Who are the best fan bases in Major League Baseball? A quick Google search of “best MLB fan bases” produces more than a million results. Specific rankings are published by entities ranging from news organizations to ticket brokers. In general, these rankings are based more on subjective opinion than data and analysis. In contrast, we take a 100% data-driven approach.
That said, we readily acknowledge that fan base analysis is a complex topic. Our core metric is something we term “fan equity.” This metric is based created using a revenue-premium model of brand equity. This model is driven by the financial support shown by fans conditional on team performance and market characteristics. This approach has significant advantages in that it is based on spending behavior and not driven by short variations in winning. But, the revenue-premium approach is not perfect. Therefore, this year we will be publishing a number of rankings (and providing descriptions of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach). Click here for an overview of each method.
Part 1: MLB Fan Equity
The winners in the fan equity analysis include the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Phillies, Cardinals and Twins. The Red Sox and Yankees placing at the top of the list is simultaneously unsurprising and interesting. It is unsurprising because these are two of the league’s most prominent teams, and interesting because the two teams are bitter rivals. The intense competition between these two teams provides an added factor that may be lacking for teams like the Cubs or the Phillies. And yes, we do know that Cardinals fans love to beat the Cubs. (Click here for more details on our methodology for fan and social equity)
At the bottom of the list, we have teams in cities with great weather (or maybe summers that are too hot) and teams that are generally regarded as number two in their markets. The bottom five are the White Sox, Angels, A’s, Mets and Rays. As an aside, how about the “Portland A’s”?
We know the winners and the losers, but fan bases are not static entities. As teams win, lose or market themselves, their fan equity evolves. As a second analysis, we examined fan equity trends over the past 15 years. This analysis revealed that MLB’s high equity teams are tending to even greater levels of fan support. In this analysis, the Yankees finished first followed by the Red Sox, Cubs, Nats, Phillies, Dodgers and Giants. This list of teams is overwhelmingly concentrated in the largest markets. At the bottom of the list, we have teams like the Diamondbacks, Indians, Orioles, Padres and Rays.
Part 2: MLB Fan Social Media Equity
Now we examine something we term social media equity. This analysis looks at each team’s social media following (again controlling for market size and winning). Social media equity is important because it is unconstrained by stadium size, unaffected by a team’s pricing decisions and provides a measure of national following. It may also be a forward looking indicator if social media participants are younger than those fans who attend games.
The social media ranking is fairly different. While the Yankees are number one, the top five also includes the Padres, Brewers, Rangers and Pirates. Perhaps, the revenue-premium measure is picking up the economics of the big markets while the social media metric is best for identifying current interest. However, the bottom of the social media list is consistent with the bottom of the fan equity list with teams like the Mets, A’s and Angels.
Part 3: MLB Fan Attendance Sensitivity to Wins & Price
Now, we change direction and focus on fan response to team performance and pricing. These analyses complement the analyses of fan equity by drilling down a bit, and considering how demanding fans are of their teams. We develop our fan sensitivity rankings using statistical models of consumer demand (attendance). These models are built to estimate team-level response to price and winning percentage. We use data from 1998 to 2013. For more on our methodology, please click here.
Our first analysis looks at the responsiveness of fan demand to team winning percentage. This can be thought of as a measure of how demanding fans are of their teams. In other words, we are looking at the tolerances fan bases have for losing (or maybe we could view this as insight into which cities are the most prone to bandwagon behavior).
The most demanding MLB fans live in Philadelphia. This fits the stereotype of Philadelphia fans as aggressive, demanding fans that are willing to cheer injuries and boo Santa. The numbers say that Philadelphia fans require their team to perform or they won’t show up. Following the Phillies are the fans of Baltimore, Oakland, the White Sox, Detroit and Cleveland.
At the other extreme, the teams with fans that are the least sensitive to winning rates are the Yankees, Cardinals, Marlins, Red Sox and Diamondbacks. This group of non-demanding fans bases probably includes two types. We have the loyal and passionate fans of the Yankees, Cardinal and Red Sox. But, we probably also have the apathetic fans of the Marlins and the Diamondbacks.
Our second analysis examines the relationship between average ticket prices and attendance. This analysis is focused on the degree to which fan bases are sensitive (or insensitive) to high ticket prices. We should point out that the analysis of price sensitivity in sports is a tough issue (so the results should be taken with a grain of salt). We are using average prices in the analysis. Given the range of prices within a stadium, this is debatable assumption. But it’s the best data we have access to, and we’re all friends, so why not.
We find that the most price sensitive fans live in Arizona, Cleveland, Baltimore, Seattle, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. Frankly, we are not sure what to make of this list. Several of the cities are located in warm weather cities (which seems to reduce fan interest). Cleveland and Baltimore are older cities and Seattle is a vibrant city in the Pacific Northwest.
At the other extreme, we have Milwaukee, Anaheim, Minnesota, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. Perhaps these cities should raise prices. The case of Philadelphia is especially interesting given that Phillies fans are also the most sensitive to winning. It seems the Phillies should charge more and use the funds to invest in players.
The Brewers are another fascinating case. This team does well in social media equity and the fans don’t seem to be very price sensitive. This seems to be a team that is rapidly developing a highly loyal following.
Part 4: MLB Fan “Personality” Based on Twitter
Social media is increasingly being used as a market research tool, and we believe that it provides opportunities to develop some richer descriptions of MLB fan bases. The foundation for today’s analysis is something known as social media sentiment. The idea behind sentiment is that we look at the “tone” of tweets surrounding each team. In this inaugural version, we are examining the distribution of positive versus negative tweets for each team over the past couple of years.
Our actual approach uses a variety of statistics used to characterize distributions (e.g. mean, variance, skewness, kurtosis, etc.…), and then we employ a couple of techniques known as factor analysis and cluster analysis. We will avoid the details (feel free to contact us) but the general idea is to find teams that have similar distributions of social media sentiment. We use factor and cluster analysis on team social media sentiment on Twitter over the past two seasons to segment fan bases into four types. Perhaps, it is more accurate to describe what we are doing as segmenting the types of relationships fans have with their teams. Do fans have unconditional love for their team? Do they have violent mood swings?
One caveat to this study is that since this is all based on Twitter data, the results reflect the opinions of fans on SOCIAL MEDIA only. Also, please note that unlike our previous study of social media equity that was based on the size of each team’s following, this analysis is based on sentiment or tone.
Segment 1: Loving Stable Relationships
Our analysis suggests that the Atlanta and St. Louis teams have enviable fan bases. Braves and Cardinals fans are both very happy and stable. Whatever these teams are doing, the end result is fans that adore their teams, and tend not to vary in their feelings. These are fans that love their teams, and mostly overlook their club’s faults.
Segment 2: Generally Happy but Volatile
The second cluster is the largest segment. This group of fan bases is generally positive but volatile. Meaning that on average, these fans are happy but they have mood swings. This group is the largest, and includes the fans of the Cubs, Orioles, Reds, Indians, Tigers, Marlins, Astros, Royals, Phillies, Pirates, Mariners, Giants, Rangers, and Blue Jays. These seem to be the “normal” fan bases.
Segment 3: Miserable Marriages
This is where the analysis becomes fun. The third segment is made up of fan bases that are generally unhappy but stable. These are fans that don’t get a lot of joy from their teams. In addition, these feelings don’t seem to change much. This group includes a diverse set of teams. These are the fans of the Diamondbacks, Angels, White Sox, Rockies, Brewers, Padres, Nationals, and BOTH New York teams.
Segment 4: Depression with a Bit of Mania
This is Professor Lewis’ personal favorite segment. Fan bases that are generally VERY unhappy but have a few instances of extreme joy. We think we can also say that these are the teams with the most challenging fan bases to manage. Again, we have a diverse group. We have the small market fans of the Twins (what happened to Minnesota nice?), the A’s (Moneyball doesn’t create happiness?), and the Rays (probably the Florida heat). In terms of the large markets, we have Boston (probably the most unsurprising result) and the LA Dodgers.
Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.