NFL Fan Base and Brand Rankings 2017

NFL Fandom Report 2017: The “Best” NFL Fans

Who has the best fans in the NFL?  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.

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 possible method.  We are just going to average the across the three metrics.  (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.  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 (reported by ESPN) is more than 10,000 higher than the next team.  The Cowboys average ticket price is also well above average and they have the second most Twitter followers after the Patriots.  The other thing to note is that the Cowboys achieve these year in and year out , even in years when the team is not great.  

There are likely some objections to the list.  Patriot fans are bandwagon fans!  The Steelers are too low!  The Eagles above the Packers or Bears?!   Way too much to get into in a short blog post but a couple of comments.

First, Patriot fans may be bandwagon fans.  But at this point it is tough to tell.  The team has been excellent and the fans have been supportive for a long time.  And even when things tend to go wrong for the Patriots they come out ahead.  I believe that the deflate gate controversy had a significant positive impact on the Patriots’ social media following.

The Steelers are low in Fan Equity and higher on the other metrics.  We can trace this to the Steelers pricing.  The Steelers seem to price on the low side of what is possible.

The Eagle do surprise me.  They do get a bump from playing in the NFC East interms of the Road Equity metric.  The NFC East is a strong collection of brands that benefit each other.  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 brands.

The Losers

At the other extreme we have the Bengals, Jaguars, Titans, Rams and Chiefs.  Some of these are no surprises.  At the top of the list we have the NFL’s royalty.  No one has ever placed the Bengals, Jaguars or titans in that category.

The teams at the bottom of the rankings all suffer from relatively low attendance, have below average pricing power and have limited social followings.  The Rams are a special case.  While not a great brand in past years, the move to LA tends to punish the Rams because their results have not kept pace with the higher income and population levels in LA.

The Chiefs are the tough one on this list.  The Chiefs fill their stadium but at relatively low price.  Keep in mind that the analysis includes factors such as population and median income.  In addition, Kansas City was ranked 29th in terms of Road Attendance last year and the social media following (Twitter) is middle of the road.  The fundamental issue is that that the Chiefs produce these below average fan-based results while performing well above average on the field.

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.

Three metrics are used to get a complete picture of fans.  But there are other ways to look at fan behavior and brand strength.  For example, we could look at pricing power (which teams are able to extract significant price premiums) or bandwagon fan behavior (which fans are most sensitive to winning).  I’m happy to provide these additional rankings if there is interest.

Fan Equity

Winners: Cowboys, Patriots and 49ers

Losers: Rams, Raiders, Jags

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.

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 great example of how the approach works.  On the field the 49ers have been terrible.  But 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, this “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 my 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.

Social Media Equity

Winners: Patriots, Cowboys and Broncos

Losers: Chiefs, Rams and Cardinals

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.  so 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.  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 a team has additional pricing flexibility.

Road Equity

Winners: Cowboys, Eagles and Raiders

Losers: Texans, Titans and Seahawks

Another 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 incredible 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, do the local fans travel or does a team with high road attendance have a national following.  When the Steelers turned the Georgia Dome Yellow and Black was it because Steelers fans came down from Pittsburg or because the Steelers have fans everywhere.

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 places like Pittsburgh or Buffalo to the Sun Belt.  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.

 

 

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.

 

 

NBA Fan Rankings: 2016 Edition

On an (almost) annual basis I present rankings of fan bases across major professional and collegiate leagues.  Today it is time for the NBA.   First, the winners and losers in this year’s rankings.  At the top of the list we have the Knicks, Lakers and Bulls. This may be the trifecta of who the league would love to have playing at Christmas and in the Finals.  At the bottom we have the Grizzlies, Nets and Hornets.

nba2016

Before i get into the details it may be helpful to briefly mention what differentiates these rankings from other analyses of teams and fans. My rankings are driven by statistical models of how teams perform on a variety of marketing metrics.  The key insight is that these models allow us to control for short-run variation in team performance and permanent differences in market potential.  In other words – the analysis uses data to identify engagement or passion (based on attend and spend) beyond what is expected based on how a team is performing and where the team is located.   More details on the methodology can be found here.

spike-lee-knicks

The Winners

This year’s list contains no real surprises.  The top five teams are all major market teams with storied traditions.  The top fan base belongs to the Knicks.   The Lakers, Bulls, Heat and Celtics follow.  The Knicks  highlight how the model works.  While the Knicks might not be winning , Knicks fans still attend and spend.

The number two team on the list (The Lakers) is in much the same situation. A dominant brand with a struggling on-court product.   The Lakers and Clippers are an interesting comparison.  Last season, the Clippers did just a bit better in terms of attendance (100.7% versus 99.7%).  But the Lakers filled their seats with an average ticket price that was substantially higher.  The power of the Laker brand is shown in this comparison because these outcomes occurred in a season where the Clippers won many more games.

Why are the Lakers still the bigger draw?  Is this a star (Kobe) effect?  Probably in part, but fan loyalty is something that evolves over time.  The Lakers have the championships, tradition and therefore the brand loyalty.  It will be interesting to see how much equity is retained long-term if the team is unable to quickly reload.  The shared market makes this an interesting story to watch. I suspect that the Lakers will continue to be the stronger brand for quite a while.

The Losers

At the bottom of the list we have Memphis, Brooklyn and Charlotte.  The interesting one in this group is Brooklyn.  Why do the Nets rank poorly?  It ends up being driven by the relative success of the Knicks versus the Nets.  The Knicks have much more pricing power while the teams operate in basically the same market (we can debate this point).  According to ESPN, the Knicks drew 19,812 fans (100% of capacity) while the Nets filled 83.6% of their building.  The Knicks also command much higher ticket prices.  And while the Nets were worse (21 victories) the Knicks were far from special (32 wins).

What can the teams at the bottom of the list do?  When you go into the data and analyze what drives brand equity the results are intuitive.   Championships, deep playoff runs and consistent playoff appearances are the key to building equity.  easy to understand but tough to accomplish.

And a Draw

An interesting aside in all this is what it means for the league.  The NBA has long been a star and franchise driven league.  In the 1980s it was about the Lakers (Magic) and Celtics (Bird).  In the 1990s it was Michael Jordan and the Bulls.  From there we shifted into Kobe and Lebron.

On one hand, the league might be (even) stronger if the top teams were the Bulls, Knicks and Lakers.  On the other hand, the emergence of Steph Curry and Golden State has the potential to help build another powerful brand.

Some more thoughts…

The Fan Equity metric is just one possible means for assessing fan bases.  In this year’s NFL rankings I reported several more analyses that focus on different market outcomes.  These were social media following, road attendance and win sensitivity (bandwagon fans).  Looking at social following tells us something about the future of the brand as it (broadly) captures fan interest of a younger demographic.  Road Attendance tells us something about national rather than local following.  These analyses also use statistical models to control for market and team performance effects.

Social Equity

Top Social Equity Team: The Lakers

Bottom Social equity: The Nets

Comment: The Lakers are an immensely strong brand on many dimensions.  The Nets are a mid-range brand when you look at raw numbers.  But they suffer when we account for them operating in the NY market.

Road Equity

Top Road Equity: The Lakers

Bottom Road Equity: Portland

Comment: The Lakers dominate.  And as this analysis was done looking at fixed effects across 15 years it is not solely due to Kobe Bryant.  Portland does well locally but is not of much interest nationally.

It is possible to do even more.  We can even look at factors such as win or price sensitivity. Win sensitivity (or bandwagon behavior) tells us whose fans only show up when a team is winning and price sensitivity tells us if a fan base is willing to show up when prices go up.  I’m skipping these latter two analyses today just to avoid overkill (available upon request).  The big message is that we can potentially construct a collection of metrics that provide a fairly comprehensive and deep understanding of each team’s fan base and brand.

Note: I have left one team off the list.  I have decided to stop reporting the local teams (Emory is in Atlanta).  The local teams have all been great to both myself and the Emory community.  This is just a small effort to eliminate some headaches for myself.

Finally… The complete list

City Fan Equity
Boston 5
Charlotte 27
Chicago 3
Cleveland 20
Dallas 15
Denver 11
Detroit 25
GoldenState 16
Houston 7
Indiana 21
LAClips 17
LALakers 2
Memphis 29
Miami 4
Milwaukee 14
Minnesota 22
Brooklyn 28
NewOrleans 24
NYKnicks 1
OKCity 13
Orlando 19
Philadelphia 26
Phoenix 9
Portland 6
Sacramento 10
SanAntonio 12
Toronto 18
Utah 8
Washington 23
 

The Best NFL Fans 2016: The Dynamic Fan Equity Methodology

The Winners (and Losers) of this years rankings!  First a quick graphic and then the details.

2016B_W

It’s become a tradition for me to rank NFL teams’ fan bases each summer.  The basic approach (more details here) is to use data to develop statistical models of fan interest.  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.  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 have come up with a new method that combines these two measures: Dynamic Fan Equity (DFE).  The DFE measure leverages the best features of the two measures.  Fan Equity is based on the most important consumer trait – willingness to spend.  Social Equity captures fan support that occurs beyond the walls of the stadium and skews towards a younger demographic.  The key insight that allows for the two measures to be combined is that there is a significant relationship between the Social Media Equity trend and the Fan Equity measure.  Social media performance turns out to be a strong leading indicator for financial performance.

Dynamic Fan Equity is calculated using current fan equity and the trend in fan equity from the team’s social media performance.  I will spare the technical details on the blog but I’m happy to go into depth if there is interest.  On the data side we are working with 15 years of attendance data and 4 years of social data.

The Winners

We have a new number one on the list – the New England Patriots. Followed by the Cowboys, Broncos, 49ers and Eagles.  The Patriots victory is driven by fans willingness to pay premium prices, strong attendance and phenomenal social media following.  The final competition between the Cowboys and the Patriots was actually determined by the long-term value of the Patriots greater social following.  The Patriots have about 2.4 million Twitter followers compared to 1.7 for the Cowboys.  Of course this is all relative a team like the Jaguars has just 340 thousand followers.

The Eagles are the big surprise on the list.  The Eagles are also a good example of how the analysis works.  Most fan rankings are based on subjective judgments and lack controls for short-term winning rates.  This latter point is a critical shortcoming.  It’s easy to be supportive of a winning team. While Eagles fans might not be happy they are supportive in the face of mediocrity.  Last year the Eagles struggled on the field but fans still paid premium prices and filled the stadium.  We’ll come back to the Eagles in more detail in a moment.

The Strugglers

At the bottom we have the Bills, Rams, Chiefs, Raiders and Jaguars.  This is a similar list to last year.  The Jags, for example, only filled 91% of capacity (ranked 27th) despite an average ticket price of just $57.  The Chiefs struggle because the fan support doesn’t match the team’s performance.  The Chiefs capacity utilization rate ranks 17th in the league despite a winning record and low ticket prices.  The Raiders fans again finish low in our rankings.  And every year the response is a great deal of anger and often threats.

The Steelers

The one result that gives me the most doubt is for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Steelers have long been considered one of the league premier teams and brands.  The Steelers have a history of championships and have been known to turn opposing stadiums into seas of yellow and black.  So why are the Steelers ranked 18th?

steeler_atl

A comparison between the Steelers and the Eagles highlights the underlying issues.  Last year the Steelers had an average attendance of 64,356 and had an average ticket price of $84 (from ESPN and Team Market Report).  In comparison the Eagles averaged 69,483 fans with an average price of $98.69.  In terms of filling capacity the Steelers were at 98.3% compared to the Eagles at 102.8%.  The key is that the greater support enjoyed by the Eagles was despite a much worse record.

One issue to consider is that of pricing.  It may well be that the Steelers ownership makes a conscious effort to underprice relative to what the market would allow.  The high attendance rates across the NFL do suggest that many teams could profitably raise prices.  It’s entirely reasonable to argue that the Steelers relationship to the Pittsburgh community results in a policy of pricing below market.

In past years the Steelers have been our social media champions.  This past year did see a bit of a dip.  In terms of the Social Media Equity rankings the Steelers dropped to 5th.    As a point of comparison, the Steelers have about 1.3 million Twitter followers compared to 2.4 million for the Patriots and 1.7 million for the Cowboys.

 

The Complete List

And finally, the complete rankings.  Enjoy!


2016complete

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.

encarnacion-edwin-150826-620

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….

2014 College Football Fan Equity Rankings: Texas, Notre Dame, & UGA are on Top

For more of our studies, follow us on Twitter @sportsmktprof

For the Best & Worst of the Power Conferences, please click here

For our Non-Power Conference Top 10, please click here

For our SEC Rankings, please click here.

After a summer of examining fan quality in the NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL, and College Basketball, finally we get to the most important sport in the South, College Football.  The winner this year (and last year) and probably into the distant future in our ranking of college football fan bases is the University of Texas.  It’s not close.   Following Texas, we have a top 5 of Notre Dame, Georgia, Florida, and Auburn.

2014 College Football Fan Equity RankingsOne notable loser from our previous rankings is Penn State.  The Nittany Lions dropped from the top ten to number sixteen.  And what about other power schools like Alabama and LSU?  They finished 11th and 12th, respectively.

Our approach is data and statistically driven, as we look at how fans support their teams after controlling for how well the team performs on the field, the market it plays in, and school characteristics.  For the fan equity analysis, we build a statistical model using publicly available data from the last fourteen years that predicts team revenues as a function of metrics related to team performance such as winning percentage, bowl participation, and other factors such as number of students, stadium capacity, etc.  We then compare actual revenues over the last few years to what is predicted by our model.  Please click here for an explanation of why we use this approach to fan equity measurement.   Click here for more information on the methodologies behind our studies of fan quality in general. 

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.

MLB Fan Analysis Part 1: Fan & Social Media Equity

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.

Today, we present three analyses of MLB fan bases.  We begin with the fan equity / revenue-premium model (based on the last three years), a trend analysis of fan equity growth over the past 15 seasons, and an analysis of each team’s social media equity.

2014 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.

2014 MLB Trend

The last analysis for today is 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.

2014 MLB Social Equity

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.

In our next post, we will present analyses of fan base sensitivity to winning and pricing.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.

Ranking American Sports Cities: The Top “One Team” Markets – Candidates for Expansion Teams?

Over the last 9 months we have looked at fan support across the 4 major US professional sports leagues using a variety of financial and social media metrics.  The thing that sets our  evaluations of fan support apart is that we focus on observable, objective measures of support AND we control for factors related to market size and team quality.  Our measures are therefore not biased towards large cities and we adjust for the bandwagon nature of fans in markets with teams that are currently winning.

To end the year, we are putting all of these rankings together in order to create a ranking of cities.  For this list we combine our revenue premium based fan equity measure with our social media measure.  To combine these we assume that a social media follower or like is worth $1.  Today we begin our list of the best and worst one team sport towns (cities that have a professional team in only one of the four major sports).  The set of single team sports towns includes Columbus, Jacksonville, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City and San Antonio.

#1 Portland

The number one small market (only one professional team) sports city is Portland.  Portland provides exceptional support to the Trail Blazers.  In terms of the fan equity measure the Trail Blazers ranked 4th in the NBA and the social media ranking was 11th.

According to the US Census, the Portland metropolitan area is the 24th largest with a population of almost 2.3 million.  But despite this mid-level population base the Trail Blazers had the 4th highest attendance in the NBA last season and the second highest in 2012.  Notably, this support occurred despite the team missing the playoffs in each season.  The attendance also was NOT generated by deep discounts as the Trail Blazers price at just below the league average.

Our analysis suggests that the Portland market has a great deal of potential.  The population base is decent, median income is above average and the fans seem to be extremely supportive.  We know that there has been some interest in trying to attract an MLB team to Portland.  With the number of struggling franchises across all the major leagues, it is somewhat surprising to us that Portland isn’t mentioned more frequently.

#2 Sacramento

The Sacramento market’s 2nd place ranking was a bit of a surprise.  Sacramento just doesn’t ever seem to be top of mind when we think about sports cities.  The most recent time Sacramento has really been in the news was during the controversy surrounding the proposed sale of the team to a Seattle based group.

The Kings have struggled in recent years.  The last two years’ annual attendance rankings have been 30th and 27th.  But we need to consider that these attendance numbers have occurred in seasons when the team has played well below .500 basketball.  If we go back a few years to when the Kings were winning, the team was able to generate consistent sell-outs.  When we run our analysis over a ten year period the Kings end up with a fan equity ranking of 6thWhat this means is that Sacramento fans are well above average in terms of supporting their team.  If the Kings are reasonably successful then our data suggests that the fans will turn out.

The Sacramento market has a population of more than 2 million and a respectable median income of more than $46,000.  These demographics are favorable to many small markets so it is a bit surprising that Sacramento has been in danger of becoming a “zero” team market.

#3 Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is our number three “one sport” city.  Salt Lake City is a small market with a population of just 1.1 million but the metro area’s median income is a solid $48K (ranking 21st).

The Jazz rank 11th in our NBA fan equity ranking and 19th in the social media ranking.  These rankings are not surprising.  The Jazz has been a very successful franchise with notable players such as John Stockton and Karl Malone.  But recent seasons may not be meeting fan expectations causing the relatively poor social media results.

Based on the metro area population we don’t know that the city could support multiple pro franchises but Salt Lake City is a tremendous “one sport” city.

#4 San Antonio

Now we are getting into the “good” one team cities, but my guess is that folks in San Antonio will be upset by a 4th place finish.  This is the beauty (or enraging) part of our rankings.  When we assess revenue or social media we explicitly control for team performance.  This is important because it is obviously easier and more enjoyable to be a fan of a team that is winning.  It is also likely that fans are willing to pay more for a winning team.  The goal of our rankings is to get at the underlying passion and support of each city’s fans.

The Spurs ranked 10th in our NBA fan equity measure and only 24th in social media.  This is a very solid showing on the fan equity metric.  In terms of social media, San Antonio is an under performer. Based on the San Antonio market’s demographics and the Spurs on-court success our model suggests that the Spurs should have an additional 1.7 million Facebook Likes and Twitter followers.  In other words, in comparison to other NBA teams’ social media communities the Spurs fall short of what is expected for a market with San Antonio’s population and the Spurs’ winning rate.

#5 Orlando

The number 5 city on the list is Orlando.  While many observers might question the intensity of the Magic fans, the numbers tell an interesting  story.  For example, last season the Magic won only 24% of their games.  However, despite this futility, the team reported a 93.4% attendance rate.

Orlando also has a relatively rich history for a newer team. In addition to two conference titles, the team has featured notable players such as Shaquille O’Neal, Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard.

Within the NBA, the Magic rank 17th in terms of fan equity and 21st in social media equity.  As we noted below, Florida teams tend to struggle in our rankings.  Demographically Orlando is a decent market with a population of over 2.2 million.  However, while the Magic doesn’t compete with other pro teams, the Magic does face tough competition. In the case of Orlando, pro sports compete with the weather, golf and the mouse.

#6 Oklahoma City

Oklahoma at number 6 may be a bit of a surprise. The Thunder has enjoyed recent success, Kevin Durant is a marquee player and over the past few years the team has usually played  before a packed arena.  But the sellouts have only been achieved as the team has become a winner.

Our analysis explicitly controls for bandwagon fans.  After controlling for winning percentage and market characteristics we find that the Thunder ranks 19th in terms of revenue based fan equity and 15th in social media equity.

From a marketing perspective, the Oklahoma City NBA franchise made an interesting decision to drop ties to the team’s previous incarnation.  Typically, the belief is that the previous brand contains some value.  By keeping names like the Jazz or Colts some connection to historical achievements is often retained. We should note that we don’t know why the Sonics name was dropped – perhaps this was negotiated with the city of Seattle.

On the plus side, our analyses also confirm that the key to building fan equity is a tradition of winning.  The Thunder has not gotten over the hump but they have made strides.  We also suspect that the social media results are a leading indicator for fan equity.   

#7 Columbus

Columbus finishes #7 on the list of one team towns.  Columbus is the 32nd largest metropolitan area by population and the 57th ranked based on median income.  In terms of our rankings the Blue Jackets ranked 23rd in the NHL based on revenue premium based fan equity and 29th for social media equity.

The Blue Jackets were founded in 2000 and they therefore lack the multi-generation history of other franchises.  The team has also struggled on the ice as it took 9 years for the team to reach the NHL playoffs.  As such it’s not surprising that Blue Jackets are below average in terms of fan support.  Of course, the real issue with the Columbus market is that it is dominated by Ohio State sports.

#8 Jacksonville

The state of Florida is an interesting situation for professional leagues.  The state population has boomed and college sports have great following.  However, almost all professional franchises have struggled and many believe that the pro leagues have created too many Florida teams.  In terms of key demographics, Jacksonville ranks 82 in median income and 40th in population.  This is a bad combination of population and income given that the average ticket price in the NFL exceeds $80.

Within the NFL, the Jaguars ranked 27th in terms of revenue premium based fan equity but the team did score a much healthier ranking of 17th for our social media measure. It’s not surprising that Jacksonville ranks low as a market given these marginal demographics, a lack of franchise history and stiff competition from college teams. 

On the plus side, Tebow is still available.

#9 Memphis

In last place on our list we have the city of Memphis.  The Grizzlies are the only pro game in town.  Within our NBA rankings the Grizzlies were ranked 25th in terms of revenue premium based brand equity and 20th in terms of social media equity.  Of the nine onesport markets, Memphis was ranked last in terms of revenue premium equity and 7th for social media equity.

Memphis as a market has some natural disadvantages for teams in terms of population base (ranked number #41) and income levels (ranked number 104).  But even after controlling for these factors Memphis fans support levels are well below the levels provided by other cities.  For example, the Grizzlies average ticket price of $29.49 is far less than the league average of $50.99).  Even at these low levels attendance has been poor.  Despite winning 56% of games in the 2010-2011 season, the Grizzlies only sold 74.4% of their available seats (ESPN.com).  It was only last year when the Grizzlies broke the 90% capacity utilization rate and the team needed to win 68% of its game to do that well.  In comparison, Orlando sold about 94% of seats with a winning percentage of 24%.  In terms of social media, the Grizzlies have just over 407,000 Facebook Likes compared to Portland with 550,000 and Oklahoma City with about 2.3 million.  For reference the Lakers have 17 million Facebook Likes.

But while Memphis ranks last on our list, there are a few positive indicators.  Last year was the team’s most successful season and ESPN has ranked the Grizzlies organization as the top professional franchise.  It is also true that the Grizzlies have only been in Memphis since 2001.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.