2013 Best Fans in NHL

2013 NHL Fan Base Rankings: Americans may like Hockey, but Canadians Love it

A quick search of the Internet about who has the best fans in any sport will lead to multiple articles and rankings.  These rankings tend to rely a lot on personal opinion, and very little on any type of analysis.  The best of these studies tend to use a little bit of data concerning metrics like attendance, or maybe how many “likes” the team has on Facebook.   Occasionally, the ranking will be some type of weighted average of several pieces of data.  The vast majority of these approaches are badly flawed.  In the case of looking at raw numbers such as attendance, a frequent mistake is to ignore that attendance is driven by winning rates.  If this is the case, then such a study inflates winning teams’ fan bases by including bandwagon fans.  In the case of using a weighted average of multiple criteria, we still have the problem of not accounting for winning rates, but we also have the problem that the “weights” for each factor tend to be arbitrary.

What we do in our rankings is to use a wide variety of data and some statistical modeling to get around these issues.  We use something called a revenue premium approach to assess a team’s fan equity (value of the fan base).  The basic procedure begins with a statistical model that predicts a team’s box office revenues based on market potential (population and median income), team quality (winning rates) and other factors (such as team payroll).  We then compare the predictions from this model with each team’s approximate box office revenues to determine which teams over and under perform.  More details on the approach are available here.  In today’s post, we rank NHL fan bases using the above approach.  Later in the week, we will present results that rank teams based on social media equity (rather than the economic value of the fan base).

Using the past three years of results, we find that the best NHL fan bases live north of the border.  In first place, we have the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The Leafs pack the fans in despite charging the highest prices in the league.  The key point is that while the Leafs have been up and down the last few seasons, the fans continue to show up and pay premium prices.

In second and third place, we have Edmonton and Montreal.  The Oilers ranking second may be a bit of a surprise given some of their recent struggles on the ice.  But Edmonton continues to sell out their building on a regular basis, while charging fairly high prices and losing more than half their games in recent seasons.  Remember, Edmonton does this with a metro area population that barely exceeds one million.  The Canadiens are number three on the list.  A comparison between the Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks might be instructive.  These two clubs are fairly similar in box office performance. The Hawks sell a few more tickets but Montreal charges higher prices.  But, Montreal achieves their results in a metro area a third the size of Chicago’s, and without being one of the best teams in the league.

In positions 4 through 6 we finally see the Americans represented.  The Penguins come in 4th, the Rangers 5th and the Flyers 6th.  Our initial reaction to these results was that Pittsburgh is a heck of a professional sports city.  The Steelers were the leaders in our study of social media equity in the NFL.  The Rangers and the Flyers are both solid franchises across all dimensions.

One of our favorite parts of doing these rankings is determining the bottom five.  It’s fun because we typically get to be insulted by folks from all over (thankfully, the Trashers left Atlanta so we are spared the local abuse*).  San Jose and Anaheim are 5th and 4th from the bottom, respectively.  Californians seem to be the opposite of Canadians (take it as a compliment or insult).  Third from the bottom is the Phoenix franchise (We’re not even sure of their name). Second from the bottom we have the Ottawa Senators.  This is just embarrassing for a Canadian team.  Let us respond to the Ottawa fans right now.  We don’t care that you sell out – read the description of the method.  In last place, we have Dallas.  Why would anyone move a hockey team from Minnesota to Dallas?

*On a related note, the Winnipeg Jets are excluded from the rankings because the team moved from Atlanta during the period of the study.

Red Wings & Bruins Top NHL Social Media Equity Rankings

Last week, we published our ranking of NHL Team Fan Equity.  We have coined the term “Fan Equity” as a sports specific version of customer equity.  This metric is driven by “economic” measures of loyalty.  But, we do realize that a fan base also includes factors such as passion and engagement that may be (to some extent) overlooked in an economically driven ranking.

As a second look at fan base quality in the NHL, we use an approach that removes factors such as non-revenue maximizing pricing policies and capacity constraints that limit our ability to measure the customer equity of a hockey team.  The ranking we present today is based on what we call “Social Media Equity”.  The ranking is developed as follows:  First we collect information on each team’s social media presence such as the number of Twitter followers and Facebook likes.  We then develop a statistical model that quantifies the relationship between these social media metrics and measures of performance such as the team’s winning percentage for the last three years, and market factors including median income and metro area population.  We also include each team’s number of tweets in the model.  We then look at the difference between predicted social media followers and actual social media followers.  This delta between predicted and actual followers is reflective of Social Media Equity.

This social media based rankings has both pluses and minuses.  On the plus side, fan interest is not constraint by either high prices or stadium capacity.  On the negative side, while liking a team on Facebook or following them on Twitter shows fan interest, we can’t economically quantify this interest (these teams are businesses after all).

The number one team in our social media ranking is the Detroit Red Wings.  This is not a surprise, as the common wisdom is that the Red Wings are the number one team in Detroit (at least according to Professor Lewis’ sister in law).  The Red Wings have great social media presence on both Facebook and Twitter.  In positions 2 through 5 we have the Bruins, Devils, Flyers and Avalanche.  These are all big time fan bases with the exception of the Avalanche (actually we are not sure about the Devils but there was an episode of Seinfeld involving face painters so we assume Devils’ fans are indeed very passionate).

The Avalanche is where the story gets interesting.  While the Avalanche rank only 21st in the league in Twitter followers and 12th in terms of Facebook likes, they have achieved these results in a relatively small market, while often struggling on the ice (16-25 last year).  Our model suggests that Denver is potentially a strong hockey market.

The Social Media Equity results are a bit different than the economically driven results of last week.  Notably, the Canadian teams drop quite a bit.  In the social media rankings, Montreal finishes 6th, Vancouver 8th and Toronto 10th.    We can only speculate as to why the results differ.  Perhaps the previous results overrate the fan bases of the Canadian teams because Canadians are too nice to balk at high prices.

At the bottom of our list we have Tampa Bay in 5th from the bottom, Ottawa in 4th, the Kings in 3rd, Columbus in 2nd and Anaheim in last place.  Later in the year we will combine our various rankings to come up with a list of the best and worst sports cities.  We expect that Tampa Bay will be a front runner for one of those lists.  Ottawa performed similarly poorly in the economics based list so the verdict is in, Ottawa is the worst hockey city in Canada.  LA has a decent social media presence, but when we adjust for team performance and market size the results are not pretty.  Finally, perhaps Columbus should call themselves the “Buckeyes” rather than Blue Jackets.

The Winnipeg Jets are excluded from the rankings because the team moved from Atlanta during the period of the study.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.