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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Major League Baseball Fandom Report 2019: The “Best” Fans in Baseball

Major League Baseball seems to be perennially in crisis in terms of its relationship with its fan base.  Free agency, strikes, steroids, competitive imbalances, short attention spans of millennials, a lack of stars, an aging fan base, and other factors have been cited to explain why baseball has either lost or is in danger of losing its position as the national pastime.

On the other hand, the league keeps setting revenue records. This article from Forbes reports that baseball has set revenue records for 16 straight years.

When thinking about baseball and its fans, it is safest to say it is a mixed bag of positives and warning signs.  Record revenues show that baseball has been able to develop innovative revenue streams and attract high value sponsors. But there does seem to be trouble on the horizon in terms of the next generation of fans.

In terms of demographics, MLB has one of the oldest fan bases (up there with golf). It is also largely viewed as the most family oriented sport. This is an interesting pattern. An aging fan base is a concern for the future if fans are aging out of attending games.  Of course, an aging fan base is also potentially an increasingly wealthy fan base.  The family orientation is an enormous positive. Sports fandom is largely transmitted through the family and the nature of the game helps bring the next generation into the fold (summer schedule, 81 home games, relatively cheap tickets, etc…).

There is also the issue of “tanking.” Tanking has been most frequently mentioned in the context of the NBA but it’s also a concern for baseball. Losing 100 games has long been considered epic futility. In 2018, the Orioles lost 115 games, the Royals lost 104, and the White Sox lost 100. The Marlins and Tigers lost 98.  Tanking is a fan issue because it speaks to the quality of the product that fans (in certain markets) are asked to buy.

Tanking brings us to the issue of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. While the Collective Bargaining Agreement is usually discussed in terms of the labor relationship between owners and players, the CBA is a critical issue for fandom because this agreement essentially defines how the league operates. For example, the CBA largely defines the rules related to revenue sharing, luxury taxes, and salary caps. These rules directly impact fans by creating the structures that influence player movements and competitive balance.

Baseball is notable for having relatively little revenue sharing and no salary cap. Controlling the distribution of spending by teams matters because there is a significant correlation between spending and winning in baseball.   The Red Sox won the World Series and also led the league with a payroll of about $240 million. At the bottom, The White Sox had a payroll of around $80 million. Remember, the White Sox lost 100 games.

The CBA matters because teams will find strategies that work for their circumstances.  There is some speculation that small market teams like the Royals are using business models that involve developing low cost homegrown talent, trying to win for a few years and then dumping payroll to pursue draft picks. The Royals reduced payroll from $185 million in 2017 to $135 million in 2018. The Royals lost 104 games in 2018 after making the playoffs in 2014 and 2015. In 2018 the Dodgers had the 4th highest payroll at about $195 million.  But that payroll was $59 million less than the previous season’s amount.  This decline allowed the team to drop below the luxury tax threshold. Are these strategies designed to maximize fan enjoyment?

The run-up to the 2019 MLB season has also included a “glacially” slow free agent market.  Eventually, the big name stars signed with teams outside of the major markets. Manny Machado signed with the Padres for $300 million for ten years and Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies for $330 million over 13 years. “Stars” matter to fans. Fans like winners but they also like stars.  While the NBA is and has been for a long time all about stars – Larry, Magic, Michael, Kobe, LeBron, Steph…. – MLB doesn’t seem to produce household names anymore. This article states that ESPN’s annual ranking of the most famous athletes includes 13 basketball players, 2 table tennis stars and no baseball players.  This lack of “media” stars matters.  Maybe not in the short-term where winning mostly drives attendance but likely in the long-term. When I have looked at the factors that build brand equity in sports, two items really jump out. Winning championships and having a history of Hall of Famers and All Stars.

 

The Best Baseball Brands

My last statement about how brands are built is based on logic and by running numbers on fandom in MLB and other sports leagues. As we enter the 2019 season, it’s time for my annual data based look at MLB fandom across the MLB brands. This analysis starts from questions like “Who has the best fans in Major League Baseball?” and “What are the best brands in MLB?”

These are simple questions without simple answers.  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 most?  Fans that are willing to follow a team on the road or social media?  Even after we agree on the question(s), 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 Milwaukee?  What if a team just opened a new stadium?  Did the fans stream in to see the building or to see the team?

For the past few years, I have been studying fandom across professional and college sports.  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 cities fans are more willing to spend or follow their teams after controlling for factors like market size and short-term variations in performance.

The “Overall” rankings are based on three sub-rankings – Fan Equity, Social Equity and Road Equity.  Fan Equity is a revenue premium based metric that compares the team’s box office results with league standards.  In other words, Fan Equity assesses how much fans are willing to “attend and spend” relative to fans across the league.  The KEY idea is that we measure this while controlling for team success and market characteristics like incomes and populations.

  • Fan Equity is a great metric for assessing the CURRENT level of passion or engagement in a local fan base.

Social Equity is focused on the team’s social media followings (Facebook and Twitter).  Again, the rankings are based on how a team’s social media results compare across the league after controlling for team success.

  • The Social Equity metric provides insight into the team’s POTENTIAL fan passion.

The third metric is Road Equity.  This metric is based on a statistical model that looks at how teams draw incremental fans when on the road.  The KEY idea is that draw outside of the home market reveals something about a club’s national appeal.

  • Road Equity provides a metric of passion beyond the local market. This passion can be positive (love the Cubs) or negative (hate the Yankees).

I could go on.  In the past I have developed additional metrics related to win sensitivity or price sensitivity.  Willingness to attend even when the team loses probably says something about loyalty.  Fans that don’t watch a loser might be termed bandwagon fans.  Willingness to pay is a great marketing metric.  Willingness to pay to see a team that isn’t winning is another great indication of loyalty.  These metrics are available upon request (mike [dot] lewis [at] emory [dot] edu – FYI, I don’t look at the comments) but I want to keep this article brief.

So, we have three metrics with different pluses and minuses.  In the quest to find an overall winner, I use a weighted average of the three metrics (more weight on the Fan Equity metric).  This may not be the right weighting but it’s usually a good idea to emphasize how customers actually spend.

 

The Winners

Overall, the group of clubs that comprise the Top 6 contains little in the way of surprises.  The Red Sox rank number one and are followed by the Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Cubs and Cardinals.  The Red Sox are perennially strong and finished first last year.  They also won the world series.  Boston is probably the best sports town in America.

In general, the clubs at the top of the list share these same traits.  They are all able to motivate fans to attend and spend as they all possess great attendance numbers and relatively high prices.  More to the point, these teams are even able to draw well and command price premiums when they are not winning.  Historically, the Cubs are the best example of this.

The list of winners probably raises an issue of “large” market bias.  However, keep in mind that the methodology is designed to control for home market effects.  The method is explicitly designed to control for differences in market demographics (and team performance).  While the “winners” tend to come from the bigger and more lucrative markets, other major market teams do not fair particularly well (White Sox, A’s).  There is also a more subtle point.  The large market teams likely have the best fan bases because they often have significant histories of success and are often featured in the media.

The topic of how these brands are built over time is another one of my favorite things to talk about.  I think it’s mostly two (highly correlated) things – championships and stars. Building brand equity is a fascinating sports topic and I think it’s a difficult one for teams (in small markets) to manage.  Will the current popular strategy of cycles of tanking and competing yield enough winning and “temporary” star to build brands?

 

The Bottom

The bottom of the list features the Marlins, White Sox, Indians, Athletics and Rays.  It is interesting that the bottom also includes teams from major markets such as the Bay Area, Chicago and Miami. The markets with two teams seem to yield dramatically different results within each market. I think this reveals something fundamental about fandom.  Fan bases are communities and many fans want to be a part of the most popular group. It is a simple theory but the end result is that the second team in a market will struggle to compete. Many fans are drawn to the bigger and more dominant community – Yankees, Cubs, Giants or Dodgers rather than the Mets, White Sox, A’s or Angels.

The case of the Marlins reveals another common problem for franchises. The Marlins finish is a reflection of how the team struggles on multiple dimensions. Attendance is often in the bottom 5 of the league despite being located in a major metro area.  Pricing is also below average for MLB.  Why do the Marlins struggle?  Lots of reasons.  Florida weather, a short history (fandom is often generational), a history of small payrolls and bad teams, and Miami being a transient city.

The Indians is an interesting case as well.  Cleveland is a passionate sports town.  But when you look at the numbers there is not a lot of support. An open question is how much of the problem is the Indian’s branding? The Indians have made moves to shift from the Native American imagery but have retained the team name.  I suspect that half measures might be the worst approach.

 

The Movers

In terms of year over year comparisons, there is a good amount of stability on the list.  This is a good sign since sports brands should evolve slowly.  Some notable movers on the list were the Blue Jays and Phillies moving up and the Diamondbacks and Indians dropping down. The Blue Jays illustrate an important feature of the model. When I calculate the brand “premiums” I use the most recent three seasons. This is intended to provide stable but evolving measures of brand equity. In the case of the Blue Jays, the improvement in ranking was mostly driven by attendance growth in 2016 and 2017. In the case of the Phillies the improvement was about growing attendance coupled with relatively high prices.

 

The 2019 Complete List

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Fanalytics Podcast: Super Bowl Advertisements

Goizueta Marketing Association’s Vice President of Career Services Nihar Thadani and Professor Mike Lewis do a live podcast on 2019 Super Bowl advertisements. They watch and analyze different advertisements to see what brands are trying to do.  For timing purposes, we have cut out the full version of advertisements being watched in the podcast.

Who are the winners and losers? Opinions are from Emory MBA students who answered a survey.

WINNERS:

  1. Stella Artois – Change Up The Usual
  2. Pepsi – More Than OK
  3. Bud Light – Game of Thrones

LOSERS:

  1. Mint Mobile – Chunky Style Milk
  2. Avocados From Mexico – Top Dog

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Fanalytics Podcast: Super Bowl History

Super Bowl LIII is right around the corner! With the big game being less than three weeks away, Mike and I wanted to talk about the history of the Super Bowl on this episode of the Fanalytics podcast. Talking about all 50+ Super Bowls would be a bit excessive so we picked the ones we felt were the most significant. Our goal was to see how much the Super Bowl has evolved and how it got to become the big sporting event it is today. Hope you enjoy!

Here’s some notes about the games we talked about.

1967 (AFL/NFL championship game):

  • The NFL champion Green Bay Packers defeated the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs by 35–10
  • 51 million viewers – CBS and NBC two networks because it was the AFL/NFL championship game
  • Ticket pricing: $10 ($74.98 in 2018)
  • The halftime program was University of Arizona and Grambling State marching bands

1969 (Super Bowl 3):

  • First Super Bowl to be called by a number (Super Bowl III)
  • This championship proved the AFL was on par with the NFL for the very first time
  • New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath promised his team a victory – a guarantee that was obviously out of place, as the Colts were favored to win by as much as a 20-point margin
  • The Colts were unable to keep the game within one score, and the Jets took the title, 16-7
  • Ticket price: $12 ($83.15 in 2018)

1973 (Super Bowl 7):

  • Miami 14 – 7 Redskins
  • Miami was undefeated
  • Super Bowl ads did not become ‘famous’ until 1973 when Noxzema ran a commercial for their shaving cream featuring Joe Namath
  • Ticket price: $16 ($86.86 in 2018)
  • Halftime show: “Happiness Is.” with University of Michigan marching band and Woody Herman

1976 (Super Bowl 10):

  • Pittsburgh defeats Dallas 21-17
  • 1976 Up with People performs in Super Bowl X in Miami, FL for a live audience of 80,100 and 57.7 million TV viewers
  • Ticket price: $20 ($88.73 in 2018)

1984 (Super Bowl 18):

  • Raiders 38-9 Redskins
  • Apple MAC ad is a big deal
  • Halftime show: “Super Bowl XVIII’s Salute to the Superstars of the Silver Screen”
  • Ticket price: $60 ($145.24 in 2018)

1985 (Super Bowl 19):

  • Bears Super Bowl shuffle
  • Halftime show:”A World of Children’s Dreams”
  • Highlighted some trends in terms of the super bowl creating celebrities
  • Ticket price: $60 ($140 in 2018)

1991 (Super Bowl 25):

  • This Championship game had a lot of patriotic pride, as the U.S. was in the middle of the first Gulf War
  • The New York Giants were on their way to winning two Super Bowls in 5 years as they played the Buffalo Bills
  • New York had possession of the ball for a record 40 minutes and 33 seconds, with their longest drive clocking it at 9:29 in the third quarter before scoring on a one-yard run by running back Ottis Anderson
  • The Bills had one final chance to win the game on a field goal with seconds remaining, but the 47-yard attempt by Scott Norwood sailed wide, and the Giants sealed the victory, 20-19
  • Ticket price: $150 ($274.89 in 2018)
  • Halftime show: “A Small World Salute to 25 Years of the Super Bowl” featuring New Kids on the Block

1999 (Super Bowl 33):

  • Denver beat Atlanta 34-19
  • WASSUP Ad

2002 (Super Bowl 36):

  • With the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11 earlier in the season, it should only seem fitting that the New England Patriots would be competing in Super Bowl XXXVI. Though labeled as the underdogs
  • New England jumped to a 17-3 lead over the St. Louis Rams by the end of the second quarter. The game switched gears in the second half, as the Rams made up the points necessary to put the game at a 17-17 tie
  • On the final play of the game, Adam Vinatieri made a 48-yard field goal to give the Patriots the championship, 20-17. This game marked the first time a Super Bowl was decided on the points from the final play of the game
  • Ticket price: $400 ($554.94 in 2018)
  • Halftime show: U2

2004 (Super Bowl 38):

  • Super Bowl XXXVIII turned into a shootout in the fourth quarter, as the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers combined for a record 37 points in that period
  • When it was over, the New England Patriots came on top, 32-29, to win their second Super Bowl
  • The game was also noteworthy for its halftime show and the famous “wardrobe malfunction” when Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed by Justin Timberlake
  • Ticket price: $400 ($529.90 in 2018)

2015 (Super Bowl 49):

  • The hype leading up to Super bowl XLIX was some of the biggest of any game in the decade before it
  • The defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and their Legion of Boom on defense would take on one of the greatest post season quarterbacks of all time in Tom Brady
  • Brady and the Patriots had lost their two previous Super Bowl appearances and were looking for redemption
  • A back and forth game saw the Patriots take the lead with just over 2 minutes remaining in the game. But Russell Wilson and company drove the ball the length of the field and had a 2nd and goal situation with 26 seconds remaining. The game looked all but won for the Seahawks, when Malcolm Butler stepped in front of a slant route, to intercept Wilson, and seal the Patriots 4th Super Bowl win
  • Ticket price: $1,750 ($1,839.07 in 2018)
  • Halftime show: Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott

2017 (Super Bowl 51):

  • Patriots 34, Falcons 28
  • It was the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history — the Patriots once trailed by 25 — led by Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in NFL history, who threw for 466 yards. It gave Bill Belichick and Brady their fifth championship in seven trips, and it cemented the Patriots as one of the league’s top dynasties
  • Ticket price: $1,700 ($1,721.40 in 2018)
  • Halftime show: Lady Gaga

Sources:

ABC

TicketCity blog

History

 

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Fanalytics Podcast: 2018 NFL Playoff Fandom Preview

Before the 2018 NFL season ends, Mike Lewis and passionate sports fan Rhett Grametbauer give their general impressions of various teams’ fan bases. Grametbauer has visited every NFL stadium in the country so who better to ask than someone who has interacted with football fans across the country? What are Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, and Los Angeles Rams fans like?

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Esports Viewership and Customer Engagement

We have some exciting and important stuff happening on the sports research front. We recently announced a research partnership with the Skillshot Division of HI-REZ Studios, focused on how esports influences customer engagement. HI-REZ is the creator of video games like SMITE and PALADINS and Skillshot Media is HI-REZ’s esports production company. We are partnering with Skillshot on multiple research projects that investigate fandom and customer economics in the world of esports.

Esports might just be the most exciting category in the sports and entertainment industry. It’s already big and it is growing fast. As a quick reference point, the global video game market is estimated at about $140 billion dollars. In terms of comparisons, the movie industry does about $40 billion in box office and the NFL generates revenues of about $14 billion. This is not exactly an “apples to apples” comparison but it makes the point.  Something big is happening.

Today we are publishing the first version of a White Paper that looks at the impact of esports viewing on consumer engagement with a game. This is a great topic that has implications well beyond the world of esports and video games.  Fundamentally, the question is what happens when consumers engage with content and the community that surrounds a brand or product. Esports is a great setting for this research because the digital technologies that support online gaming make it possible to “begin” to understand the relationship between viewing esports and consumer engagement.

From a technical standpoint, the tricky thing about attributing increased customer engagement to esports viewing is that players that choose to watch might be “different” from those that do not watch. In the paper, we use player data to create very similar groups (based on extensive data on playing histories) of esports watchers and non-watchers. We have tried to keep the paper simple but we do discuss propensity score matching and logistic regression.  I hope that we have hit the right balance of technical rigor and readability. For the more technical audience, we are also working towards a standard academic paper that will feature more analyses and some additional techniques.

In terms of the findings, the bottom line is that there is a strong link between esports viewership and increased consumer engagement. Specifically, we find that viewing esports increases customer engagement in terms of playing more, playing better and spending more. What drives this result? Our conjecture is that esports provides an opportunity for community building. Players can connect with other fans over context that is often exciting and inspirational.

Much more to come…

Check out the White Paper: The SMITE Case Study

 

Links

https://www.hirezstudios.com/

https://www.smitegame.com/

https://www.paladins.com/

https://www.skillshot.com/

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/

Check out the episode by clicking on the logo below:

 

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.