MLB Fandom Report 2017: The “Best” Fans in Baseball – Rough Draft
Who has the best fans in Major League Baseball? 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?
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 city’s fans are more willing to spend or follow their teams after controlling for factors like market size and short-term variations in performance.
This year’s overall rankings are based on three sub-rankings. 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 am adding a third measure – Road Equity. Road Equity focuses on how teams draw on the road after adjusting for team performance. These metrics provide a balance – 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’m going to use the simplest method possible. We are just going to average the across the three metrics.
Today’s post is focused on MLB but if you are interested you can see last year’s NBA fan rankings here and this year’s NFL rankings will be posted soon.
Overall, the group of clubs that comprise the Top 5 contains little in the way of surprises. The Yankees rank number one and are followed by the Cubs, Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers. The Yankees “win” because they draw fans (usually top 5) and charge high prices even when on-field results dip. The Yankees are also a great attraction on the road and have an enormous social media following.
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. 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 (see below).
The bottom of the list features the Marlins, Indians, Athletics, Angels and White Sox. It is interesting that the bottom also includes teams from major markets such as LA, Chicago and Miami.
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. Cleveland also struggles on these metrics but given the advantages of the Miami market, the Marlins relative performance is just a bit worse.
From a branding perspective it is not surprising that we see one dominant brand in the cities with two clubs. Being a sports fan is about being part of a community. Many fans are drawn to the bigger and more dominant community – Yankees, Cubs or Dodgers rather than the Mets, White Sox or Angels. The A’s probably also suffer a similar set of problems as they compete against the Giants in the Bay area.
The Complete List
The complete list follows. In addition to the overall ranking of fan bases, I also report rankings on the social and road measures. Following the table, I provide a bit more detail regarding each of the metrics.
The Winners: Red Sox, Yankees and Cardinals
The Losers: Mets, Indians and Marlins
Fan Equity looks at home revenues relative to expected revenue based on team performance and market characteristics. The goal of the metric is to measure over (or under) performance relative to other teams in the league. In other words, statistical models are used to create an apples-to-apples type comparison to avoid distortions due to long-term differences in market size or short-term differences in winning rates.
In terms of business concepts, this measure is similar to a “revenue premium” measure of brand equity. It captures the differentials in fans willingness to financially support teams of similar quality. From a business or marketing perspective this is a gold standard of metrics as it directly relates to how a strong brand translates to revenues and profits.
However, the context is sports, and that does make things different. At a basic level sports organizations have dual objectives. They care about winning and profit. That is important because some teams may not be trying to maximize revenues. Perhaps the team is trying to build a fan base by keeping prices low. If this is the case the Fan equity metric understates the engagement of fans.
The Cardinals are the big story in terms of fan equity. St. Louis is a unique baseball town. Amazingly supportive fans for a market the size of St. Louis. The Cardinals just fall short on the other more national metrics.
Social Media Equity
Winners: Blue Jays, Braves, and Yankees
Losers: Mariners, A’s and Nationals
Social Media Equity is also an example of a “premium” based measure of brand equity. It differs from the Fan Equity in that it focuses on how many fans a team has online rather than fans’ willingness to pay higher prices. Similar to the Fan Equity metric, Social Media Equity is also constructed using statistical models that control for performance and market differences. Social Media Equity is more about potential. I think that social equity is an indicator of what can be built. but teams still have to win to make the conversion.
In terms of business application, the social media metric has several implications both on its own merits and in conjunction with the Fan Equity measure. For example, the lack of local constraints, means that the Social Equity measure is more of a national level measure. The Fan Equity metric focuses on local box office revenues. In contrast, the social metric provides insight into how a team’s fandom extends beyond a metro area.
Social Media Equity may also serve as a leading indicator of a team’s future fortunes. For a team to grow revenues it is often necessary to implement controversial price increases. Convincing fans to sign expensive contracts to buy season tickets can also be a challenge. Increasing prices and acquiring season ticket holders can take time while social media communities can grow quickly. Social community size has been found to be positively correlated with future revenue growth.
A comparison of Fan Equity and Social Media can be useful. If Social Media equity exceeds Fan Equity it is evidence that the team has some marketing potential that is not being exploited. For example, one issue that is common in sports is that it is difficult to estimate the price elasticity of demand because demand is often highest for the best teams and best seats. The unconstrained nature of social media can provide an important data point for assessing whether teams have additional pricing flexibility.
This is an interesting list of winners. My guess is that the Braves and Blue Jays are on the upswing as brands. For the teams at the bottom – it’s a concerning situation. These teams don’t seem to be capturing the next generation.
Winners: Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs
Losers: Marlins, White Sox and Indians
This is a new metric for the blog. One way to look at fan quality is to look at how a team draws on the Road. In the NBA these effects are pronounced. Lebron or a retiring Kobe coming to town can often lead to sell outs. At the college level some teams are known to travel very well. A fan base that travels is almost by definition incredibly passionate.
This one has a bit of a muddled interpretation. If a team has great road attendance is it because the fans are following the team or because they have a national following? If the Yankees play the Rays and attendance spikes is it because Yankees fans travel or because Tampa residents come out to see the Yankees?
The winners on this list are no surprise. One reason I like this metric is that it is consistent with the conventional wisdom. It has tons of face validity.
At the bottom of the rankings we have the Marlins, Indians and White Sox. These seem to be struggling brands that lack local and national appeal.