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.

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