2014 NFL Fan Quality Analysis

NOTE: Please click here for our most recent study on NFL Fan Equity (2015) & please click here for our most recent study of NFL Social Media Equity (2015) 

We have run the numbers using both revenues and social media, and we have some expected and some surprising results regarding NFL fan bases.  In a repeat from last year, the Cowboys have the top fan base in terms of our “Fan Equity” metric.  This is a measure of brand equity that is based on fans willingness to financially support their team.  Our rankings are based on the average Fan Equity score for the last three years (please note that the statistical model is estimated using the last thirteen years of data).  But Dallas is no one time wonder; the Cowboys have taken the honors for this metric for the last five years.  Following Dallas, are the fan bases of the Patriots, Jets, Giants and Colts.

2014 NFL Fan EquityAt the bottom of the list we have a happy surprise!  The Atlanta Falcons have moved to the middle of the pack and rank 22nd.  We are thrilled by this result.  The bottom five includes Buffalo, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Miami and Oakland.  The team ranked sixth from the bottom is likely to raise some eyebrows.  The numbers suggest that while the Seahawks fans are very loud, they are a below average fan base on the Fan Equity metric.  At the end of the day, it appears that Seahawks fans are not willing to pay the prices that you would expect for a team of the quality of the Seahawks in a market with the demographics of Seattle.  However, there is another explanation for the Seahawks fans poor showing.  Maybe the assumption that the Seahawks are pricing to maximize revenues isn’t correct.  Our Fan Equity measure implicitly assumes that teams are revenue maximizers.  There is a reasonable case to be made that this assumption is not always true.  For example, the Steelers and Packers could easily raise prices and continue to sell-out their stadiums.

No metric is perfect (though a revenue-premium based model that is derived from a statistical analysis of thirteen years of data is a pretty good one for a profit and brand-conscious industry like professional football).  Therefore, we supplement our Fan Equity analysis with a look at social media followings across teams.  Our “Social Media Equity” measure is again based on an analysis of how strong each team’s social media following is after controlling for team quality and market characteristics. Social Media Equity therefore has some beneficial properties.  Most importantly, it is not constrained by stadium capacities or team pricing policies.  It also provides a means for capturing national level brand equity.  Of course, we recognize there are limitations to this metric, especially related to the choice of social media platforms and the “engagement” of followers.

2014 NFL Social EquityWhen we look at Social Media Equity, some interesting things happen.  First, we have a new winner.  On the social dimension, Pittsburgh ranks first, followed by Dallas, New England, Green Bay and New Orleans.  As a long-time Steelers fan, Professor Lewis thinks this is a great result in two ways: not only are the Steelers at the top of the list, but they are ahead of the Cowboys.  This list also has significant face validity as the Steelers, Cowboys, Patriots and Packers are some of the league’s most high profile teams.  The Seattle Seahawks rank in the middle of the pack in terms of Social Media Equity.  The Seattle fan base doesn’t seem as impressive when we control for team success and market demographics.  It should be noted, however, that equity is built over time; we would not be surprised to see Seattle on top of these rankings in the future.

Finally, at the bottom of the Social Media Equity rankings, we have the Arizona Cardinals.  Fan Fact: The Cardinals have about 100,000 Twitter followers compared to about 80,000 for the Cowboys’ Cheerleaders.  Also trailing the pack in terms of Social Media Equity are the Rams, Panthers, Chargers and Professor Tripathi’s favorite team, the Washington NFL Franchise.

An analysis we have had fun with this summer involves looking at fan response to winning rates. This encompasses looking at how different fan bases respond to variations in winning. If fans only show up when the team wins, does this mean they are bandwagon fans? Or does it mean that they demand quality?  We report, you decide.

Studying which city has the most “bandwagon” or demanding fans is a challenge in the NFL. The issue is that many teams sell-out regardless of the team’s performance. How can we differentiate between the Steelers and the Packers when the stadiums are always full? As such for the NFL, we only present a top ten list of the cities with the most fair weather or discerning fans. (We looked at the last thirteen years of data for our study. For more details on our methodology, please click here.)

2014 NFL BandwagonThe winner, or maybe that should be the loser, of this ranking is the Arizona Cardinals. These fans are most responsive to winning percentage in the NFL based on our statistical model of attendance. Arizona is followed by New Orleans, Buffalo, Oakland and Washington.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.