When we evaluate college sports fan bases, we find ourselves in an altered environment from the professional leagues. There are differences in data availability (both good and bad) and differences in structure of the leagues that must be considered.
In the case of data, for example, we do not have sources for ticket prices, and team payroll is not relevant (as of now). However, on the plus side, we have self-reported revenue for each sport (and yes, we know that schools employ different accounting rules).
The other major issue is that of league structure. While Division I college basketball operates as a singular entity for the purposes of championships, revenue sharing for basketball and football occurs at the level of the conferences. This makes it a bit tricky to compare schools across conferences since a bottom tier school in a power conference starts out with significant revenue, while a non-power conference school has to earn their own keep. For example, if we don’t adjust for conference membership, Northwestern ranks as a top five fan equity team simply because their Big Ten shared revenues are by themselves a phenomenal haul for a team of Northwestern’s quality.
Because of this conference issue, we prefer to report our fan equity rankings at the conference level rather than a single ranking for all D-1 teams. Today we begin with the “non-power” conference teams. For the purposes of college basketball, we are identifying the “power” conferences as: AAC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, SEC, & PAC-12. Our top ten teams are based on the last 3 years (for our statistical analysis we use all data since 2001 but for the rankings we use team results for the last 3 years). The rankings reflect the conference the team played in during the 2013-2014 season.
The top ten “non-power” conferences rankings are given below. The number 1 fan base was Dayton. The Flyers were followed by Gonzaga and UNLV.
When we do these rankings we always have to make the point that our estimates of fan base quality are based on fan support AFTER controlling for team quality and market potential. Therefore a team like Duquesne can still make the list because the fan support is very good despite the team struggling on the court.
At the other end of the scale, the bottom 10 teams in terms of fan equity are given below. The team with the worst fan support in all of D-1 college basketball is UNC Greensboro.
We can also evaluate which teams are trending upward and which are falling fast. We do this by comparing the fan equity for the first three years of our data with the last 3 years. This analysis is important because it speaks to which coaches and athletic directors have been the most successful. At the “non-power” conference level, this list might be a good place for major schools to search for coaches and athletic directors. Unlike the traditional approach of just looking at winning or losing, this change metric speaks to the creation of “economic value” while controlling for factors such as team tradition, investment, capacity and other fixed factors for which sports executives should not get credit (or blame).
The biggest risers in the non-power conferences include Gonzaga, Kent State, Dayton, Northern Iowa and Nevada.
In terms of moving in the wrong direction, Montana & Florida A&M had the biggest drop in fan equity.
Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory 2014.