Does Seattle deserve an NBA franchise? Yes!

Yesterday, the NBA owners voted to keep the Sacramento Kings from being sold to a group that would have brought the franchise to Seattle.  Yesterday, we also posted an analysis of fan base quality for the NBA.  We reported results for each Team’s “Fan equity” for the past season (and the change from 2012).  We found that the franchises with the best fan bases included the Knicks, Bulls, Celtics and Trail Blazers.  We also found that the worst fan bases were those of the Nets, Hawks and Pistons.

While we focused on this most recent season, our methodology can also be applied to previous seasons.  This morning we have run the numbers for seasons from 2002 to 2006 to see how the Sonics fan base compared to other cities (we excluded the last two years to avoid having the numbers biased by a negative fan reaction due to the planned move to Oklahoma City).

We found that the Seattle market ranked 20th over this time period.  While this is not a great performance it does place the Sonics far from the bottom.  The Sonics fan base was more supportive than fan bases in Denver, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and the Clipper side of LA.

The conclusion seems to be that while Seattle isn’t a truly great NBA market it is at least a decent one.  And one that does have something of a history.  Now that the opportunity to grab the Kings is gone, the next question should be what about expansion.  This recent article in Forbes describes an analysis of markets such as Louisville and Seattle as candidates for expansion.  While we don’t have access to the underlying data, we would like to point out that Louisville already has a very strong basketball market.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013


Which NBA Team has the Best Home Fans? And Who has the Worst? Hint: It’s New York!

Note: We have received a lot of responses to this study.  For more about the specifics of the study and answers to common questions, click here.

One of the core concepts we work with at Emory Sports Marketing Analytics is brand equity.  Brand equity is basically the advantage that a firm has over its competitors due to their brand being better known and having more loyal followers.  In the realm of sports, brand equity can be thought of as capturing the size and intensity of a team’s fan base.  As the NBA playoffs proceed to their climax this year, we decided to examine the brand equity of all 30 NBA franchises (for a similar analysis of NCAA basketball click here).

A quick Google search shows several other rankings of fan base quality (links below).  These rankings are largely based on consumer surveys or opinion.  In contrast, our method uses statistical models of team revenue results to measure which fan base best votes with their wallets.  Basically, what we do is estimate a statistical model of team box office revenues as a function of the team’s winning percentage, team payroll, market population, arena capacity, number of all-stars, and other factors that capture the quality of the team’s product and revenue potential in a given year.

Home Revenue = f(win%, Payroll, Market Population, etc…)

We then compare team’s actual home revenue with predictions from our model to discern teams that out- or under-perform.*  We call this quantity “Fan Equity.”

Fan Equity = Reported Home Revenue – Predicted Home Revenue

For the 2013 regular season, we find that the New York Knicks have the top ranked fan base.  The Knicks are followed by Chicago, Boston, Portland and Dallas.  Of these, Portland is probably the most interesting case.  A quick look at attendance data from ESPN shows that the Trail Blazers regularly exceed capacity for entire seasons.  Portland is a small market, but a market with passionate and supportive fans.  Portland also likely does well because they are the only “pro” game in town.

At the other extreme, we find that the Brooklyn Nets, the Atlanta Hawks and the Detroit Pistons are the greatest underperformers.  To reiterate, our method basically suggests that these teams should be making more revenues based on their markets and on-court performance.  The Brooklyn Nets are a fascinating example, given the hype that surrounded the move to Brooklyn, and Jay-Zs “ownership.”  While the Nets finished dead last in our rankings, if we look at year over year changes we do see signs of life.  In terms of year-to-year changes, the Nets had the 5th greatest improvement from 2012 to 2013 (even though their overall ranking did not change).

On a local level, we find that the Atlanta Hawks have very little fan support.  This comes as little surprise to folks from the South (aka SEC territory).  Atlanta as a city has the reputation of a place where everyone is from somewhere else.  This is probably a critical factor as a great deal of fan loyalty is built as fans grow up watching the home team.

*As with any analysis of this type, it is possible to quibble with assumptions.  For example, our method does not consider television revenues or that some cities have a greater corporate presence.

Links to other rankings of fan base quality: on Teams with the Best Crowds (Golden State #1)

Forbes Study of Loyal Fans (Miami #1)

Bleacher Report on Best Fan Bases (Chicago #1)

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.