The Best Sports Cities: Boston Wins in a Rout; Twin Cities Better than NY & Chicago

Boston InfographicWe started the Emory Sports Marketing Analytics blog back in March of last year.  Our goal was to bring analytics to the world of sports business.  To put a finishing touch on 2013, we are going to present our rankings of the best and worst sports fans by city.  These rankings are based on our revenue premium model of fan equity and our analyses of social media equity.

Phoenix InfographicFor our rankings, we have divided cities into categories based on how many of the four major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, & NHL) have franchises representing the city.  This categorization does introduce a bit of oddness since Los Angeles becomes a “three-sport” city.  Another tough issue is how to treat teams like the Packers.  Is Green Bay a one-sport city or is Milwaukee as three-sport city (we decided that we would treat Milwaukee as a three-sport city)?

Today we reveal our rankings of the four-sport cities, and a summary of the best and worst markets in the other categories (one, two, & three-sports cities).  Before the actual rankings, a couple of clarifying comments are in order.  The key to our rankings is that we are looking at fan support after controlling for short term variations in team quality and market characteristics.  Basically we create statistical models of revenues as a function of quality measures like winning percentage and market potential factors like population.  This allows our results to speak how much support fans provide as if market size and winning rates were equal.

The number one team on our four-sport city list is Boston; and it wasn’t even all that close.  All of the Boston teams have impressive fan followings.  The Red Sox ranked 1st in terms of fan equity and 1st in social equity. The Celtics finished 3rd in the NBA in both our fan and social media equity rankings.  The Patriots rank 2nd in fan equity and 3rd in social media equity in the NFL.  The Bruins rank relatively low in fan equity (perhaps because they could price higher), but very high in social media equity.  Number two on the list is Philadelphia.  The Eagles, Phillies and Flyers are all very strong fan bases.  The Sixers are weak within the NBA, but the three other sports carry Philly to a second place finish.

The city in third place is likely going to generate Twitter complaints about how clueless we are, and how academics should stay away from sports.  We rank the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul as having the third most supportive fans among the four-sport cities.  Minneapolis/Saint Paul show great support of the Twins and solid support for the Vikings.  The Wild also do surprisingly well in the NHL.

How could Minnesota finish in front of New York and Chicago?  It’s because these cities don’t do a great job in terms of supporting all their teams.  For example, The Brooklyn Nets perform poorly when market size is considered and the White Sox have very poor support on all metrics.  We can hardly wait for the semi-literate Twitter attacks to commence.

At the bottom of the list we have Phoenix.  We should note that the Suns perform well and finish 7th in terms of fan equity in the NBA.  But beyond that, Phoenix sports are a disaster.  In terms of fan equity, the Diamondbacks finish 26th in MLB, the Cardinals 30th in the NFL and the Coyotes 28th in the NHL.  As we have learned over the past year, it seems that weather and tradition are what creates a strong fan culture.  Perhaps the Phoenix teams overall are too new, and the weather is too warm.

Our other winners and losers are given below with linked infographics that summarize raw data and final rankings.

For the three-sport cities, the overall winner is St. Louis, and the worst fan support occurs in Tampa Bay.

For the two-sport markets, the leader in fan support is NashvilleOakland is at the bottom of the rankings.

For the one-sport cities, Portland leads the way, while Memphis trails the field.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.

Don’t Want to Get Fired? Best and Worst Cities for Firing Professional Coaches

Mike_Shanahan_RedskinsIt’s “Black Monday” in the NFL.  The Vikings, Redskins, Lions, and Bucs have already fired their coaches today, and more firings are possible before the day is done.  There are many variables that can affect the firing of a coach in professional sports.  Of course, three easily observable factors are the performance of the coach (winning percentage, playoff appearances, and championships), the investment by the ownership (team payroll), and the sports league (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL).   There are also intangible factors endemic to each city in America and Canada with a professional sports team that can influence the probability of a coach getting fired.

We decided to estimate a logistic regression model that could explain the probability of getting fired as a function of performance, investment by ownership, and professional league affiliation.  We looked at data from all four professional sports leagues over the last twelve years.  We then compared the predicted probability from our model of getting fired with the actual firings in each city.  In theory, cities with intangible characteristics that make it more likely for a coach to get fired would have actual firings at a higher probability than predicted through our model of performance and investment.  We tried several specifications of our model, and these rankings are robust.

Based on our study, the Top 8 Worst Cities (Highest probability for getting fired above predicted) are:

  1. Orlando
  2. San Francisco
  3. Montreal
  4. Sacramento
  5. Milwaukee
  6. Oklahoma City
  7. Jacksonville
  8. Miami

The Top 8 Best Cities (Lowest probability for getting fired below predicted) are:

  1. Winnipeg
  2. Nashville
  3. Salt Lake City
  4. Memphis
  5. Los Angeles
  6. Portland
  7. Buffalo
  8. Minneapolis

It’s interesting to note that the top 8 worst cities does not include big media markets like New York, LA or Chicago, where one might think there is large expectation for winning.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

St. Louis Tops Rankings of Three Team Cities, Tampa Bay is Last

Our city ranking series continues today with a look at cities with three professional sports teams.  These markets tend to be a bit on the smaller side, but many have significant sports histories.  We also fully admit that we struggled a bit with how to classify several of these markets.  For example, what is the city of Milwaukee?  Is Milwaukee a two sport town with NBA and MLB franchises or should we include the Packers and call it a three sport town?  Having lived in Chicago, it always seemed like all the Wisconsin teams should be lumped together.  Toronto was another decision.  Until now, we have only considered US cities, and avoided one professional team Canadian markets such as Calgary and Edmonton.  So before the complaints begin, please realize that we have made some assumptions about markets.

The table on the right provides our ranking of the eight markets with three professional teams.  According to the data, St. Louis is the best of these markets.  Professor Lewis used to live in St. Louis and the first place ranking was a bit of a surprise to him.  While the Cardinals have an amazing following,  Lewis’ sense was that the Rams and Blues only had average fan bases. The Cardinals do have an exceptional fan base ranking 4th in MLB in both fan equity and social media equity.  The Blues have an above average fan base ranking 14th in the NHL.  The Rams do struggle with a fan equity ranking of 22th in the NFL.  So it really is the Cardinals that elevate St. Louis to the top of the list.

Following St. Louis, we have Toronto ranked 2nd, Milwaukee 3rd and Pittsburgh 4th.  Frankly, we would have predicted Pittsburgh would rank higher.  The issue is that our fan equity metric is based on a “revenue premium” model, and the Steelers don’t seem to price nearly as high as they could.  But, this was a close competition.  Toronto has the best NHL fan base and the Packers and Steelers have devoted followings.

At the bottom of the list we have Tampa Bay.  The Lightning ranked 18th in NHL fan equity.  The Bucs ranked 29th in the NFL and Rays ranked 22nd in MLB.  On a side note, the Atlanta ranking should put to rest any complaints about the Braves relocating.  The Braves have delivered phenomenal quality and have only gained an average fan following.  Add in a history that includes players like Hank Aaron and Dale Murphy, and you would expect that the Braves would have a monster following.  Our expectation is that the move to Cobb County and the building of a mixed use development around the stadium should lead to a stronger fan base in the near future.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

Ranking Sports Cities: Nashville & New Orleans Are the Best “Two-Sport” Towns

There are ten cities on our list with teams in two pro leagues.  These cities include Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Nashville, New Orleans, Oakland, Seattle and San Diego.  While our previous analysis of one team towns was driven by a single team’s results, we now shift to cities with multiple franchises.

#1 Nashville

We have to admit, this was a bit of a surprise.  Not because of anything negative about Nashville itself, but because both Nashville teams are relative newcomers.  Our data suggest that Nashville has a population that will support teams even without having generations of history. This is somewhat unusual and suggests that Nashville should be considered as a candidate for future expansion clubs.

When Mike thinks of the Titans his mind goes back to Bum Phillips and Earl Campbell (Manish thinks of the Music City Miracle).  But despite Mike’s aging memory, the numbers suggest that the Titans have been able to develop a strong following in a relatively short time.  The Titans rank 10th in terms of NFL fan equity.  According to ESPN, Tennessee has sold out all tickets for the last several years.  Notably, these sell-outs continue whether the team goes 10-6 or 6-10.

Over the past 3 seasons, the Nashville Predators have sold at least 94% of available tickets.  This is impressive attendance considering the size of the market and ticket prices.  The Nashville market contains only 1.7 million people but Predators are able to charge ticket prices in excess of teams in larger markets.  The Predators rank 11th in our fan equity ranking and 15th in our social media ranking.

#2 New Orleans

New Orleans was one of the markets that enthusiastically embraced some of our earlier studies, so New Orleans finishing number two in our 2-sport city rankings was not a surprise.  Well, maybe it was a little bit of a surprise because we are old enough to remember the “Aints.”

New Orleans provides amazing support to the Saints.  In our fan equity rankings the Saints finished 4th in the NFL.  This placed the Saints ahead of more “prominent” teams like the Giants or the Bears.  The key is that our rankings account for population and variation in winning percent.  The results therefore mean that when you control for these factors, Saints fans are truly exceptional.

The Pelicans also have a solid fan base.  The Pelicans finished 16th in terms of fan equity and 7th in social media equity.

#3 Baltimore

We now turn to the top two-professional team markets.  At #3 we have the tradition rich Baltimore metro area.

The Orioles rank a solid 14th in our fan equity rankings of MLB.  This is impressive since up until the past two seasons, the Orioles struggled to compete in the AL East.  It is also impressive since some of the Orioles support was likely lost to the Nationals.  The Orioles also ranked 14th in our social media equity ranking.  The key to the Orioles success in the rankings?  If we had to guess we would say it is tradition. Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken etc… Also students have told Professor Lewis that he looks like Ripken.

The Ravens actually score bit better in our rankings with a 8th place fan equity and a 9th place social equity ranking.  Again, this is no surprise given the success of the Ravens franchise.  It is interesting, however, that each team’s equity seems to come from a different era.  While the Orioles glory days were probably from the late 60s to the early 90s, the Ravens equity has been built on recent success and stars.

#4 Buffalo

Just as we find that teams in warm markets seem to struggle to build followings, teams in colder climates seem to outperform their competition.  So it is no surprise that Buffalo (where Manish will be spending Thanksgiving) is in the top half of two team cities.

For the respective teams, the Bills finish 24th in fan equity and 14th is social media equity.  The Sabers finish 16th in the NHL fan equity rankings.

#5 Indianapolis

The Pacers and the Colts fan bases combine to give Indiana/Indianapolis a rank right in the middle of the list.  Despite their recent success, the Pacers rank near the bottom of the NBA with a fan equity ranking of 23rd.  In contrast, the Colts have a very solid fan equity ranking of 6th.  It will be interesting to see if the Colts can maintain this performance as a quarterback now playing in Denver becomes a memory.

#6 Seattle

Seattle ranks 6th on the list.  The Seahawks rank 23rd in the NFL in both fan equity and social media equity. The Mariners do a bit better with a fan equity ranking of 20th in MLB and a social media rank of 12th.

#7 Cincinnati

At number seven on our list of cities with two professional teams we have the home of the Bengals and Reds.  Even prior to running the numbers, this is about what we would have expected.  Our expectations were that the Reds had a strong fan base while the Bengals were fairly weak.  In terms of population Cincinnati is the 28th largest market in the US and the median income rank is #55.

The Bengals’ fan base is relatively weak.  The team usually ranks below average in terms of attendance and finished dead last in 2011.  The Bengals also do not have a great deal of pricing power as the average price of a Bengals’ ticket is well below the league average ($68.96 versus $81.54 league average in 2013).  The end result of this data is that the Bengals ranked 19th in our fan equity rankings.  The team scored even worse in social media with a ranking of 26.

The Reds do indeed have a stronger fan base.  In terms of fan equity the Reds ranked 11th in MLB and the social media rank was a strong 13th.  The Reds also price well below the MLB average ($21.35 versus $27.48 league average) but the team ranks right in the middle of the pack with attendance of more than 2.2 million in each of the last three years.

#8 San Diego

San Diego ranks 8th on our list of “2 sport” cities.  As we have noted, it seems that the better the weather, the more “fair-weather” the fans.  In terms of demographics, San Diego is a respectable market with a population of about 3.2 million (17th largest market) and the 27th highest median income.  But, fan support is questionable.  Strangely, especially for California, the NFL Chargers perform a bit better on our fan indexes than the Padres.

Last year the Chargers ranked 28th in attendance and only sold 84% of capacity.  In our fan equity rankings, the Chargers were ranked 11th.  The social media rank was 15th.  These are respectable numbers.  The reason that the Chargers are fairly highly ranked is that while attendance is low the team is able to charge relatively high prices.  This season, the Chargers average ticket price is actually higher than NFL stalwarts such as Green Bay and Pittsburgh.

The Padres ranked 20th in attendance this past season and 21st in 2012.  The Padres showing is particularly bad because the team’s average ticket price is the lowest in the league.  In terms of fan equity, the Padres ranked 19th in MLB.  The team’s social media rank was also 19th.

#9 Kansas City

Kansas City is our 9th ranked “Two Sport” town.  While Kansas City has been a poster child for the issue of the competitive balance between big and small markets, our analyses suggest that even after controlling for population and income differences that Kansas City is a relatively poor sports market.

This past season the Royals ranked 26th in terms of attendance and only sold 57% of capacity despite being in the hunt for a playoff spot.  And given that Royals prices are well below the league average, it is hard to make the case that price is the factor that is limiting support.  In terms of fan equity the Royals ranked 15th in MLB.

Chiefs are more of a middle of the road team in terms of attendance.  The Chiefs ranked 8th in terms of attendance in 2011 and 16th in 2012.  However, while the Chiefs raw attendance is higher many of their competitor’s attendance figures are limited by capacity constraints.  In 2012, KC attendance was just 89% of capacity.  And like the Royals, the Chiefs also price well below the league average.  In terms of fan equity, the Chiefs ranked 21st in the NFL.

#10 Oakland

At the bottom of the list we have the city of Oakland.  Oakland has two storied franchises in the A’s and the Raiders.  But despite the previous success of these teams they both rank near the bottom of their respective leagues.  The A’s finish 26th in terms of fan equity and 28th in social media equity in our MLB results.  The Raiders finish dead last in fan equity in the NFL.

Interestingly, the Raiders finish 10th in the social media ranking of NFL teams.  This is an important finding because it suggests that the Raiders may enjoy an above average following nationally while they struggle locally.  This means that the Raiders are likely to benefit from relocating.  Of course, this has been tried in the past, but perhaps the key is to move to a place where the team doesn’t compete with the weather.  How about the Portland Raiders?

To some degree Oakland’s finish at the bottom is not surprising.  While both teams have tremendous histories of success, this success mainly occurred in the 70s and 80s.  The Oakland teams may be suffering from fans being disappointed that the teams have fallen a long ways.  This type of “reference” effect is critical because the primary segment of affluent fans is likely to be in their 40s and 50s.

We have also noted in previous posts that there does seem to be a systematic weakness that happens in markets located in California, Florida and other “good” weather cities.  For whatever reason fans in these regions tend not to show the support that fans in colder climates tend to exhibit.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

Ranking American Sports Cities: The Top “One Team” Markets – Candidates for Expansion Teams?

Over the last 9 months we have looked at fan support across the 4 major US professional sports leagues using a variety of financial and social media metrics.  The thing that sets our  evaluations of fan support apart is that we focus on observable, objective measures of support AND we control for factors related to market size and team quality.  Our measures are therefore not biased towards large cities and we adjust for the bandwagon nature of fans in markets with teams that are currently winning.

To end the year, we are putting all of these rankings together in order to create a ranking of cities.  For this list we combine our revenue premium based fan equity measure with our social media measure.  To combine these we assume that a social media follower or like is worth $1.  Today we begin our list of the best and worst one team sport towns (cities that have a professional team in only one of the four major sports).  The set of single team sports towns includes Columbus, Jacksonville, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City and San Antonio.

#1 Portland

The number one small market (only one professional team) sports city is Portland.  Portland provides exceptional support to the Trail Blazers.  In terms of the fan equity measure the Trail Blazers ranked 4th in the NBA and the social media ranking was 11th.

According to the US Census, the Portland metropolitan area is the 24th largest with a population of almost 2.3 million.  But despite this mid-level population base the Trail Blazers had the 4th highest attendance in the NBA last season and the second highest in 2012.  Notably, this support occurred despite the team missing the playoffs in each season.  The attendance also was NOT generated by deep discounts as the Trail Blazers price at just below the league average.

Our analysis suggests that the Portland market has a great deal of potential.  The population base is decent, median income is above average and the fans seem to be extremely supportive.  We know that there has been some interest in trying to attract an MLB team to Portland.  With the number of struggling franchises across all the major leagues, it is somewhat surprising to us that Portland isn’t mentioned more frequently.

#2 Sacramento

The Sacramento market’s 2nd place ranking was a bit of a surprise.  Sacramento just doesn’t ever seem to be top of mind when we think about sports cities.  The most recent time Sacramento has really been in the news was during the controversy surrounding the proposed sale of the team to a Seattle based group.

The Kings have struggled in recent years.  The last two years’ annual attendance rankings have been 30th and 27th.  But we need to consider that these attendance numbers have occurred in seasons when the team has played well below .500 basketball.  If we go back a few years to when the Kings were winning, the team was able to generate consistent sell-outs.  When we run our analysis over a ten year period the Kings end up with a fan equity ranking of 6thWhat this means is that Sacramento fans are well above average in terms of supporting their team.  If the Kings are reasonably successful then our data suggests that the fans will turn out.

The Sacramento market has a population of more than 2 million and a respectable median income of more than $46,000.  These demographics are favorable to many small markets so it is a bit surprising that Sacramento has been in danger of becoming a “zero” team market.

#3 Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is our number three “one sport” city.  Salt Lake City is a small market with a population of just 1.1 million but the metro area’s median income is a solid $48K (ranking 21st).

The Jazz rank 11th in our NBA fan equity ranking and 19th in the social media ranking.  These rankings are not surprising.  The Jazz has been a very successful franchise with notable players such as John Stockton and Karl Malone.  But recent seasons may not be meeting fan expectations causing the relatively poor social media results.

Based on the metro area population we don’t know that the city could support multiple pro franchises but Salt Lake City is a tremendous “one sport” city.

#4 San Antonio

Now we are getting into the “good” one team cities, but my guess is that folks in San Antonio will be upset by a 4th place finish.  This is the beauty (or enraging) part of our rankings.  When we assess revenue or social media we explicitly control for team performance.  This is important because it is obviously easier and more enjoyable to be a fan of a team that is winning.  It is also likely that fans are willing to pay more for a winning team.  The goal of our rankings is to get at the underlying passion and support of each city’s fans.

The Spurs ranked 10th in our NBA fan equity measure and only 24th in social media.  This is a very solid showing on the fan equity metric.  In terms of social media, San Antonio is an under performer. Based on the San Antonio market’s demographics and the Spurs on-court success our model suggests that the Spurs should have an additional 1.7 million Facebook Likes and Twitter followers.  In other words, in comparison to other NBA teams’ social media communities the Spurs fall short of what is expected for a market with San Antonio’s population and the Spurs’ winning rate.

#5 Orlando

The number 5 city on the list is Orlando.  While many observers might question the intensity of the Magic fans, the numbers tell an interesting  story.  For example, last season the Magic won only 24% of their games.  However, despite this futility, the team reported a 93.4% attendance rate.

Orlando also has a relatively rich history for a newer team. In addition to two conference titles, the team has featured notable players such as Shaquille O’Neal, Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard.

Within the NBA, the Magic rank 17th in terms of fan equity and 21st in social media equity.  As we noted below, Florida teams tend to struggle in our rankings.  Demographically Orlando is a decent market with a population of over 2.2 million.  However, while the Magic doesn’t compete with other pro teams, the Magic does face tough competition. In the case of Orlando, pro sports compete with the weather, golf and the mouse.

#6 Oklahoma City

Oklahoma at number 6 may be a bit of a surprise. The Thunder has enjoyed recent success, Kevin Durant is a marquee player and over the past few years the team has usually played  before a packed arena.  But the sellouts have only been achieved as the team has become a winner.

Our analysis explicitly controls for bandwagon fans.  After controlling for winning percentage and market characteristics we find that the Thunder ranks 19th in terms of revenue based fan equity and 15th in social media equity.

From a marketing perspective, the Oklahoma City NBA franchise made an interesting decision to drop ties to the team’s previous incarnation.  Typically, the belief is that the previous brand contains some value.  By keeping names like the Jazz or Colts some connection to historical achievements is often retained. We should note that we don’t know why the Sonics name was dropped – perhaps this was negotiated with the city of Seattle.

On the plus side, our analyses also confirm that the key to building fan equity is a tradition of winning.  The Thunder has not gotten over the hump but they have made strides.  We also suspect that the social media results are a leading indicator for fan equity.   

#7 Columbus

Columbus finishes #7 on the list of one team towns.  Columbus is the 32nd largest metropolitan area by population and the 57th ranked based on median income.  In terms of our rankings the Blue Jackets ranked 23rd in the NHL based on revenue premium based fan equity and 29th for social media equity.

The Blue Jackets were founded in 2000 and they therefore lack the multi-generation history of other franchises.  The team has also struggled on the ice as it took 9 years for the team to reach the NHL playoffs.  As such it’s not surprising that Blue Jackets are below average in terms of fan support.  Of course, the real issue with the Columbus market is that it is dominated by Ohio State sports.

#8 Jacksonville

The state of Florida is an interesting situation for professional leagues.  The state population has boomed and college sports have great following.  However, almost all professional franchises have struggled and many believe that the pro leagues have created too many Florida teams.  In terms of key demographics, Jacksonville ranks 82 in median income and 40th in population.  This is a bad combination of population and income given that the average ticket price in the NFL exceeds $80.

Within the NFL, the Jaguars ranked 27th in terms of revenue premium based fan equity but the team did score a much healthier ranking of 17th for our social media measure. It’s not surprising that Jacksonville ranks low as a market given these marginal demographics, a lack of franchise history and stiff competition from college teams. 

On the plus side, Tebow is still available.

#9 Memphis

In last place on our list we have the city of Memphis.  The Grizzlies are the only pro game in town.  Within our NBA rankings the Grizzlies were ranked 25th in terms of revenue premium based brand equity and 20th in terms of social media equity.  Of the nine onesport markets, Memphis was ranked last in terms of revenue premium equity and 7th for social media equity.

Memphis as a market has some natural disadvantages for teams in terms of population base (ranked number #41) and income levels (ranked number 104).  But even after controlling for these factors Memphis fans support levels are well below the levels provided by other cities.  For example, the Grizzlies average ticket price of $29.49 is far less than the league average of $50.99).  Even at these low levels attendance has been poor.  Despite winning 56% of games in the 2010-2011 season, the Grizzlies only sold 74.4% of their available seats (ESPN.com).  It was only last year when the Grizzlies broke the 90% capacity utilization rate and the team needed to win 68% of its game to do that well.  In comparison, Orlando sold about 94% of seats with a winning percentage of 24%.  In terms of social media, the Grizzlies have just over 407,000 Facebook Likes compared to Portland with 550,000 and Oklahoma City with about 2.3 million.  For reference the Lakers have 17 million Facebook Likes.

But while Memphis ranks last on our list, there are a few positive indicators.  Last year was the team’s most successful season and ESPN has ranked the Grizzlies organization as the top professional franchise.  It is also true that the Grizzlies have only been in Memphis since 2001.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.