The Winners (and Losers) of this years rankings! First a quick graphic and then the details.
It’s become a tradition for me to rank NFL teams’ fan bases each summer. The basic approach (more details here) is to use data to develop statistical models of fan interest. 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. In past years, two measures of engagement have been featured: Fan Equity and Social Media Equity. Fan Equity focuses on home box office revenues (support via opening the wallet) and Social Media Equity focuses on fan willingness to engage as part of a team’s community (support exhibited by joining social media communities).
This year I have come up with a new method that combines these two measures: Dynamic Fan Equity (DFE). The DFE measure leverages the best features of the two measures. Fan Equity is based on the most important consumer trait – willingness to spend. Social Equity captures fan support that occurs beyond the walls of the stadium and skews towards a younger demographic. The key insight that allows for the two measures to be combined is that there is a significant relationship between the Social Media Equity trend and the Fan Equity measure. Social media performance turns out to be a strong leading indicator for financial performance.
Dynamic Fan Equity is calculated using current fan equity and the trend in fan equity from the team’s social media performance. I will spare the technical details on the blog but I’m happy to go into depth if there is interest. On the data side we are working with 15 years of attendance data and 4 years of social data.
We have a new number one on the list – the New England Patriots. Followed by the Cowboys, Broncos, 49ers and Eagles. The Patriots victory is driven by fans willingness to pay premium prices, strong attendance and phenomenal social media following. The final competition between the Cowboys and the Patriots was actually determined by the long-term value of the Patriots greater social following. The Patriots have about 2.4 million Twitter followers compared to 1.7 for the Cowboys. Of course this is all relative a team like the Jaguars has just 340 thousand followers.
The Eagles are the big surprise on the list. The Eagles are also a good example of how the analysis works. Most fan rankings are based on subjective judgments and lack controls for short-term winning rates. This latter point is a critical shortcoming. It’s easy to be supportive of a winning team. While Eagles fans might not be happy they are supportive in the face of mediocrity. Last year the Eagles struggled on the field but fans still paid premium prices and filled the stadium. We’ll come back to the Eagles in more detail in a moment.
At the bottom we have the Bills, Rams, Chiefs, Raiders and Jaguars. This is a similar list to last year. The Jags, for example, only filled 91% of capacity (ranked 27th) despite an average ticket price of just $57. The Chiefs struggle because the fan support doesn’t match the team’s performance. The Chiefs capacity utilization rate ranks 17th in the league despite a winning record and low ticket prices. The Raiders fans again finish low in our rankings. And every year the response is a great deal of anger and often threats.
The one result that gives me the most doubt is for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have long been considered one of the league premier teams and brands. The Steelers have a history of championships and have been known to turn opposing stadiums into seas of yellow and black. So why are the Steelers ranked 18th?
A comparison between the Steelers and the Eagles highlights the underlying issues. Last year the Steelers had an average attendance of 64,356 and had an average ticket price of $84 (from ESPN and Team Market Report). In comparison the Eagles averaged 69,483 fans with an average price of $98.69. In terms of filling capacity the Steelers were at 98.3% compared to the Eagles at 102.8%. The key is that the greater support enjoyed by the Eagles was despite a much worse record.
One issue to consider is that of pricing. It may well be that the Steelers ownership makes a conscious effort to underprice relative to what the market would allow. The high attendance rates across the NFL do suggest that many teams could profitably raise prices. It’s entirely reasonable to argue that the Steelers relationship to the Pittsburgh community results in a policy of pricing below market.
In past years the Steelers have been our social media champions. This past year did see a bit of a dip. In terms of the Social Media Equity rankings the Steelers dropped to 5th. As a point of comparison, the Steelers have about 1.3 million Twitter followers compared to 2.4 million for the Patriots and 1.7 million for the Cowboys.
The Complete List
And finally, the complete rankings. Enjoy!