NFL Fandom Report 2019

 

Time for our yearly look at NFL fandom.

Each year, I do a quantitative analysis of NFL fandom.  The analysis is grounded in economic and marketing theory, and uses statistical tools to shed light on the question of which teams have the most loyal or “best” fans.

The fundamental question that guides the analysis is simple – Who has the best fans in the NFL?  For the business folks, maybe we phrase this as – What are the best brands in the NFL? It’s a simple question that requires some complicated analyses.  First, we have to decide what we mean by “best”.  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 highest prices?  Fans that are willing to follow a team on social media? Fans that show up to see the team play in other markets? All good options.

Even after we agree on the question, 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 Green Bay?

My approach to evaluating fan bases uses data on attendance, revenues, social media following and road attendance to develop statistical models of fan interest (more details here).  The key is that the 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 changes in winning and losing.

Similar to past years, I use three measures of fan engagement: Fan Equity, Social Equity and Road Equity.  Fan Equity focuses on home box office revenues (support via opening the wallet). Social Media Equity focuses on fan willingness to engage as part of a team’s community (support exhibited by joining social media communities).  Road Equity focuses on how teams draw on the road after adjusting for team performance. These metrics provide a balanced analyses of fandom – 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 use a statistical tool that looks at the correlation across the three metrics to create a “Brand Equity Factor”.  Similar analyses are available for the NBA and MLB.

The Winners

 

The top five fan bases (team brands if you prefer) are the Cowboys, Patriots, Eagles, Giants and Steelers.  This is unchanged from the last two years – leaving me with little to say. The Cowboys have long been NFL royalty and the Patriots are now firmly established at the top of the league. It remains to be seen if the Patriots will remain near the top when Brady and Belichick move on.

In past years I have noted that the Eagles are a bit of a surprise.  But the strong social and road scores keep the Eagles near the top. The Steelers could probably be a bit higher on the list. The Steelers tend to price near the middle of the league and this limits their Fan Equity score.

The Giants are an interesting case. They do well on Fan Equity (especially compared to the Jets) and the Road Equity score is impressive.  The Social Equity score suggests that the Giants are more of a regional brand but when your region is NYC it’s not a major problem. The Road Equity score is an interesting one to debate. The teams in the NFC East all do well on this measure. I could adjust for divisional affiliation but the NFC East is, for whatever reason, the glamour division of the NFL. My feeling (like I said it’s debatable) is that the teams in that division should be given credit for the divisions appeal.

The next group of five includes the Packers, Broncos, Bears, 49ers and Saints.  A lot of face validity to these results. The 49ers might raise some eyebrows, but it is a team that does very well in terms of attendance and pricing power. The Bears, Packers and Broncos are all strong brands with impressive histories. The Saints are the relative newcomer in the top ten. Like the Patriots, it will be interesting to see how Saints fandom responds when Drew Brees retires.

 

The Losers

At the bottom of the rankings, we have the Bengals, Jaguars, Titans, Chiefs and Rams. Only minor changes from last year. The Browns have edged out of the bottom 5. These teams all suffer from the same issues – relatively weak pricing power and limited social followings.

The Chiefs are the team that will generate push back. The Chiefs have had some success and they have significant star power. The problem is that the Chiefs lack pricing power and do not have much of a social following (I use Twitter). However, the Chiefs and Browns are probably the best positioned teams to make moves up the charts the next few years.

For the Rams (and the Chargers), we should probably include an asterisk. Moving markets and playing in temporary stadiums can lead to questionable data. The Rams – like the Chiefs and Browns – are well positioned for on-field success over the next few years.  The good news for these teams is that on-field success is the best way to create brand equity and fan loyalty.  The bad news is that it takes a good amount of success to move the needle long-term.

 

The Business Implications: Why does this Matter?

This study is about measuring fandom intensity or engagement. The logical foundation is that we attribute over or under performance in revenues or social following to fan engagement. To do this, we have to control for factors like market size and winning. This is the key point. Fan engagement is a little different from brand equity (the value of a brand) because we are controlling for market differences. The preceding results are more about intensity or passion of a fan base rather than the value of the fan base.

Fandom intensity is an important and often overlooked part of brand equity. In a full brand equity analysis, I would want to combine structural elements of a market (population, income, arena, etc…) with a fan engagement factor to assess a team’s brand equity. The value of the fan base is probably best thought of as a product of the passion (or intensity or engagement) and the size of the fan base.

Why do we care about fan intensity?

A standard approach to value sports assets (teams, players and sponsorship deals) is to use comparables. The idea is that you evaluate a future deal based on the characteristics of similar past deals. It’s the same concept used in real estate where housing prices are usually dictated by factors such as square footage, number of bathrooms and the previous sales in the neighborhood.

In the world of sports, there are many deals that are valued based on the fans. Stadium naming rights and sponsorships are two prime examples.

But in the case of sports deals, it’s important to consider the passion of the fan base. Let’s consider a non-NFL example to illustrate the point. How might an analyst value similar deals (naming rights, sponsorships, etc…) related to the Clippers and Lakers. Both teams play in the same city so there is little difference in market related factors. If we tried to rely on current winning rates then the Clippers would appear to be the more valuable deal. The missing factor is that the Lakers have a fan base (created through a history of All Star Players and Championships) that is incredibly engaged with and attached to the Lakers brand. If we were valuing competing deals across the two clubs, it is critical that we also consider the passion (and staying power) of each team.

While I present my results as rankings, behind the scenes there are a set of numerical scores for each metric. These numerical scores provide a tool for valuing promotions and sponsorships. The numerical scores provide a basis for valuing the passion of fans across teams. The use of multiple metrics is again useful because each metric has a different behavioral interpretation.

Two quick examples.

The Fan Equity metric is a measure of willingness to spend. Critically, it is a measure of willingness to spend that controls for differences in market characteristics (population, income levels, etc…) and current team performance. In this year’s results, the Cowboys rank number 1 in Fan Equity and the Texans finish number 21. The (behind the scenes) analyses suggest that Dallas’ spend premium relative to the league average is positive 7.79% while Houston’s premium is .39%. This suggests that in a sponsorship deal where all things are equal (number of impressions, median income, etc…) that the sponsorship of the Cowboys would merit a 7.4% premium versus an identical partnership with the Texans. In some ways, this seems like a conservative estimate given the prominence of the Cowboys. But, NFL fandom is intense everywhere and the Fan Equity metric is geared towards local markets.

The Social Equity metric is a measure of transmission or amplification. In terms of Social Equity, the Cowboys rank 3rd and the Texans rank 12th. For this metric, the differences across teams are much more substantial. Relative to the league average the Cowboys have a social media equity index score of 87% (the Cowboys social amplification factor is 87% greater than the average team). The Texan’s index is 1% above the league average. The results suggest that the Cowboys would merit an 86% premium for a nationwide or social media oriented promotion versus the Texans. Again, these results are based on models that adjust or control for differences in team performance and market characteristics.

The Complete List

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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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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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MLB Fan Marketing Report 2018

As we enter the 2018 season, it’s time to take a look at MLB from a marketing perspective.  Specifically, the goal today is to evaluate MLB teams in terms of fan loyalty and engagement.  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 via 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?   An analysis of fandom should account for short-term variations in on-field performance.  There is also the matter of differences across markets.  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 goal is to provide as much of an “apples” to “apples” comparison as possible.

 

The Best Fans?

It is possible to rank fans on many different dimensions. And different dimensions can have different meanings and nuances.  For today – I’m going to develop an “overall” ranking of fans based on three sub-rankings – Fan Equity, Social Equity and Road Equity.  Fan Equity is a revenue premium based metric that compares team’s box office results with league standards.  In other words, Fan Equity assesses how much fans are willing to spend relative to fans across the league.  I think of this metric as about “attend and spend.”  The KEY idea is that we measure “attend and spend” while controlling for team success and market characteristics like income and population.

  • 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 and market.  Social Equity is also attractive in that the metric does not require fans to spend or to live in a local market.

  • 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 clubs national appeal. This passion can be positive (love the Cubs) or negative (hate the Yankees).

  • Road Equity provides a metric of passion beyond the local market.  A measure of NATIONAL brand equity.

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 (FYI, I don’t look at the comments so please email) 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’m going to take the simplest approach and average the rankings.  I don’t think this is the ideal approach, but it is simple. Simple is a great default.

 

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 third last year.  I sort of hate to say it, but Boston is probably the best sports town in America.

 

In general, the clubs at the top of the list share several traits.  They are all able to motivate fans to “attend and spend” as they all possess great attendance numbers and are able to charge relatively high prices.  More to the point, these teams are able to draw well and command price premiums when they are not winning.  The last few years excepted, 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, Mets, 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 of my favorite things to talk about.  But, it’s a topic for another day.

 

The Laggards

The bottom of the list features the Marlins, Athletics and White Sox.  It is interesting that the bottom of the rankings includes teams from major markets such as the SF Bay Area, Chicago and Miami.  Being in a major market might be a double edged sword.  There are natural advantages in terms of building brand equity but there are also dangers.  Failing to succeed in a “large” market might be the worst possible situation (fan expectations?)

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.

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, Giants or Dodgers rather than the Mets, White Sox, A’s or Angels.

There is also likely a story about consistency.  I chose an old school logo for the Sox.  I grew up in Chicago and the Cubs were always the same classic stadium and classic uniforms.  The Sox seemed to change things every season – new colors and logos.  I even have faint memories of the team wearing shorts on occasion.

The List

The complete list follows.  In addition to the overall ranking of fan bases, I also report rankings on the Fan Equity, Social Equity and Road Equity measures. Enjoy!

Listen to the full podcast episode here: https://soundcloud.com/user-444461821-683834833/major-league-baseball-fandom-episode-1

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.

 

 

NFL Bandwagon Fans and the Business of Fan Rankings

The Business behind Fan Base Analysis: Sponsorship Insights

Today’s post is a follow up to the NFL fan base rankings post.  The annual NFL Fan base ranking involves a combination of data analysis and marketing ideas (brand equity).  I do them as a single ranking to make it easily digestible and to encourage conversation.  Or in the case of Raider Fans – to generate threats.  Today, I go beyond a single ranking and present multiple fan base metrics.  The goal is to provide a richer description of how teams’ fans compare.  Specifically, we present rankings focused on brand equity, social media, road attendance and “bandwagon” behavior.

The fan analysis material is meant to be both instructive and to provide material for debate.  Sports brands are unique in the degree of loyalty that exists between fans and teams.  The reaction to the fan base rankings highlights the intensity of the relationships as people take it very personally when their fandom is questioned.  It’s interesting that it matters to fans not only that their team is competitive but that their passion for their team also exceeds the opposition’s.  As such it’s crucial for teams to thoroughly understand the strengths and weaknesses of their fan bases.

Something that tends to get lost in the discussion of fan base rankings is that the results have very significant business implications.  The fan equity and other measures that we discuss today tell an essential story about fans in each city.  If I am a brand looking to sponsor a stadium or a fast food company looking to do a deal with a team, then I very much want to know about the underlying long-term passion and behaviors of the fan base.

A common approach for valuing sports properties is the use of comparables.  The basic idea is that some entity, like a team or player, can be valued by looking at similar teams or players.  For example, a way to value a team is to look at previous sales and then make some adjustments for differences in population or income across markets.  Stadium naming deals are often similarly driven by past deals.

The Fan Equity work and rankings below provide extra factors that can be added to analyses based on comparables.  The rankings can be used to go beyond demographics driven comparisons to include a measure of engagement or loyalty.

In what follows, I provide a few insights about each of the metrics and then a Table that provides a complete breakdown.  I also discuss the business relevance of each of metric.  There are a number of caveats that should be offered such as the importance of looking at multiple metrics or noting that the results rely on public data.  But these explanations are a bit tedious and the key point is that the metrics should be carefully interpreted.

One important factor that should be stressed is that all of the measures are based on market place behaviors of fans like attending games and following on social media rather than consumer opinions collected via surveys.

The rankings should be interpreted with care.  A high ranking on the brand equity measures is something to strive for while a high ranking in the bandwagon category is something to avoid.


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Fan Equity

The Winners: Cowboys, Patriots and Ravens

The Losers: Jaguars, Raiders and Dolphins

Fan Equity is the core of the Dynamic Fan Equity (DFE) metric used to summarize fan bases.  It 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 Fan Equity 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 sometimes teams aren’t trying to maximize revenues (Packers, Steelers, etc…).   When this is the case the Fan Equity metric understates the engagement of fans.

What is the importance of Fan Equity for sponsorship?  Fan Equity shows the relative commitment to spend to support the team.  If we make the assumption that paying a premium (remember the model controls for the income differences across markets) is correlated with passion then teams with higher fan equity have fans that are more deeply bonded to the team.  These teams should receive a bump in terms of sponsorship deals.

 

Social Media Equity

Winners: Patriots, Cowboys and Broncos

Losers: Rams, Chiefs and Cardinals

An issue with the Fan Equity measure is that it can be constrained by capacity or by team pricing decisions.  If teams have a small stadium or are NOT pricing to maximize revenues then the Fan Equity measure can understate the team’s following.  In contrast to buying a ticket, following on social media is free and not impacted by geography.  It’s just as easy to follow the Seahawks as it is to follow the Falcons while sitting in Atlanta.

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.  Social Media Equity is also constructed using statistical models that control for performance and market differences.

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 while 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 therefore take time while social media communities can grow quickly.  Some preliminary analysis suggests that vibrant social communities are positively correlated with future revenue growth.

A comparison of Fan Equity and Social Media can also 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.

 

Road / Diaspora Equity

Winners: Eagles, Cowboys, Giants and the Bills in TOP TEN!

Losers: Chiefs, Cardinals and Texans

This is a new metric for the blog and a vocabulary lesson all in one.  One way to look at fan quality is to look at how a team draws on the Road.  For example, in the NBA these effects are pronounced.  Lebron or a retiring Kobe coming to town can often lead to sell outs.  College football is especially noted for traveling fans (SEC!).  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?  In other words, are fans traveling to the game or just showing up because it’s the Cowboys or Steelers?  Furthermore, if it is a national following is it because the team is popular across the country or because a lot of folks have moved from Pittsburgh or Buffalo to the Sun Belt?

Road Equity tells a story and suggests a need for additional research.  A national following is a great characteristic that might suggest that a team’s brand is on an upswing.  Or it might be that the city itself is on a downward trajectory.  Road equity might also be a matter of temporary factors (beyond winning) if fans are drawn to star or controversial players.

 

Band Wagon Fans

Biggest Bandwagon Fans: Cardinals and Cowboys

Loyal to a Fault: Bills, Lions and Redskins

This ranking looks at how responsive attendance is to winning.  This is a fun one because there are two really different interpretation of the results.  The more negative one is that a team whose fans show up less when the team is losing has a “fair weather” or “band wagon” fan base.  The other interpretation is that fans that are sensitive to winning are more demanding of quality.  The former seems most likely.

The rankings come directly from a statistical model of attendance.  The top ranked bandwagon fans are the ones whose attendance is most sensitive to winning.  Based on the data and models the Arizona Cardinal fans are the most “Bandwagon” of all the fan bases.  On the other extreme we have the Bills, Lions and Redskins fans as the most loyal.

From a sponsorship perspective, a high bandwagon ranking might make a sponsoring brand leery.  If fans only show up when a team is winning then the team might not have the relationship intensity with fans that a sponsor is trying to leverage.  An important reason for sports sponsorships is that brands want to be associated with teams that fans live and die with.  If a team is just entertainment then maybe a sponsorship is not going to generate the associations and connections desired.

There is complexity in the real world and all of these measures have limits.  The Cowboy fans are an interesting case study.  The Cowboys rank #2 in bandwagon fandom but they also rank very highly in the other brand equity measures.  Cowboy fans buy tickets and follow their team on social media.  The national stature of the Cowboys also brings in fans on the road.  But in terms of actually showing up at games it seems like the fans need a winner.  Loyalty in terms of spending but fair weather in terms of showing up.

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.

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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….

WNBA Social Media Equity Rankings

We begin our summer of fan base rankings with a project done by one of our favorite Emory students – Ilene Tsao.  Ilene presents a multi-dimensional analysis of the WNBA across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  The first set of rankings speak to the current state of affairs.  Seattle leads the way followed by LA and Atlanta.  In the second analysis, Ilene takes a look at what is possible in each market (by controlling for time in market and championships).  In this analysis the Atlanta Dream lead the way followed by Minnesota and Chicago.

The teams in the WNBA are constantly looking for ways to improve their brand and continue to expand their fan base. Social media provides a way to measure fan loyalty and support. In order to calculate WNBA teams’ social media equity, we collected data on each team’s followers across the three main social media platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We then ran a regression model to help predict followers for each platform as a function of factors such as metropolitan populations, number of professional teams, team winning percentages, and playoff achievements. After creating this model, we used the predicted number of followers and compared it to each team’s actual number of social media followers.  Our goal is to see who “over” or “under” achieves based on social media followers on average. We then ranked the WNBA teams based on the results.

The first model only used the metropolitan population and winning percentage of each team. After taking the average of the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram rankings, we found the Seattle Storm had the best performance. The Connecticut Sun and Washington Mystics consistently ranked as the bottom two teams across all three platforms, but teams like the Los Angeles Sparks and Atlanta Dream had more variation. The Dream ranked 6th for Twitter, but 1st for Instagram while the Sparks ranked 1st for Twitter and 6th for Instagram. This could be because both Instagram and the Dream recently joined the social media world and the WNBA, while the Sparks and Twitter have been around for longer. Based on raw numbers, the New York Liberty has high performance in terms of social media followers, but when we adjust for market size and winning percentage, the team does poorly.

Rankings for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram based on the metropolitan population and the teams’ winning percentages:

WNBA Social Media 1

The second model extended the previous analysis by incorporating the number of other professional teams in the area and number of WNBA championships won into the regression analysis. This model seemed to be a better fit for our data and resulted in small adjustments in the rankings. After taking the average of all three rankings with the new factors, the Atlanta Dream was ranked first while passing the Seattle Storm and Los Angeles Sparks. The Mystics were no longer consistently the worst team, but were still in the bottom half of the rankings.

Rankings based on metropolitan population, winning percentage, number of other professional teams, and number of WNBA championships:

WNBA Social Media 2Ilene Tsao, Emory University, 2015.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Steelers fans tops in social media but not in spending on team

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Steelers fans tops in social media but not in spending on team

Love is sometimes pursued at all costs, but it’s a little cheaper at Heinz Field.

A recent analysis by Michael Lewis and Manish Tripathi, professors at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, found that while Steelers fans outpace all the rest in social media engagement, they are only in the middle of the pack in terms of how much they pay to follow their team.

The authors generated two metrics from 13 years of data. The first was “fan equity,” measuring how much fans are willing to pay to support their team through ticket sales and merchandise purchases. The second, “social media equity,” measured fan devotion in the online arena. Both measures were statistically adjusted to control for stadium size, local population, median income and team performance.