MLB Fan Base and Brand Rankings 2017

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.

The Winners

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 Laggards

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 Details

Fan Equity

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.

Road Equity

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.



2016 Pre-Season MLB Social Media Rankings: The Blue Jays Win!

Going into the baseball season, there are all sorts of expectations about how teams are going to perform.  This summer I thought it might be interesting to track social media across a season.  What this means is something of an open question.  I have a bunch of ideas but suggestions are welcome.

But the starting point is clear.  We open with social media equity rankings of MLB clubs.  The basic idea of the social media rankings is that we look at the number of social media followers of each team after statistically controlling for market differences (NY teams should have more followers than San Diego) and for short term changes in winning rates.  The idea is to get a measure of each teams’ fan base after controlling for short-term blips in winning and built in advantages due to market size.  A fuller description of the methodology may be found here.

Social Media Equity is really a measure of fan engagement or passion (no it’s not a perfect measure).  It captures the fact that some teams have larger and more passionate fan bases (again after controlling for market and winning rates) than others.  In this case the assumption is that engagement and passion are strongly correlated with social media community size.  Over the years we have looked at lots of social media metrics and my feeling, at least, is that this most basic of measures is probably the best one.

When we last reported our Social Media Equity ratings  the winners were the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs Phillies and Cardinals.  The teams that struggled were the White Sox, Angels, A’s, Mets and Rays.  This was 2014.  Last summer was kind of a lost summer for the blog.


But enough background…   The 2016 pre-season social equity rankings feature a top five of the Blue Jays, Phillies, Braves, Red Sox and Giants.  A lot of similarities from 2014, with the big change being the Blue Jays at the top of the rankings.  One quick observation (we have all summer for more) is that teams with “bigger” geographic regions like the Blue Jays (Canada?), Braves (the American South) and the Red Sox (New England) do well in this measure of brand equity since constraints like stadium capacity don’t play a role.

At the bottom of the rankings it’s the Marlins, Angels, Mariners, A’s and Nationals.  Again a good deal of overlap from earlier.  Maybe the key shared factor at the bottom is tough local competition.  The Angels struggle against the Dodgers, the A’s play second fiddle in the bay area and the Marlins lose out to the beach.

The table below provides the complete rankings and a measure of trend.  The trend shows the relative growth in followers from 2015 to the start of the 2016 season (again after controlling for factors such as winning rates).  The Cubbies are up and comers!  While the Mariners are fading.

Team Social Media Equity Rank Trend Rank
Blue Jays 1 4
Phillies 2 14
Braves 3 10
Red Sox 4 3
Giants 5 7
Yankees 6 21
Tigers 7 2
Reds 8 6
Rangers 9 17
Rays 10 13
Cubs 11 1
Pirates 12 9
Mets 13 5
Padres 14 23
Diamondbacks 15 8
Indians 16 11
Dodgers 17 15
Cardinals 18 25
White Sox 19 20
Brewers 20 22
Oriels 21 27
Astros 22 26
Twins 23 19
Royals 24 28
Rockies 25 16
Marlins 26 29
Angels 27 24
Mariners 28 30
A’s 29 12
Nationals 30 18

More to come….

Sports Illustrated: How Phillies, Rays have evolved six years after World Series showdown

Sports Illustrated: How Phillies, Rays have evolved six years after World Series showdown

Last week, Emory Sports Marketing Analytics released the results of a study it conducted that sought to measure, in its words (italics theirs), “a measure of how demanding fans are of their teams. In other words, we are looking at the tolerances fan bases have for losing (or maybe we could view this as insight into which cities are the most prone to bandwagon behavior).” The most demanding fans? The Phillies’. In the late 90s and early 2000s, when the team was struggling and still playing in Veterans Stadium, the club annually ranked among the league’s bottom few clubs in attendance. By 2008, their championship year, the Phillies were fifth overall, and they led the league as recently as 2012. Even with the team’s struggles this season, it still ranks 10th, as fans are still drawn to Citizens Bank Bark by their recent positive memories, and to see the longtime stalwarts who contributed to them. If any club has an incentive to hold onto its stars as long as possible, and to profit off the gate receipts those stars still produce, it is Philadelphia.


Washington Post: Study: Phillies fans are bandwagoners and Nats fans are in a ‘miserable marriage’

Washington Post: Study: Phillies fans are bandwagoners and Nats fans are in a ‘miserable marriage’

An analysis of Major League Baseball fans conducted by two marketing professors at Emory University, Michael Lewis and Manish Tripathi, concluded that fans of the Philadelphia Phillies are the most demanding in the study’s “win sensitivity” list. The fan base least likely to forget about its team during the dark times: The New York Yankees.

“If we look at the sensitivity of the demand to winning for Philadelphia or the New York Yankees, they are not even close,” explains Dr. Lewis. “Yankee fans basically show up regardless; Phillies fans have the greatest sensitivity in the league towards winning rates.”

Deadspin: Which MLB Fans Are The Biggest Bandwagoners

Deadspin: Which MLB Fans Are The Biggest Bandwagoners

Two researchers at Emory University have launched their 2014 MLB Fan Analysis, which uses the numbers to break down baseball’s fan bases by any number of variables. Earlier this week, they tackled one near and dear to our hearts: Which teams’ attendance is most closely correlated with its success?

Similar Articles in the Press:

 NBC Sports: Study: Phillies fans are the biggest bandwagon fans around Phillies Fans the Biggest Bandwagon Fans in Baseball, Study Finds

MLB Fan Analysis Part 3: Defining Fan-Team Relationships with Social Media

Social media is increasingly being used as a market research tool, and we believe that it provides opportunities to develop some richer descriptions of MLB fan bases.  The foundation for today’s analysis is something known as social media sentiment.  The idea behind sentiment is that we look at the “tone” of tweets surrounding each team.  In this inaugural version, we are examining the distribution of positive versus negative tweets for each team over the past couple of years.

Our actual approach uses a variety of statistics used to characterize distributions (e.g. mean, variance, skewness, kurtosis, etc.…), and then we employ a couple of techniques known as factor analysis and cluster analysis.  We will avoid the details (feel free to contact us) but the general idea is to find teams that have similar distributions of social media sentiment.  We use factor and cluster analysis on team social media sentiment on Twitter over the past two seasons to segment fan bases into four types.  Perhaps, it is more accurate to describe what we are doing as segmenting the types of relationships fans have with their teams.  Do fans have unconditional love for their team?  Do they have violent mood swings?

One caveat to this study is that since this is all based on Twitter data, the results reflect the opinions of fans on SOCIAL MEDIA only.  Also, please note that unlike our previous study of social media equity that was based on the size of each team’s following, this analysis is based on sentiment or tone.

Segment 1: Loving Stable Relationships

Our analysis suggests that the Atlanta and St. Louis teams have enviable fan bases.  Braves and Cardinals fans are both very happy and stable.  Whatever these teams are doing, the end result is fans that adore their teams, and tend not to vary in their feelings.  These are fans that love their teams, and mostly overlook their club’s faults.

Segment 2: Generally Happy but Volatile

The second cluster is the largest segment.  This group of fan bases is generally positive but volatile.  Meaning that on average, these fans are happy but they have mood swings.  This group is the largest, and includes the fans of the Cubs, Orioles, Reds, Indians, Tigers, Marlins, Astros, Royals, Phillies, Pirates, Mariners, Giants, Rangers, and Blue Jays.  These seem to be the “normal” fan bases.

Segment 3: Miserable Marriages

This is where the analysis becomes fun.  The third segment is made up of fan bases that are generally unhappy but stable.  These are fans that don’t get a lot of joy from their teams.  In addition, these feelings don’t seem to change much.  This group includes a diverse set of teams.  These are the fans of the Diamondbacks, Angels, White Sox, Rockies, Brewers, Padres, Nationals, and BOTH New York teams.

Segment 4: Depression with a Bit of Mania

This is Professor Lewis’ personal favorite segment.  Fan bases that are generally VERY unhappy but have a few instances of extreme joy.  We think we can also say that these are the teams with the most challenging fan bases to manage.  Again, we have a diverse group.  We have the small market fans of the Twins (what happened to Minnesota nice?), the A’s (Moneyball doesn’t create happiness?), and the Rays (probably the Florida heat).  In terms of the large markets, we have Boston (probably the most unsurprising result) and the LA Dodgers.

Social Media Based Cluster of MLB

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.

Philadelphia Business Journal: Study finds Phillies have most demanding fans

Philadelphia Business Journal: Study finds Phillies have most demanding fans

Label it being bandwagon jumpers, or call it being turned off by poor play — but nobody can argue Philadelphia Phillies fans are more likely to come out to the ballpark when the team is winning.

A new study even proves it.

An analysis of Major league Baseball fans conducted by Emory Sports Marketing Analytics looked at the responsiveness of fan demand to team winning percentage.

MLB Fan Analysis 2014 Part 2: Attendance Sensitivity to Performance & Prices

Follow us on Twitter @sportsmktprof

Note: Please click here for Part 1.  

For part 2 of our analyses of MLB fan bases, we change direction and focus on fan response to team performance and pricing.  These analyses complement the analyses of fan equity by drilling down a bit, and considering how demanding fans are of their teams.  We develop our fan sensitivity rankings using statistical models of consumer demand (attendance).  These models are built to estimate team-level response to price and winning percentage.  We use data from 1998 to 2013.  For more on our methodology, please click here.

Team Performance

Our first analysis looks at the responsiveness of fan demand to team winning percentage.  This can be thought of as a measure of how demanding fans are of their teams.  In other words, we are looking at the tolerances fan bases have for losing (or maybe we could view this as insight into which cities are the most prone to bandwagon behavior).

MLB 2014 Win Sensitivity

The most demanding MLB fans live in Philadelphia.  This fits the stereotype of Philadelphia fans as aggressive, demanding fans that are willing to cheer injuries and boo Santa.  The numbers say that Philadelphia fans require their team to perform or they won’t show up.  Following the Phillies are the fans of Baltimore, Oakland, the White Sox, Detroit and Cleveland.

At the other extreme, the teams with fans that are the least sensitive to winning rates are the Yankees, Cardinals, Marlins, Red Sox and Diamondbacks.  This group of non-demanding fans bases probably includes two types.  We have the loyal and passionate fans of the Yankees, Cardinal and Red Sox.  But, we probably also have the apathetic fans of the Marlins and the Diamondbacks.


Our second analysis examines the relationship between average ticket prices and attendance.  This analysis is focused on the degree to which fan bases are sensitive (or insensitive) to high ticket prices.  We should point out that the analysis of price sensitivity in sports is a tough issue (so the results should be taken with a grain of salt).  We are using average prices in the analysis.  Given the range of prices within a stadium, this is debatable assumption.  But it’s the best data we have access to, and we’re all friends, so why not.

MLB 2014 Price Sensitivity

We find that the most price sensitive fans live in Arizona, Cleveland, Baltimore, Seattle, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Frankly, we are not sure what to make of this list.  Several of the cities are located in warm weather cities (which seems to reduce fan interest).  Cleveland and Baltimore are older cities and Seattle is a vibrant city in the Pacific Northwest.

At the other extreme, we have Milwaukee, Anaheim, Minnesota, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.  Perhaps these cities should raise prices.  The case of Philadelphia is especially interesting given that Phillies fans are also the most sensitive to winning.  It seems the Phillies should charge more and use the funds to invest in players.

The Brewers are another fascinating case.  This team does well in social media equity and the fans don’t seem to be very price sensitive.  This seems to be a team that is rapidly developing a highly loyal following. 

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.

MLB Fan Analysis Part 1: Fan & Social Media Equity

Who are the best fan bases in Major League Baseball?  A quick Google search of “best MLB fan bases” produces more than a million results.  Specific rankings are published by entities ranging from news organizations to ticket brokers.  In general, these rankings are based more on subjective opinion than data and analysis.  In contrast, we take a 100% data-driven approach.

That said, we readily acknowledge that fan base analysis is a complex topic.  Our core metric is something we term “fan equity.” This metric is based created using a revenue-premium model of brand equity.  This model is driven by the financial support shown by fans conditional on team performance and market characteristics.  This approach has significant advantages in that it is based on spending behavior and not driven by short variations in winning.  But, the revenue-premium approach is not perfect.  Therefore, this year we will be publishing a number of rankings (and providing descriptions of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach).  Click here for an overview of each method.

Today, we present three analyses of MLB fan bases.  We begin with the fan equity / revenue-premium model (based on the last three years), a trend analysis of fan equity growth over the past 15 seasons, and an analysis of each team’s social media equity.

2014 MLB Fan Equity

The winners in the fan equity analysis include the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Phillies, Cardinals and Twins.  The Red Sox and Yankees placing at the top of the list is simultaneously unsurprising and interesting.  It is unsurprising because these are two of the league’s most prominent teams, and interesting because the two teams are bitter rivals.  The intense competition between these two teams provides an added factor that may be lacking for teams like the Cubs or the Phillies.  And yes, we do know that Cardinals fans love to beat the Cubs. (Click here for more details on our methodology for fan and social equity)

At the bottom of the list, we have teams in cities with great weather (or maybe summers that are too hot) and teams that are generally regarded as number two in their markets.  The bottom five are the White Sox, Angels, A’s, Mets and Rays.  As an aside, how about the “Portland A’s”?

We know the winners and the losers, but fan bases are not static entities.  As teams win, lose or market themselves, their fan equity evolves.  As a second analysis, we examined fan equity trends over the past 15 years.  This analysis revealed that MLB’s high equity teams are tending to even greater levels of fan support.  In this analysis, the Yankees finished first followed by the Red Sox, Cubs, Nats, Phillies, Dodgers and Giants.  This list of teams is overwhelmingly concentrated in the largest markets.  At the bottom of the list, we have teams like the Diamondbacks, Indians, Orioles, Padres and Rays.

2014 MLB Trend

The last analysis for today is something we term social media equity.  This analysis looks at each team’s social media following (again controlling for market size and winning).  Social media equity is important because it is unconstrained by stadium size, unaffected by a team’s pricing decisions and provides a measure of national following. It may also be a forward looking indicator if social media participants are younger than those fans who attend games.

2014 MLB Social Equity

The social media ranking is fairly different.  While the Yankees are number one, the top five also includes the Padres, Brewers, Rangers and Pirates.  Perhaps, the revenue-premium measure is picking up the economics of the big markets while the social media metric is best for identifying current interest.  However, the bottom of the social media list is consistent with the bottom of the fan equity list with teams like the Mets, A’s and Angels.

In our next post, we will present analyses of fan base sensitivity to winning and pricing.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.