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.

Click logo below to listen to this Fanalytics podcast episode.

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.

Fanalytics Podcast: ESPN’s Get Up! Show Shaken Up

One of the more interesting “sports fandom” stories this summer has been the tribulations of ESPN and especially ESPN’s morning show Get Up!.  ESPN has long been the primary source of sports information and commentary for fans.  If you asked sports fans to name a source for sports information, I suspect that the “top of mind” answer would be ESPN for a large percentage of sports fans.  Similar to McDonald’s in fast food or Coca-Cola in soft drinks.

But ESPN has taken some hits.  A dwindling subscriber base.  Layoffs of talent.  And stumbling into political controversies.  And now a reworking of their new morning offering.

A big chunk of my research program is focused on fandom so I pay special attention to ESPN.   It’s the “go to” sports source for many fans so it both reflects and drives the interests of fans.  Or at least it used to be the go to source.  Sports Center, in particular, was almost a ritual for those of us coming of age in the 80s, 90s and 00s.  The current generation seems to be moving in a different direction.  Streaming services and YouTube are replacing cable TV.  So how is ESPN responding?

ESPN’s current morning show, “Get Up!”, is the best example of the sports channel’s efforts to reinvent itself.  Get Up! was a shift from the traditional news show format of Sports Center (We’ll ignore the “Woke” Center issue for the moment) to something more like a conversational morning show such as Good Morning America.  Get Up! even had much in common with the standard morning drive radio shows found in every market.  The show was built around Mike Greenberg from the Mike and Mike programming, with Michelle Beadle and Jalen Rose playing the supporting co-host roles.

I’ve been watching it from the beginning and monitoring the media reports surrounding the show.  This past week (I’m writing this on August 30th) I saw the announcement of major changes to the show.  The major change being the reassignment of Michelle Beadle to host NBA Countdown.

So what went wrong?

The conventional wisdom seems to be that Greenberg and Beadle were mismatched and lacked “chemistry.”  I think this is an easy answer.  It’s easy because Mike Greenberg’s stardom was largely formed by the interactions between Greenberg and Mike Golic on the Mike & Mike show.  The Mike and Mike show featured interplay between a gruff, self-deprecating former player in Golic and a prim, non-athletic grown up high school sports reporter in Greenberg. Two very different guys who were playing very different roles.  But it was a classic buddy film kind of pairing of guys.  In other words, the show worked largely because of the chemistry between the hosts.

I’ve watched the show.  Not every day but pretty regularly and extensively.  I don’t think it’s fair to blame Michelle Beadle.  I think the blame falls on whoever conceived and designed the show.  The lack of chemistry is because the show feels artificial and inauthentic.  While Mike and Mike were a couple of opposites (The Odd Couple meets sports radio?) giving their perspectives on the day’s sporting events, Get Up! seems to be a show designed by a focus group.  A sports journalist – check.  A female co-host – check.  A former player – check.  One from column A, one from column B and one from column C.

The real point is that the casting felt forced.  Unauthentic, pre-packaged, formulaic – take your pick.  To be clear though, I’m not criticizing any of the talent.  Michelle Beadle was actually my favorite part of the show.  But, it’s a team effort and the casting needs to emphasize talent and synergies.  The interactions between Golic and Greenberg were amusing and interesting – different perspectives and different sensibilities.  On Get Up! Beadle was asked to provide the “irreverence”.  A former defensive linemen teasing a sports reporter has a different vibe than a female anchor being snarky to a male anchor.  It’s just a different vibe.

When the show was first launched much was made of the show’s costs.  Greenberg was reported to be in the $6 million range, Beadle at about $5 million and Rose was at $4 million.  How do these salaries make sense?  The tough one was Beadle.  I spend a lot of time working on analyses related to measuring “star power”.  I have no idea how that type of salary could be justified.  The question in celebrity salaries is whether the star is going to bring consumers to the program.  You could argue that Greenberg would bring the Mike and Mike audience and that Rose has some cache.  But how did Michelle Beadle merit that level?

The Get Up! salaries were a significant part of the press surrounding the launch of the show.  Were they a negative factor in viewer response?  Tough to say.  I want to say that most viewers have no idea about the salaries but given the level of viewership I’m not sure that’s the case.  News reports suggest that the show tends to reach fewer than 300,000 viewers.  That is .1% of the population.  While the general population has no idea what a celebrity talking head makes, this potential audience might be a bit different.  It’s a very narrow audience.  People watching a sports talk show at 8 am?  Sports junkies or the unemployed?

There’s also a bit of background.  ESPN has been shedding talent for a while.  Laying off potentially well liked talent in the lead up to launching a new show with very highly paid hosts may not go over well with viewers.  Maybe it’s not consumer backlash but shows don’t exist in isolation.  Imagine an ESPN loyalist subjected to the following sequence.  Someone watching Sports Center for years who has long-term favorites in terms of on-air talent.  First, ESPN lays off talent.  Second, they change the political tone of the show (Woke Center).  Third, ESPN blows up your favorite morning radio show (Mike and Mike).  Fourth, they then get rid of Sports Center (in the time slot).  Finally, after all this they make headlines by paying a new cast in an unproven format a huge set of salaries.  The branding version of death by a thousand cuts.

The “Analytics” person in me also wants to make a point about replacement value.  The idea of replacement value pervades almost all sports these days.  The basic issue is how a player compares to an alternative player (a replacement).  What are the replacement values for the cast of Get Up!?  What kind of ratings impact do the various hosts have versus how much they can demand in salary?  This isn’t actually that difficult of a problem if you have the data.  Minute by minute ratings data, a database of who was on screen at any given time and information on salaries would be enough to develop a pretty good analysis.

What’s next?  At the time of this writing it seems like the plan is to keep Greenberg and Rose and bring in a rotation of female co-hosts.  It also sounds like ESPN is trying to move further away from politics.  Will this help?  Time will tell. Maybe Rose and Greenberg will develop some synergies?  Maybe the bump in baseline viewers that comes from the NFL season will help the show acquire an audience?  Or maybe, nothing works and this is an expensive black eye for ESPN.

Postscript: We did this episode and the preceding article about a month ago.  In the interim, we have had a chance to see how the program evolves.  I haven’t seen much in the way of updated ratings and viewership so it’s unclear if the NFL season has provided a bump in viewership.  But in terms of content, it appears that the program has evolved into more of a one-man show.  Greenberg is the constant and the other co-hosts seem to come in and out of his orbit.  If the original goal was to develop a vehicle driven by the interplay between co-hosts, the new goal seems to be very different.  It appears that the plan is to leverage the appeal of Greenberg as the clear anchor of the show.  The other co-hosts seem to be purely a supporting cast.

I think this is an interesting strategy.  One of my interests these days is the idea of “star power.”  The basic idea is that humans sometimes become brands and drive the success of entertainment and sporting events.  Get Up! is now a live test of Mike Greenberg’s Star Power.

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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.

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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.

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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.