The “Best” Football Fan Bases in the ACC

We are presenting a series ranking the “best” fan bases in college football.  The study uses data from the past ten years and the rankings are based on Revenue Premium Brand Equity.  For more information on the analysis/methodology, please click here.

While the ACC is best known as a basketball conference, the economics of college sports are primarily driven by football.  So, who in this “basketball” conference has the most loyal and supportive football fans?

Number one on the list are the Clemson Tigers.  In the past decade, Clemson has had very good attendance and revenues in comparison to what would be expected from a team then tends to be just above average on the field.  Clemson’s revenues are especially good given that they operate in the ACC (and lack the revenues from being part of the Big Ten network or an SEC television contract).  In comparison to other major ACC programs, Clemson has revenues that are in the range of 30%-60% higher.  Second on the list are the Virginia Tech Hokies.  Virginia Tech has revenues that are very similar to Clemson, but the Hokies have been significantly more successful on the field.  As a reminder, our approach controls for team quality when assessing fan support (it’s easy to be an Alabama fan but it takes character to be a Duke Football fan).

In third and fifth place, we have two new entrants to the conference.  Syracuse is ranked third, and Pitt comes in ranked fifth.  Syracuse finishes relatively high because their fans continue to support a team that has often struggled over the past decade. The high rank of these two entrants suggests that the ACC making very good expansion decisions.

The two Florida schools are interesting cases.  Prior to running the numbers, we would have thought that Miami and FSU would have been the leaders of the conference.  The issue is that despite the success these programs have experienced on the field, their revenues are not exceptional.  For example, Miami invests a great deal in their program, almost always participates in bowl games (and many major bowls), but attendance is regularly far short of capacity.

The University of Maryland being near the bottom of the rankings is another remarkable story.  The new entrants (Syracuse & Pitt) seem to be better football schools than Maryland, so by some measures the ACC has been a realignment winner.  On the other hand, the Big Ten wants Maryland (and Rutgers) not so much for the schools’ current fan bases but for the schools’ locations in major media markets.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

PREVIOUS: RANKING THE BEST OF THE NON-BCS CONFERENCES

COMING SOON: RANKING THE AAC

The “Best” Football Fan Bases in the Non-Automatic Qualifying Conferences

For our first look at the “best” college fans, we start with schools from Non-Automatic Qualifying (NAQ) conferences (as of the 2013 season affiliation).  As in our previous studies of fan/brand equity, we use a revenue premium model that measures fan support over the last ten years while controlling for team quality (click here for details).  The NAQs are an interesting group as there has been a significant scramble to join major conferences (e.g. TCU, Houston, Utah, etc…) over the past few seasons.  The current “NAQ” plan seems to be to try and build a strong brand in order to generate an invite to one of the more financially lucrative conferences.

This trend towards joining “stronger” conferences places NAQ programs in a curious position.  To get an invite, schools need to be successful and develop significant customer equity.  But as schools like Utah and TCU have found out, shifts to higher profile conferences can also result in less competitive teams.

The number one ranked school on our list was a surprise, as we identified San Diego State as having the most supportive fan base of the NAQ schools.  Surprise, we say?  Actually, this was more of a shocker, but this is the beauty of looking at the numbers.  The thing about San Diego State is that it receives fairly consistent support even when the team struggles.  The best and most illustrative comparison is between Boise State and San Diego State.  Over the last decade, Boise State has won about twice as many games as San Diego State, but only has a slight advantage in terms of attendance and revenues.  What does this mean?  It means that San Diego State has a very valuable asset in its customer base (and could likely benefit by investing more in the program).

The second place team BYU is a solid program both on the field and at the box office.  The ability to attract 60,000+ crowds makes BYU something of an outlier in the NAQ world.

Wyoming in third place was another surprise.  Again, we need to point out that we are controlling for team quality.  The key to Wyoming’s ranking is that revenues and attendance are solid despite some on-field struggles. On the plus side, this level of support for an often struggling Cowboy team suggests that Wyoming might benefit from investing into their program.  On the other hand, perhaps there are just fewer entertainment options in Laramie, and the quality of the team just doesn’t matter since people are looking for things to do.

The Idaho Vandals finished fourth in the rankings.  This is an easy entry to write.  Just replace Idaho wherever you see Wyoming in the paragraph above.  In the fifth position on the list we have the Marshall Thundering Herd.  Marshall is again a solid program that usually averages between 25,000 and 30,000 fans regardless of the team’s record.

As we computed our rankings for the NAQs and for the bigger conferences, the NAQs generated the least intuitive results (e.g. Where’s Boise State?).  As we drilled down, the story became clearer.  First, we are looking at the conferences where schools are currently, rather than where they have been.  This removes traditional powers like Utah and TCU.  The other eye opener came from looking at revenues and attendance figures.  Often the highest profile NAQs do not convert their success to revenues.  While Boise State is arguably one of the most successful programs at any level, the fan support is often not what one would suspect.  Boise State has 20,000+ students, a metro area population of more than 600,000, regularly wins more than 10 games and doesn’t sell out.

The Boise State story also says something about the economics of college sports.  In the absence of significant BCS revenue sharing and conference specific television deals it is hard to justify the investments needed to develop a high quality on-field product.  In other words, Boise fans should probably be grateful for the program they have, and should provide more support.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

PREVIOUS: OVERALL CONFERENCE RANKINGS

NEXT: RANKING THE ACC

Ranking the “Best” Fan Bases in College Football

Over the next week or so, we will be publishing analyses of the “best” fan bases in college football.  Our plan is to go conference by conference, and talk about which teams have the most loyal fans.  Our approach is data and statistically driven, as we will be looking at how fans support their teams after controlling for how well the team performs.  The series will conclude with an overall ranking of teams.

Before we get to the team rankings we wanted to start with an analysis of conferences.  Beyond regional pride, our conference rankings are related to the topic of conference realignment.  Conferences are the sum of their parts with some added bonus due to the synergies the overall group creates.  Our fan equity analyses therefore provide a means for anticipating how new or changed conferences will compare with each other.

For those that have previously seen our other brand equity analyses, we should note that our conference-level analysis takes a slightly different approach.  For the fan analyses, we build a statistical model that predicts team revenues as a function of metrics related to team performance such as winning percentage and bowl participation.  We then compare actual revenues to what is predicted based purely on team performance (and other factors such as number of students, capacity, etc…).  Click here for an explanation of why we use this “revenue premium” approach to brand equity measurement.

For the conference analysis, we take a similar, but more financially oriented approach.  This analysis also begins with a statistical model of team revenues, but now the explanatory variables primarily involve team expenditures.  Team-level brand equity is then taken as the difference between actual revenues and revenues predicted based on expenditures.  The logic of this approach is that teams with more powerful brands should be able to more efficiently increase revenues.  As an example, imagine a comparison between the University of Notre Dame and perhaps Rutgers.  If these teams spent the same amount in a given year, we would still expect Notre Dame to have significantly greater revenues simply because ND has such a large and loyal following.

We rely on this ROI (Return on Investment) oriented measure for the conference ranking because we have a significant interest in conference realignment.  In this era of realignment, it seems obvious that conference membership decisions are almost entirely driven by financial considerations. In other words, while we feel that fan support should be measured relative to team performance, when it comes to conferences we believe that schools should be evaluated based on ROI.

Finally on to the rankings…

In an altogether unsurprising result, the SEC is ranked number one, followed by the Big Ten in the second position.  The SEC ranking is notable in that while we all know that the SEC has dominated on the field; our results also suggest that the conference schools are extremely efficient in translating the intensity of fans into dollars.  On the realignment front, it seems certain that Missouri and Texas A&M were largely driven by the financial attractiveness of the conference.  It remains to be seen if these schools have traded cash for also-ran status.

In second place, we have the Big Ten Conference.  The Big Ten is in many ways a leader in the space, as they have been successful in creating a network that leverages the appeal of its members.  The Big Ten has also been notable in its efforts to attract teams that expand the conference’s access to media markets.

In a distant third place we have the Big 12.  The Big 12 is interesting in that it has, and had, several very well-known brands such as Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska.  Of course, the Big 12 has also been the major conference that has seen the most attrition as Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, and Texas A&M have all moved to seemingly greener pastures.  Despite this attrition, the conference does well in our rankings, and out-performs two of the other Big 5 conferences.  The big question for the Big 12 is whether it will be sustainable in the long-term.  The Big 12 has two key weaknesses.  First, it’s unclear if it covers enough major markets to successfully develop a media strategy that will allow the conference schools to be competitive with other better-located conferences.  The second issue is that the Big 12 is very top heavy.  Texas is the obvious (financial) jewel of the league.  Will Texas share or will the Longhorns go their own way?

In fourth place, we have the PAC 12.  The PAC 12 is promising case in that it seems to be well positioned for the future.  In terms of teams, it contains both historical powers like USC and up and coming teams like Oregon.  The conference also covers major media markets, but its west coast time zone may be a limitation.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in our analysis was that the new American Athletic Conference (AAC) ranked higher than the ACC.  This is a non-intuitive finding as we expected that historically successful programs such as Florida State and Miami would lead the ACC past an AAC led by Louisville and Cincinnati.  The reason for this result is actually quite simple.  The ACC schools have invested in football at about the same level as the Big 12 and PAC 12 schools, but with lower resulting revenues.

NEXT: RANKING THE NON-BCS CONFERENCE SCHOOLS

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University, 2013.

“Revenue Premium” Versus Survey-Based Attitudinal Measures

A criticism of our previous rankings of fan bases is that our approach is overly financial and doesn’t capture the “passion” of fans.  This critique has some validity but probably less than our critics realize.  When we talk about quantifying customer loyalty in sports or even in general marketing contexts we very quickly run into some challenges.

For example, when I speak to classes about what loyalty means, the first answer I get is that loyal customers engage in repeat buying of a brand.  I will then throw out the example of the local cable company.  The key to this example is that cable companies have very high repeat buying rates but they also frequently have fairly unhappy customers.  When asked if a company can have loyal but unhappy customers students quickly realize that it is difficult to cleanly measure loyalty.

Another distinction I make when teaching is the difference between observable and unobservable measures of loyalty.  As a marketer, I can often measure repeat buying and customer lifetime.  I can even convert this into some measure of customer lifetime value.  These are observable measures.  On the other hand other loyalty oriented factors such as customer satisfaction, preference or likelihood of repurchase are unobservable, unless I do an explicit survey.

I think what our critics are getting at is that they would prefer to see primary / survey data of customer preference or intensity (questions such as on a 1 to 7 scale rank how much you love the Florida Gators).  BUT, what our critics don’t seem to get is that this type of primary data collection would also suffer from some significant flaws.  First, whenever we do a consumer survey we worry about response bias.  The issue is how do we collect a representative sample of college or pro sports fans?  This is an unsolvable problem that we tend to live with in marketing since anyone who is willing to answer a survey (spend time with a marketing researcher) is by definition non-representative (a bit weird, I know).

A second and more profound issue is that it would be impossible to separate out the effects of current season performance from underlying loyalty using a survey.  I suspect that if you surveyed Michigan basketball fans this year you would find a great deal of loyalty to the team.  But I think we all know that fans of winning teams will be much happier and therefore respond much more positively during a winning season.

Related to the preceding two issues is that our critics seem to assume that they know what is in the heart of various fan bases.  Mike Decourcey took exception with our college basketball rankings that rated Louisville over Kentucky and Oklahoma State over Kansas.  A key mistake he makes is that he assumes that somehow he just knows that Kentucky fans are more passionate than Louisville’s, or that Kansas fans love their team more than Oklahoma State loves theirs.  He knows this based not on any systematic review of data, but based on a few anecdotes (this is especially convenient since the reliance on anecdotes means that there is no need to control for team quality) and his keen insight into the psyches of fans everywhere.

The other issue is whether our “Revenue Premium” captures fan passion or just disposable income.  This is another impossible question to fully answer, but in our defense the nice thing about this measure is that it is observable, and willingness to pay for a product is about the best measure of preference you can get short of climbing into someone’s head.  I think another way in which our critics are confused is that they associate noise with loyalty.  Is an active and loud student section a true measure of the fan base quality?  Perhaps so, but do we really believe that the 19 year old face painter is a better fan than the alumni who has been attending for 40 years but no longer stands up for the entire game?

Which MLB Team has the “Best” Home Fans? And Who has the Worst? Hint: It’s LA!

One of our favorite types of analyses at Emory Sports Marketing Analytics is to assess the brand equity (a proxy for fan intensity and loyalty) of sports teams.  Today, we present our analysis of MLB fan bases.  Thus far, in our short history, we have looked at the brand equity of college and pro basketball teams.   For those who are unfamiliar, brand equity is a common concept in marketing.  The basic idea is that well known and well regarded brands provide value to organizations.  Examples of high brand equity brands include Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Apple.  These brands have value because consumers may have significant loyalty to the brand, or may be willing to pay a price premium.  There are a wide variety of methods for calculating brand equity.  Most methods involve surveys of consumers, and focus on data such as awareness levels, loyalty rates or consumer associations.

For our MLB brand equity analysis, we use a “Revenue Premium” method.  The intuition of this approach is that brand equity adds a premium to team’s revenues that goes beyond what would be expected based only on team quality and market size. To accomplish our analysis, we use a statistical model that predicts team revenues as a function of the team’s winning rates, division finish, market population, payroll, and stadium capacity.  We use this model to predict each team’s expected revenue.  To measure the quality of the team’s fan or brand equity we compare the forecasted revenue with estimates of actual revenue.  The key insight is that when a team achieves revenues that greatly exceed what would be expected based on team performance and market size it is an indication of significant brand equity / fan support. The reported results cover the past 5 seasons worth of data.

One complication in performing this analysis with MLB teams is that actual revenues are not public.  We get around this problem by using a couple of estimates of revenue.  The first projection is computed by multiplying average ticket prices by the team’s home attendance levels.  This measure is related to the size and passion of the fan base as it reflects the number of fans willing to travel to the stadium, and the economic sacrifice these fans are willing to make.  The second revenue measures we use are the team revenues estimated by Forbes magazine each year.  This measure has value in that television revenues are included.  For our analysis, we use both measures and then average the results.  We should add that the results are broadly consistent across the two different revenue estimates.

Our analysis finds some expected, and some surprising results.  We discover that the Red Sox and the Dodgers tie for having the “best” fan bases.  These teams are followed by the Cardinals, Giants and Cubs.  It is the next team on the list that first raises some eyebrows, as our model rates the struggling Houston Astros as having the 6th best fan base.  At the bottom of the list we have the Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and the Anaheim Angels.  The bottom five are also likely to cause debate and angst among Angels and Tigers supporters.

So why are the struggling Houston Astros rated above the Detroit Tigers? Over the last five years, Detroit has averaged about 2.8 million fans per year compared to about 2.4 million for the Astros.  But according to the Team Market Report the Astros have priced their tickets about 12% higher.  The end result is that the revenues of the two teams are fairly similar.  The key difference is that Detroit’s revenues are driven by a 53% winning rate compared to the Astros rate of about 43%.  Based purely on the quality of the clubs and adjusting for market size, we would expect that Detroit’s revenue would far exceed the Astros.  The fact that they don’t suggests that the Astros’ have the larger and more resilient fan base.  A similar comparison can be made between the Angels and the Dodgers.  Over the five years of data examined, the Angels won 56% of their games versus about 52% for the Dodgers.  But despite this difference the Dodgers still drew more fans (~ 300k per year) and had much higher ticket prices.

Finally, the last question is: What about the Yankees?  While the Yankees do have the highest attendance and ticket prices in the league, they also have the highest winning percentage, largest market size and by far the largest payroll.  In a straight comparison of revenues or a count of fans the Yankees would win.  The key is that our model adjusts for these advantages and in comparison to other teams the Yankees do not convert these advantages to revenues as well as some other teams.

Mike Lewis and Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

The Best of the Rest: College Basketball Fan Bases

For more on this study, click here.

They do play basketball outside of the big six BCS conferences.  Given the importance of the structure of the NCAA tournament the mid major schools often provide some of the most dramatic story lines each year.  In this post we want to highlight several non-BCS conference teams that have exceptional fan bases.

Number one on our list is the Dayton Flyers.  For the decade from 2001 to 2011, the Flyers averaged over 21 wins per season and made three NCAA tournaments.  And while this is a very respectable performance, the Dayton fans provided exceptional support.  Dayton plays in a large arena (13,435 seats) and on average over 92% of seats are filled (2005 to 2011).  The end result is that Dayton has averaged about three times as much revenue as the average D1 basketball program.  The second and third ranked programs were Xavier and Wichita State.  Xavier also produces about three times the revenue of the average D1 college by filling their 10,250 seat arena to almost 98% percent of capacity.

There are a number of other non-major conference programs that also come to mind such as Memphis, UNLV and Butler.  Butler is an interesting case given their high profile coach and tournament success.  However, in the last year available, Butler listed revenues that were still a bit less than the average D1 school.  If we look at the full ten year period Butler averaged 24.6 wins but in the last five years only filled about 55% of their available seats.  UNLV obviously has a great history but averages less than 12,000 fans (last ten years) in an 18 thousand plus arena.  Memphis is another great program.  But despite exceptional on-court performance (28 average wins from 2001 to 2011), Memphis only sold about 83% of available seats (this has increased to over 90% over the last several years).

The Best Fan Bases in Big East

Our series on the Best Fan Bases in college basketball concludes looking at the BCS Conferences with an examination of the Big East Conference from 2001 to 2011.  The Louisville Cardinals are on top, followed by the Syracuse Orange and the Marquette Golden Eagles.  Seton Hall and DePaul are on the bottom of the rankings.  (Note: For additional information on our methodology, click here)

Louisville, Syracuse, and Marquette are the top three in the Big East, but also in our overall top ten.  These three schools all have excellent attendance and revenue per seat, regardless of team performance.

It’s worth pointing out a couple of the teams near the bottom of the rankings.  The Georgetown Hoyas finished 13th in the rankings, which may be surprising to college basketball fans.  While Georgetown has enjoyed some on-court success in the past decade, their home attendance has been unremarkable.  In the 2006-2007 season, Georgetown won 30 games and went to the Final Four.  However, their average home attendance was barely over 50% of capacity that season.  This may be partially explained by the Hoyas playing in an arena with capacity over 20,000, but having a relatively small student body.

DePaul finished last in our Big East fan rankings.  DePaul suffers from playing in a large arena (17,500) that is located far from campus.  Performance, attendance, and revenue per seat have all been atrocious for DePaul.

The Best Fan Bases in the Southeastern Conference (SEC)

Our series on the Best Fan Bases in college basketball continues with an examination of the Southeastern Conference (SEC).  The Arkansas Razorbacks are on top, followed by the Kentucky Wildcats and the Florida Gators.  LSU and South Carolina are on the bottom of the rankings.  (Note: For additional information on our methodology, click here)

One possible point of contention is that Arkansas rates higher than perennial power Kentucky.  The key to the separation between the two schools is that while both Arkansas and Kentucky receive outstanding support, Arkansas’ support occurs despite less on-court success (Kentucky averaged 9 more wins per year than Arkansas over the period of the study).  The other possible interpretation is that Kentucky tends to underprice tickets, and may collect less revenue than possible.

LSU and South Carolina are at the bottom of the rankings for the SEC.  In the time period of our study, LSU made the NCAA tournament four times (including a Final Four), but in three of those years they still could never get above 66% in average attendance/capacity.  South Carolina averaged just over 50% in average attendance/capacity in seasons where they had over 20 wins.

Why Texas and Oklahoma State are Ahead of Kansas: The Best Fan Bases in the Big 12

One of the more entertaining aspects of producing the Emory Sports Marketing Analytics blog has been emotional nature of the criticisms that we have received.  Our series ranking fan bases has been particularly provocative.

What does the preceding have to do with the Big Twelve?  Some of our critics claimed that our rankings were “silly” because Kansas was not ranked in the Top Ten, while Oklahoma State and Texas were.   We thought that we would take a bit more time with this post to investigate how we could possibly come to this result.

As a starting point, if you had asked us to name the top fan bases in college basketball before we ran the numbers we would have said (in no particular order) Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Indiana.  In other words, we would have bravely identified the conventional wisdom.  But our goal at Emory Sports Marketing Analytics is to go beyond the conventional wisdom, and to see what the numbers say.

Our emphasis on financial metrics also leads to some complaints.  This is somewhat odd given that we are covering sports that are clearly run like businesses.  It has been reported that Bill Self’s current deal with Kansas will pay him close to $50 million over ten years.  This suggests to us that Kansas very much views basketball through a financial lens.

Getting back to the conventional wisdom, we believe that Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas and Duke have exceptional fan bases.  However, we are not ready to concede that the passion felt by a Kansas fan exceeds that felt by an Oklahoma State or Texas fan.  Rather than rely on the noise created by fan bases, we examine how fans vote with their dollars.  And more to the point, we try to control for the role of on-court success.  While some may view this as crass, if you were the CEO of Apple or Coca Cola would you rather that your customers were highly loyal and willing to pay premium prices or would you rather that your brand was voted a fan favorite in an Internet poll?  The marketing concept that we are exploring is referred to as customer equity.  The basic idea is a brand’s ultimate source of revenues and profits is its customers.  Now a big caveat to this is that by measuring the value of the customer bases we are not controlling for how good of a job each institution does with managing its customer base.

The preceding list provides our breakdown of the Big Twelve.  Texas leads the way followed by Oklahoma State and then Kansas.  So what drives this result?  Over the last decade Texas has reported the largest basketball revenues in the conference followed by Kansas.  Texas’ advantage in revenue is slightly more than 4%.  More importantly, Texas generated this slightly higher revenue while winning around 5 games less per year than the Jayhawks.  Now one can argue that Texas has unique advantages or that Kansas could be generating more revenue, but our analysis is at least based on solid numbers and our dependent measure (revenue premium based brand equity) is an unambiguous term.

The other surprise was the ranking of Oklahoma State.  In this case, Kansas does produce about 25% more revenue than Oklahoma State.  But the Cowboys generated their revenue while winning about 35% less games per year and no national championships.  Both schools have proud histories and legendary past coaches.  What our analysis gets at is what would happen if both teams performed identically.  What would the environment be like at Gallagher-Iba arena if the Cowboys averaged 30 wins per year for a decade and had numerous trips to the Final Four?

(Note: The study examines 2001 to 2011, thus Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M, and Missouri are included in the Big 12)

The Best Fan Bases in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)

For Big Ten rankings and a note on our methodology please click here.

For PAC-12 rankings please click here.

Our series on the Best Fan Bases in college basketball continues with an examination of the Atlantic Coast Conference.  The Duke Blue Devils are on top, followed by the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Maryland Terrapins.  Boston College and Florida State are on the bottom of the rankings.  (Note: For additional information on our methodology, click here)

Duke and North Carolina are two of the most storied college basketball programs.  Both schools averaged over 25 wins a season during the 2001-2011 time period, and both schools had at least one national championship.  Both schools almost always sell out their home games.  One of the key differences between the schools is that Duke makes almost double per seat in revenue than North Carolina.

The bottom of the ACC rankings is full of “football” schools (Clemson, Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Florida State).  In the time period of our study, Florida State made the NCAA tournament three consecutive years, but still could never get above 80% in average attendance/capacity.  This is in a market (Tallahassee) with no professional teams, and where fans often sell out a stadium (Doak Campbell) that seats over 80,000.