to the Sabercats.

Al says his group looked at North American professional teams that could use rebranding because there wasn’t brand equity. This involved asking:

1.) Was there something that could be perceived as offensive?

2.) Was there a disconnect with how a logo/brand/mascot resonated with its origin stories?

Al says his team analyzed data on the word “predator” and found there were negative connotations associated with it. That’s how this proposal came to light.

In the second part of this episode, Mike and I talk about the history of mascots and some of the most famous brand mascots of all time including Mickey Mouse, Tony the Tiger, and Mario.

We also discuss a couple of controversial Native American mascots – the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins.

 

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