NFL Fan and Brand Report 2018

Each year, I do an 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 key point of differentiation is that this is a truly quantitative analysis.  It’s driven by data, not by emotion.

On a side note, I also regularly podcast on sports and sports analytics topics.  You can find the accompanying episode (and all sorts of other cool stuff) via the link below.

The fundamental question that guides the analysis is simple – Who has the best fans in the NFL?  For the business folks maybe we say this as – What are the best brands in the NFL? These are simple questions without simple answers.  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 the road or social media?

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 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 changes in winning and losing.

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 online 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 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 possible method.  A simple average across the three metrics.  (similar analyses are available for the NBA and MLB).  The rankings are based on multiple years of data, use multiple performance measures and sophisticated statistical techniques.  But nothing is perfect and I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss some of the issues and controversies surrounding the NFL.

Its an understatement, but it’s been a tumultuous last few years for the NFL.  Concussions, anthem protests and domestic abuse scandals have all “complicated” fan’s relationships with teams.  The analytics I present use historical data to provide insight into recent of fan interest.  The analytics provide a measurement of the “fandom” that has been built over decades.  So, what is the impact of the current controversies?  Its impossible to say.

The problem is that while we can measure current fandom with snapshots of spending and social media behavior, the impact of incidents or events such as the anthem protests or the concussion lawsuits may play out over years or decades.  These types of issues might have an immediate impact on some metrics but the salient question is how will they influence long-term preference levels.

There may be “signals” in the data such as changes in TV ratings or higher no-show rates, but it’s tough to tell if these are blips or trends.  In terms of the observed decline in TV ratings, there is no shortage of theories – the aforementioned controversies, key player retirements, the 2016 presidential election, too many games, and just too many entertainment options have all been mentioned as root causes.  The existence of so many theories means that an analytics based approach is going to be difficult if not impossible.  This is especially true because while fandom can dissipate faster than its built, fan loyalty and passion is more likely to fade over years rather than disappear over weeks.

My conjecture is that the concussion issue and the anthem protests are both very significant problems for teams and the NFL brand.  The issues related to concussions may lead to lawsuits and decreased youth participation.  The anthem protests are something about which I’m reluctant to write (given the unfortunate state of the modern university).  But to keep it simple – the anthem protests have inserted some ugly “politics” into what is fundamentally an entertainment category.  If the product becomes less fun, why would you expect fans to enjoy it as much?  And while the phrase “less fun” might seem to trivialize the issues, spending on sports entertainment is about as discretionary as it gets.

Nevertheless, while the NFL has challenges, it is still the preeminent US sports league.  How the league fares in the future is probably going to be based on the strength of its strongest brands.  Which brings us back to our fundamental question – What are the best brands or fan bases in the NFL?

 

The Winners

The top five fan bases (team brands if you prefer) are the Cowboys, Patriots, Eagles, Giants and Steelers.  This is unchanged from last year.  The first switch in the rankings is the number 6 and 7 positions with the Bears moving ahead of the Saints.

The Cowboys excel on all the metrics.  They win in terms of Fan Equity (a revenue premium measure of brand strength), Road Equity and finish second in social media.  The underlying data (I will spare everybody the statistical models) reveals why Dallas does so well.  The Cowboy’s average home attendance usually leads the league, fans are willing to pay high prices, and the team’s twitter following is exceptional.  The Cowboys are America’s team.

The similarity across rankings gives me faith in the results.  However, the fan in me still questions some of what I see.  In terms of full disclosure, I grew up a Steelers fan in the 1970s and lived in the Chicago during the Bear’s glory days.  As such, I bring my personal biases to the interpretation of the findings.  I can’t help but to think of the Patriots as having bandwagon fans, and the Eagles ranking above the Steelers just does not seem right.

The analyst in me understands that the value of using a statistical approach is that the data can help correct my biases.  A couple of comments.  Patriot fans may be bandwagon fans.  But they have been on the bandwagon a long time.  A couple of decades of success likely means that the Patriots will remain NFL royalty even after Tom Brady leaves the game.

The Eagles surprise me, and probably most of western Pennsylvania.  They do get a bump from playing in the NFC East in terms of the Road Equity metric.  The NFC East is a strong collection of brands that benefit each other.  The Giants also benefit.  It is not easy to disentangle these effects.  And perhaps we shouldn’t since we can make a case that the rivalries that benefit these teams are because of the interest in the individual team brands.

 

The Losers

At the bottom of the rankings, we have the Browns, Jaguars, Chiefs, Rams and Titans.  This is an interesting group.  We have the struggling Browns, but we also have some teams like the Titans, Jaguars and Chiefs that have had recent success.

The important fact is that the statistical model I use, evaluates each team’s results based on how the league works on average.  If a team wins but does not convert the wins to increased revenues or social following, then the team will suffer in the rankings.

The good news for these teams (Jags, Chiefs, Titans) 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.

For the Rams and the Chargers, we should probably include an asterisk. Moving markets and playing in temporary stadiums can lead to some questionable findings.

 

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.  Following the table, I provide a bit more detail regarding each of the metrics.

2018 NFL Brand Rankings

 

Further Explanations

Fan Equity

Winners: Cowboys, 49ers, Patriots

Losers: Rams*, Raiders, Jaguars

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.

Just like last year, the 49ers are the interesting winner on this metric. After the last couple of years, it is doubtful that people are thinking about the 49ers having a rabid fan base.  However, the 49ers are a prime example of how the approach works.  On the field, the 49ers have not performed well.  Despite the on-field struggles, the 49ers still pack in the fans and charge high prices.  This is evidence of a very strong brand because even while losing the 49ers fans still attend and spend.  In terms of the overall rankings the 49ers don’t do all that great because the team does not perform as well as a road or social media draw.

In terms of business concepts, the “Fan Equity” measure is similar to a “revenue premium” measure of brand equity.  It captures the differentials in fan’s 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.

One important thing to note is that some teams may not be trying to maximize revenues.  Perhaps the team is trying to build a fan base by keeping prices low.  Or a team may price on the low side based on some notion of loyalty to its community.   In these cases, the Fan equity metric may understate the engagement of fans.  I suspect that this is the case for the Steelers.

 

Social Media Equity

Winners: Patriots, Cowboys, Steelers

Losers: Rams, Jaguars, Titans

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 Fan Equity, 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.  While the Fan Equity metric focuses on local box office revenues, 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.  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 a team has additional pricing flexibility.

 

Road Equity

Winners: The NFC East, Raiders, Patriots and Steelers

Losers: Texans, Titans and Browns

Another way to look at fan quality is how a team draws on the Road.  There was a famous case in Atlanta just a few years ago, when Steelers fans turned the Georgia dome Gold and Black.

The Road Equity measure can be interpreted in multiple ways.  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, do the local fans travel or does a team with high road attendance have a national following. When the Steelers turned the Georgia Dome Gold and Black was it because Steelers fans came down from Pittsburgh or because Steelers fans are everywhere.

I suspect that we are capturing a measure of national following rather than a tendency to travel.  The Road Equity rankings are dominated by high profile teams such as the Cowboys, Patriots and Steelers.  These teams also do very well on the Social Equity measure (which also measures national following).  This correlation gives me a confidence that the Road Equity picks up a measure of national following.

 

 

 

 

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

Moving towards Modeling & Lessons from Other Arenas: Sports Analytics Series Part 5

The material in this series is derived from a combination of my experiences in sports applications and my experiences in customer analysis and database marketing.  In many respects, the development of an analytics function is similar across categories and contexts.  For instance, a key issue in any analytics function is the designing and creation of an appropriate data structure.  Creating or acquiring the right kinds of analytics capabilities (statistical skills) is also a common need across industries.

A need to understand managerial decision making styles is also common across categories.  It’s necessary to understand both the level of interest in using analytics and also the “technical level” of the decision makers.  Less experienced data scientists and statistician have a tendency to use too complicated of methods.  This can be a killer.  If the models are too complex they won’t be understood and then they won’t be used.  Linear regression with perhaps a few extensions (fixed effects, linear probability models) are usually the way to go.    Because sports organizations have less history in terms of using analytics the issue of balancing complexity can be especially challenging.

A key distinction between many sports and marketing applications is the number of variables versus the number of observations.  This is an important point of distinction between sports and non-sports industries and it is also an important issue for when we shift to discussing modeling in a couple of weeks.  When I use the term variables I am referencing individual elements of data.  For example, an element of data could be many different things such as a player’s weight or the number of shots taken or the minutes played.  We might also break variables into the categories of dependent variables (things to explain) versus independent variables (things to explain with).  When I use the term observations I am talking about “units of analysis” like players or games.

In many (most) business contexts we have many observations.  A large company may have millions of customer accounts.  There may, however, be relatively few explanatory variables.  The firm may have only transaction history variables and limited demographics.  Even in sports marketing a team interested in modeling season ticket retention may only have information such as the number of tickets previously purchased, prices paid and a few other data points.  In this same example the team may have tens of thousands of season ticket holders.  If we think of this “information” as a database we would have a row for every customer account (several thousand rows) and perhaps ten or twenty columns of variables related to each customer (past purchases and marketing activities).

One trend is that the number of explanatory variables is expanding in just about every category. In marketing applications we have much more purchase detail and often expanded demographics and psychographics.  However, the ratio of observations to columns usually still favors the observations.

In sports we (increasingly) face a very different data environment.  Especially, in player selection tasks like drafting or free agent signings.  The issue in player selection applications is that there are relatively few player level observations.  In particular, when we drill down into specific positions we often find ourselves having only tens or hundreds or player histories (depending on far back we want to go with the data).  In contrast, we may have an enormous number of variables per player.

We have historically had many different types of “box score” type stats but now we have entered into the era of player tracking and biometrics.  Now we can generate player stats related to second-by-second movement or even detailed physiological data.  In sports ranging from MMA to soccer to basketball the amount of variables has exploded.

A big question as we move forward into more modeling oriented topics is how do we deal with this situation?

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.


rankings16

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.

Notes from the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference

We are spending the next two days learning from a great group of sports marketing folks. After one panel into the conference some key themes are starting to become apparent. The first panel included folks like Mike Grahl from the Bucks, Craig Pickens from Oregon, Jeff Koleba from the Kentucky Derby, Chris Yandle for U Miami and Wayne Patello from the Padres.

The two themes that emerged were the importance of fan engagement and how social media impacts the brand. These are interesting themes as they both speak to two key marketing assets. The “Brand” is an obvious marketing asset. Engagement is a bit less obvious but should really be thought of as an element of the team’s customer relationships. The value of a team’s portfolio of customer relationship assets is a matter of both the number and the passion of the fans.

Reading between the lines, all the organizations are dealing with the same fundamental issues. First, as it’s a new area all the organizations are trying to figure out the best way to use social. For example, there has been significant discussion regarding avoiding mistakes. Since social accounts are the voice of the team we need to ask who should be able to tweet and what external tweets should be retweeted.

The second issue, that hasn’t been directly addressed, is that social assets and brand assets are fundamentally challenging because they are intangible. How can we measure the impact of social activities on the brand when it’s tough to even measure the value of a brand?

It will be interesting to see how the conference progresses. From my perspective I think the key is in bringing data and analytics into these discussions. On the site we spend a lot of time thinking about valuing marketing assets and using social media. Thus far the conference message (to an academic) is that linking social to branding to loyalty and revenues is an important endeavor.

Pre-releasing Super Bowl Ads: Tease or Full Monty?

sodastreamIn the last few years, the trend of releasing Super Bowl ads online in advance of the Super Bowl has been well documented.  Super Bowl advertisers can choose to pre-release a full ad, preview an ad, or wait until the Super Bowl to unveil their ad.  There is a belief among many advertisers that previewing or fully releasing a commercial online before the Super Bowl will generate online exposure and buzz at a much lower cost than running the ad on TV during the Super Bowl.  Since the majority of the pre-Super Bowl advertising activity is being done online, we decided to study 2013 Super Bowl ads using Twitter.  We realize that we could also look at online views of an ad, but we believe that tweets do a good job of capturing the buzz around an ad.  We were interested in investigating how the decision to preview or fully pre-release a Super Bowl ad impacts the pre-game online buzz.   Also, we wanted to determine the difference in long-term online impact of previewing or fully releasing a Super Bowl ad online in advance.  Our key insights from this study were:

1.    Previewing or teasing a commercial online increases the pre-game “buzz” at higher percentage than revealing the entire commercial online.

2.    Releasing the full commercial beforehand seems to have a long-term effect on online exposure, whereas previewing the commercial does not.

Now, for some more details on our study.  First, we coded each of the advertisers for the 2013 Super Bowl as releasing the full commercial in advance (Full), previewing the commercial (Preview), or doing neither (Neither).  We then used Topsy Pro to collect all tweets that mentioned the advertised brands for a period two months before and after the Super Bowl (February 3, 2013).  We summed up the total number of tweets mentioning a brand on a daily basis.  We averaged the number of daily tweets per brand over several different time periods.

Pre-Game Chatter of Brand

Pre-Game Twitter BuzzThe first thing we examined was how the pre-releasing of Super Bowl ads online affects the pre-game tweeting regarding the advertised brand.  The key metric we examined was the percentage increase in average daily mentions of a brand in the two-week period before the Super Bowl (the time period in which the advance release typically occurs) as compared to the two weeks before that.  We pool the data across the three types of ads: Full, Preview, and Neither.  The chart on the right displays the average percentage increase in the three categories.

Interestingly, it is not the full commercials, but the teased commercials that show the largest percentage increase in online chatter.  It’s possible that the full commercials get more online views, but the teasing nature of the previewed commercial might be building up some excitement, that is being captured through the increased Twitter activity.

Short Term Effects

Two Week Before and AfterNext, we wanted to look at how the actual airing of the Super Bowl ad on TV interacted with the pre-release decision of the firm.  The key metric we examined was the percentage increase in average daily mentions of a brand in the two week period after the Super Bowl as compared to the two week period before the Super Bowl.  The firms that teased their commercials beforehand experienced the largest increase in the two-week period after the Super Bowl as compared to the two-week period before the Super Bowl.  The increase is compounded if you consider that the same type of advertised brands experienced the largest growth in tweets in the two-week period before the Super Bowl!

Some of the brands that experienced the largest increase in tweet activity in this two week post Super Bowl period included Skechers & E*Trade.  While all three categories understandably experienced dramatic growth in online chatter, brands that had released the full commercial in advance had the least growth.  There are several potential explanations for this phenomenon, including less of a surprise factor, since the full commercial was already known to consumers.

Longer Term Effects

Long Term Twitter IncreaseTo better understand the lasting impact of a commercial, we decided to compare the average daily mentions of a brand for a three-week period a month AFTER the Super Bowl with a three-week period a month BEFORE the Super Bowl.  Looking at these periods would hopefully remove some of the short-term buzz, and allow us to see if there was a more permanent level of change to the Twitter activity surrounding a brand.  We realize that there could be other actions that could influence tweet activity besides the Super Bowl.  However, surprisingly, there is relatively low level of variability within members of the three types of advertisers.

Only the companies that showed the full ad before the Super Bowl manifested a “long” term increase on average in tweets mentioning the brand.   The two big winners with respect to long-term impact were SodaStream and Speed Stick.  Perhaps it was the repeated exposure to the full commercial that left a longer lasting impression on consumers.

2014 Super Bowl

So, what does this mean for the 2014 Super Bowl?  Our study only looked at data from one Super Bowl, but it will be interesting to see if commercials follow a similar pattern this year.  We are seeing more companies release their full commercials in advance this year.  We are also seeing firms with multiple spots preview one spot and fully release another spot.  The brands showing the largest increase in pre-game Twitter activity include: SodaStream, Squarespace, Oikos, & Butterfinger.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory 2014.

NFC West: Measuring “Rivalry” Through Twitter

How do you measure a “rivalry”?  Is it how much you hate someone?  Is it how often you have competed head-to-head for an important goal?  Is it how often you spend your time talking about someone?  As in previous studies, we decided to use Twitter to quantify the level of rivalry between teams in the same division in the NFL.  We are starting with the teams in the NFC West: The Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers, the Arizona Cardinals, and the St. Louis Rams.

NFC West Talk MatrixOur methodology is straightforward.  We are measuring the intensity of a “rivalry” by the number of tweets mentioning a non-home team in the home team’s market.  For example, we look at the number of tweets mentioning the 49ers, Cardinals, and Rams in the Seattle market.  These tweets represent the relative intensity of rivalry of each team with the Seahawks fan base.  We realize that a limitation of this method is that some of these tweets could be from 49ers, Cardinals, or Rams fans that live in Seattle.   For each market, we index the tweets relative to the team with the most tweets (e.g. if the 49ers have the most tweets in the Seattle area, we divide the number of tweets for each team by the number of tweets that mention the 49ers).  We perform this analysis for a four year period and for just the 2013 regular season, so we can capture established rivalries and the recent trend.

It is interesting to note that in both analyses, the 49ers and Seahawks are each other’s primary rival and the intensities of the secondary and tertiary rivalries are not even close.  Over a four year period, the 49ers are the primary rivals for all of the teams in the NFC West, but in just the 2013 regular season analysis, the Seahawks took over as the primary rivals of the Cardinals, and are barely behind the 49ers in terms of the intensity of the Rams’ rivalries.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014