Major League Baseball Fandom Report 2019: The “Best” Fans in Baseball

Major League Baseball seems to be perennially in crisis in terms of its relationship with its fan base.  Free agency, strikes, steroids, competitive imbalances, short attention spans of millennials, a lack of stars, an aging fan base, and other factors have been cited to explain why baseball has either lost or is in danger of losing its position as the national pastime.

On the other hand, the league keeps setting revenue records. This article from Forbes reports that baseball has set revenue records for 16 straight years.

When thinking about baseball and its fans, it is safest to say it is a mixed bag of positives and warning signs.  Record revenues show that baseball has been able to develop innovative revenue streams and attract high value sponsors. But there does seem to be trouble on the horizon in terms of the next generation of fans.

In terms of demographics, MLB has one of the oldest fan bases (up there with golf). It is also largely viewed as the most family oriented sport. This is an interesting pattern. An aging fan base is a concern for the future if fans are aging out of attending games.  Of course, an aging fan base is also potentially an increasingly wealthy fan base.  The family orientation is an enormous positive. Sports fandom is largely transmitted through the family and the nature of the game helps bring the next generation into the fold (summer schedule, 81 home games, relatively cheap tickets, etc…).

There is also the issue of “tanking.” Tanking has been most frequently mentioned in the context of the NBA but it’s also a concern for baseball. Losing 100 games has long been considered epic futility. In 2018, the Orioles lost 115 games, the Royals lost 104, and the White Sox lost 100. The Marlins and Tigers lost 98.  Tanking is a fan issue because it speaks to the quality of the product that fans (in certain markets) are asked to buy.

Tanking brings us to the issue of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. While the Collective Bargaining Agreement is usually discussed in terms of the labor relationship between owners and players, the CBA is a critical issue for fandom because this agreement essentially defines how the league operates. For example, the CBA largely defines the rules related to revenue sharing, luxury taxes, and salary caps. These rules directly impact fans by creating the structures that influence player movements and competitive balance.

Baseball is notable for having relatively little revenue sharing and no salary cap. Controlling the distribution of spending by teams matters because there is a significant correlation between spending and winning in baseball.   The Red Sox won the World Series and also led the league with a payroll of about $240 million. At the bottom, The White Sox had a payroll of around $80 million. Remember, the White Sox lost 100 games.

The CBA matters because teams will find strategies that work for their circumstances.  There is some speculation that small market teams like the Royals are using business models that involve developing low cost homegrown talent, trying to win for a few years and then dumping payroll to pursue draft picks. The Royals reduced payroll from $185 million in 2017 to $135 million in 2018. The Royals lost 104 games in 2018 after making the playoffs in 2014 and 2015. In 2018 the Dodgers had the 4th highest payroll at about $195 million.  But that payroll was $59 million less than the previous season’s amount.  This decline allowed the team to drop below the luxury tax threshold. Are these strategies designed to maximize fan enjoyment?

The run-up to the 2019 MLB season has also included a “glacially” slow free agent market.  Eventually, the big name stars signed with teams outside of the major markets. Manny Machado signed with the Padres for $300 million for ten years and Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies for $330 million over 13 years. “Stars” matter to fans. Fans like winners but they also like stars.  While the NBA is and has been for a long time all about stars – Larry, Magic, Michael, Kobe, LeBron, Steph…. – MLB doesn’t seem to produce household names anymore. This article states that ESPN’s annual ranking of the most famous athletes includes 13 basketball players, 2 table tennis stars and no baseball players.  This lack of “media” stars matters.  Maybe not in the short-term where winning mostly drives attendance but likely in the long-term. When I have looked at the factors that build brand equity in sports, two items really jump out. Winning championships and having a history of Hall of Famers and All Stars.

 

The Best Baseball Brands

My last statement about how brands are built is based on logic and by running numbers on fandom in MLB and other sports leagues. As we enter the 2019 season, it’s time for my annual data based look at MLB fandom across the MLB brands. This analysis starts from questions like “Who has the best fans in Major League Baseball?” and “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?  Did the fans stream in to see the building or to see the team?

For the past few years, I have been studying fandom across professional and college sports.  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 cities fans are more willing to spend or follow their teams after controlling for factors like market size and short-term variations in performance.

The “Overall” rankings are based on three sub-rankings – Fan Equity, Social Equity and Road Equity.  Fan Equity is a revenue premium based metric that compares the team’s box office results with league standards.  In other words, Fan Equity assesses how much fans are willing to “attend and spend” relative to fans across the league.  The KEY idea is that we measure this while controlling for team success and market characteristics like incomes and populations.

  • Fan Equity is a great metric for assessing the CURRENT level of passion or engagement in a local fan base.

Social Equity is focused on the team’s social media followings (Facebook and Twitter).  Again, the rankings are based on how a team’s social media results compare across the league after controlling for team success.

  • The Social Equity metric provides insight into the team’s POTENTIAL fan passion.

The third metric is Road Equity.  This metric is based on a statistical model that looks at how teams draw incremental fans when on the road.  The KEY idea is that draw outside of the home market reveals something about a club’s national appeal.

  • Road Equity provides a metric of passion beyond the local market. This passion can be positive (love the Cubs) or negative (hate the Yankees).

I could go on.  In the past I have developed additional metrics related to win sensitivity or price sensitivity.  Willingness to attend even when the team loses probably says something about loyalty.  Fans that don’t watch a loser might be termed bandwagon fans.  Willingness to pay is a great marketing metric.  Willingness to pay to see a team that isn’t winning is another great indication of loyalty.  These metrics are available upon request (mike [dot] lewis [at] emory [dot] edu – FYI, I don’t look at the comments) but I want to keep this article brief.

So, we have three metrics with different pluses and minuses.  In the quest to find an overall winner, I use a weighted average of the three metrics (more weight on the Fan Equity metric).  This may not be the right weighting but it’s usually a good idea to emphasize how customers actually spend.

 

The Winners

Overall, the group of clubs that comprise the Top 6 contains little in the way of surprises.  The Red Sox rank number one and are followed by the Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Cubs and Cardinals.  The Red Sox are perennially strong and finished first last year.  They also won the world series.  Boston is probably the best sports town in America.

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.  Historically, 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 (White Sox, A’s).  There is also a more subtle point.  The large market teams likely have the best fan bases because they often have significant histories of success and are often featured in the media.

The topic of how these brands are built over time is another one of my favorite things to talk about.  I think it’s mostly two (highly correlated) things – championships and stars. Building brand equity is a fascinating sports topic and I think it’s a difficult one for teams (in small markets) to manage.  Will the current popular strategy of cycles of tanking and competing yield enough winning and “temporary” star to build brands?

 

The Bottom

The bottom of the list features the Marlins, White Sox, Indians, Athletics and Rays.  It is interesting that the bottom also includes teams from major markets such as the Bay Area, Chicago and Miami. The markets with two teams seem to yield dramatically different results within each market. I think this reveals something fundamental about fandom.  Fan bases are communities and many fans want to be a part of the most popular group. It is a simple theory but the end result is that the second team in a market will struggle to compete. Many fans are drawn to the bigger and more dominant community – Yankees, Cubs, Giants or Dodgers rather than the Mets, White Sox, A’s or Angels.

The case of the Marlins reveals another common problem for franchises. 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.  Why do the Marlins struggle?  Lots of reasons.  Florida weather, a short history (fandom is often generational), a history of small payrolls and bad teams, and Miami being a transient city.

The Indians is an interesting case as well.  Cleveland is a passionate sports town.  But when you look at the numbers there is not a lot of support. An open question is how much of the problem is the Indian’s branding? The Indians have made moves to shift from the Native American imagery but have retained the team name.  I suspect that half measures might be the worst approach.

 

The Movers

In terms of year over year comparisons, there is a good amount of stability on the list.  This is a good sign since sports brands should evolve slowly.  Some notable movers on the list were the Blue Jays and Phillies moving up and the Diamondbacks and Indians dropping down. The Blue Jays illustrate an important feature of the model. When I calculate the brand “premiums” I use the most recent three seasons. This is intended to provide stable but evolving measures of brand equity. In the case of the Blue Jays, the improvement in ranking was mostly driven by attendance growth in 2016 and 2017. In the case of the Phillies the improvement was about growing attendance coupled with relatively high prices.

 

The 2019 Complete List

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Esports Viewership and Customer Engagement

We have some exciting and important stuff happening on the sports research front. We recently announced a research partnership with the Skillshot Division of HI-REZ Studios, focused on how esports influences customer engagement. HI-REZ is the creator of video games like SMITE and PALADINS and Skillshot Media is HI-REZ’s esports production company. We are partnering with Skillshot on multiple research projects that investigate fandom and customer economics in the world of esports.

Esports might just be the most exciting category in the sports and entertainment industry. It’s already big and it is growing fast. As a quick reference point, the global video game market is estimated at about $140 billion dollars. In terms of comparisons, the movie industry does about $40 billion in box office and the NFL generates revenues of about $14 billion. This is not exactly an “apples to apples” comparison but it makes the point.  Something big is happening.

Today we are publishing the first version of a White Paper that looks at the impact of esports viewing on consumer engagement with a game. This is a great topic that has implications well beyond the world of esports and video games.  Fundamentally, the question is what happens when consumers engage with content and the community that surrounds a brand or product. Esports is a great setting for this research because the digital technologies that support online gaming make it possible to “begin” to understand the relationship between viewing esports and consumer engagement.

From a technical standpoint, the tricky thing about attributing increased customer engagement to esports viewing is that players that choose to watch might be “different” from those that do not watch. In the paper, we use player data to create very similar groups (based on extensive data on playing histories) of esports watchers and non-watchers. We have tried to keep the paper simple but we do discuss propensity score matching and logistic regression.  I hope that we have hit the right balance of technical rigor and readability. For the more technical audience, we are also working towards a standard academic paper that will feature more analyses and some additional techniques.

In terms of the findings, the bottom line is that there is a strong link between esports viewership and increased consumer engagement. Specifically, we find that viewing esports increases customer engagement in terms of playing more, playing better and spending more. What drives this result? Our conjecture is that esports provides an opportunity for community building. Players can connect with other fans over context that is often exciting and inspirational.

Much more to come…

Check out the White Paper: The SMITE Case Study

 

Links

https://www.hirezstudios.com/

https://www.smitegame.com/

https://www.paladins.com/

https://www.skillshot.com/

ACC College Football Fandom Report: The Importance of Culture

Culture and fandom are connected.  The culture of a city or a university often includes a significant sports fandom sub-culture.  Because culture itself is largely driven by the shared knowledge and interests of a population.  The Cubs and the Bears are a big part of the city of Chicago.  The Cardinals might be the most universal shared passion in the city of Saint Louis.

At the college level, many universities with big time sports refer to themselves as the “blank” nation.  I worked at the University of Florida for a few years and this place was clearly the Gator nation.  In other words, the mascot or team name essentially became the focal point for the university community.  It makes sense.  The football team provides a good chunk of the common experiences and knowledge that creates a common University of Florida culture.

Why am I talking about the SEC in an article about the ACC?  “Fandom” is interesting because it goes beyond “consumer loyalty” and becomes a cultural force.  I think the SEC is probably the best example of where football fandom drives university culture.  Maybe this doesn’t happen as much in the ACC.  In other words, maybe the ACC institutions just don’t have the same football culture as the other Power 5 leagues.  The ACC might be the inverse of the Big 12.  The Big 12 has a strong football culture but a lousy media foot print.  The ACC has great media markets but far less football culture.

The economic analysis of college football brands highlights the relative weakness of the ACC (versus other leagues).  The rankings are based on relative economic performance relative to winning rates and investment.  The analysis gets beyond fair-weather fandom and schools buying their way into winning on field.

The ACC results are “interesting” and I think revealing.  The best football brands in the ACC are Georgia Tech, NC State, Syracuse, and Florida State.  Let me say that again – the best brands.  Not the best teams.

The ACC might be best viewed in terms of where the league has potential.  Georgia Tech is a clear number 2 in Atlanta, but Tech may have more potential as a brand than the rest of the ACC.  It’s in a football mad major metro area in a football mad state.  NC State is interesting because its local competitors are elite basketball schools.  NC State could be the premier football brand in North Carolina.  Syracuse is also all about potential.  New York is a pro market.  But if there is room for a college brand then Syracuse has a lot going for it.  Florida State is, historically, probably the class of the league.  They do well in terms of revenues but they invest heavily in their program.  FSU’s investment dwarfs what Georgia Tech or NC State invests.

The next group features Virginia Tech, Louisville, UNC, Duke and Pitt.  Louisville is one of the most interesting college sports brands.  Louisville is innovative and almost seems to operate with more of a pro model (in terms of marketing).  It’s also located in an almost pro like market.  But Louisville, also lacks some of the tradition that the best football brands possess.  It will be interesting to see how the Louisville brand develops over time.

The lower part of the league includes Wake Forest, Boston College, Clemson, Miami and Virginia.  I’ll admit that I’m mystified by Clemson.  Brand equity moves slowly and there is a bit of a lag in the department of education data.  The key to building brand equity is high level success.  Clemson might be the ACC’s best hope for a premium football brand.  Or maybe Clemson is just an outlier and doesn’t charge high enough prices.  Clemson might be the one school on the list that deserves a deeper dive (but I’m not getting paid for this so…). Then there is Miami.  Over the years, I have done rankings across all the pro leagues and the college ranks. Florida teams often lag the field.  Maybe it’s the weather.  Maybe it’s the demographics.  Whatever it is, Miami just doesn’t generate the economic returns of a premier college football brand.

While I expect to take some heat for these rankings (GaTech over Clemson), the ACC illustrates how the model works.  We are evaluating brands while controlling for on-field success and investment.  This means that schools can rank high if the support they enjoy exceeds the support they might reasonably expect based on performance.

Ranking the SEC Football Fan Bases

The SEC is the dominate college football league at the moment.  Okay for the last 20-25 years.

The rankings prove the point with 5 of the top 10 teams coming from the SEC.  If we go farther down the list, the SEC has 7 of the top 12 or 9 of the top 18.  In terms of the league itself, Tennessee is the winner followed by LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Arkansas and Alabama.

The middle group of the league includes Texas AM, Ole Miss, and South Carolina.  The bottom group features Kentucky, Mississippi State, Missouri and Vanderbilt.

The best way to look at the SEC is in terms of these groupings.  Seven truly elite college football brands and a second tier that includes a very solid group of brands.

That’s all fine.  But after all these years I know what readers are thinking…  Especially readers in Alabama.

These rankings are crap!  The methodology is flawed!  You are looking at the wrong metrics.  What about applications and alumni engagement?! Professors don’t know anything about sports!  Emory should be embarrassed to have this guy on faculty!

Fair enough.

I will happily accept the statement that Alabama currently has the best college football program in the nation.  So why doesn’t Alabama lead these rankings?  One way to look at this is through a thought experiment.  What if we could transfer Alabama’s recent success to another team – What would happen?  What if Notre Dame or Texas or Tennessee had Alabama’s level of success?  How about Ole Miss or Oklahoma State?  It’s tough to say but that’s what I’m trying to get at by throwing a bunch of theory, data and statistical analysis at this topic.

I’d also like to add that there is no criticism of Alabama.  The “football” strategy might be optimal given Alabama’s position in the educational marketplace.  The football team is a great marketing asset and brings a lot of attention to the school.  Much is made of Nick Saban’s salary but if the investment was redirected away from the football program, where would it go?  Alabama has a great asset in its football brand.  It has the brand equity that comes from having a winning tradition.  And it makes sense for Alabama to use this asset.

At its core is this equity any greater than a lot of schools?  If the next coach at Alabama starts to have 7 or 6 win seasons is the passion still there?

The PAC 12 CFB Fan Rankings & Fair Weather Fandom

Sports and Weather?

Why is fandom a regional phenomenon?  I spend a lot of time analyzing fandom across leagues and cities.  I can’t help but to observe patterns (discovering patterns is actually kind of the point).  For example, if you ask me to compare the fan bases in Boston versus Tampa or Chicago versus Atlanta, I can tell you the better team brand without even knowing the sport.

Why some regions have better fan support than others, is a question for another day. Is it about team histories?  I’m sympathetic to this idea as I do believe that sports brands are built on a generational time frame?  Is it the demographics?  Maybe. I don’t want to touch the racial angle but we know that a city full of transplants is likely to have less intense fandom.  How about the weather?   Does Florida or Southern California weather deter fandom?  It probably doesn’t help. It’s the why go to the game when you can go to the beach explanation.  Fair weather fandom is more prevalent when the weather is, well, fair.

It is a tough problem because all of these factors matter.  And these factors probably interact (having a short history and nice weather is probably a double whammy).

The PAC 12 is the league that makes sense if it’s about the weather.  We have Oregon at the top followed by Washington, Utah, Washington State and Oregon State.  This seems to be the colder half of the league.  It might not be the best known of the football programs but it seems to be the best customer bases.

Oregon is interesting because it’s mostly known for innovative uniforms and Phil Knight.  Sort of classic branding.  Also some (relatively) recent success despite a few tough recent years.  It’s interesting because sports brands are usually built based on long-term success.  Washington is a solid program across the board.  The next three teams’ programs suggest that the league is a bit skewed.  It appears that the programs with the most potential tend to be the least prominent.

At the other end of the scale we have Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, USC and UCLA as the bottom 5.  These schools are also located in the most appealing tourist destinations in the conference.

USC is the head turner.  An amazing tradition.  Championships and Heisman trophies.  But when you crunch the numbers the fans don’t show up like they do at places like Ohio State, Alabama and Texas.

Fanalytics Podcast: Social Media Branding

In this episode of the Fanalytics podcast, I sit down with Brian Penter of the Harlem Globetrotters.  The Globetrotters are an iconic brand that is reinventing itself for a new generation of fans.  Older fans probably remember the Globetrotters from mass media outlets like ABC’s Wide World of Sports or Saturday morning episodes of Scooby-Doo.

In today’s era, the brand and team have needed to embrace the digital and social worlds.  Brian implements the Globetrotters brand strategy through YouTube based content and social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

We talk about a variety of issues including:

  • How social media provides a connection point for the fan community
  • How the Globetrotters leverage the fandom of an older generation to target new customers
  • How the Globetrotters deal with the challenges of converting social media metrics to the bottom line
  • How social media is used to communicate the Globetrotters brand

Brian was a great guest with lots of insights.  Social is a challenge for all teams (and brands) and Brian provides first-hand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities of using this new marketing tool.  It’s an especially cool story because of the brand under study.  The Globetrotters might be the perfect mix of sports and entertainment.  You add that the team faces some really interesting marketing challenges such as trying to engage fans while only visiting each city once a year and you have a truly fascinating business to study.

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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.

Click logo below to listen to this Fanalytics podcast episode.

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.