Social Media Equity in Major League Baseball: Boston Wins, Cubs Fans Lose and Southern California Baseball is Social Media Challenged

A new way to assess the health of a brand is to examine its social media following.  Social media metrics have an appeal because consumers can show their interests without regard to price.  Of course, this is also the downside of social media, since it’s difficult to tell how consumer interest can be converted to revenue.  In the case of professional sports, social media metrics are of special importance because team revenues are often constrained by finite stadium capacities.  Another equity measurement challenge in sports is that teams are tied to specific metropolitan areas.  If we don’t control for differences in market size, we would almost always find that the New York teams have the best brands and teams in markets like Kansas City and Milwaukee would appear to have weak brands.

To examine social media equity in major league baseball, we developed a model that predicts social media following (in this case the sum of Facebook likes and Twitter followers) as a function of market size, Twitter activity as measured by tweets, and variables that control for short-term variation in winning rates.  We use this statistical model to predict social media following, and then compare our prediction to the team’s actual social media presence.

The number one ranked team in terms of our social media equity measure is the Boston Red Sox.  Boston is followed by the Cubs, Yankees, Cardinals and Houston.  The one surprise in this top 5 is the Astros. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the Astros don’t belong, but the key to our method is that we are controlling for team performance.  The data says that the Astros have a much greater social media following than we would expect for a team that has had back to back 100 game loss seasons.

That the Cubs having a great fan following on social media is not a surprise but this result continues to strengthen the case that Cubs fans are the most abused in baseball.  The fans consistently provide great support on every dimension, and the Cubs’ management continues to fail to produce a decent team.  In an earlier study we even found that the Cubs fan support is basically unrelated to the team’s performance.  We are not sure who should be the most embarrassed: the front office for their amazing lack of ability to build a constant winner or the fans for their relentless support.

The losers on the list are predictable with one exception.  While the Angels and Diamondbacks being near the bottom are unsurprising, the Dodgers at third from the bottom are a shocker.  In a previous study based on economic loyalty, the Dodgers were at the top of the list.  The Dodgers have great fan support as evidenced by the league leading attendance.  But when it comes to social media, the Dodgers struggle for some reason.  For example, while the Dodgers play in the second largest market they have similar social media presences as teams such as the Rangers and Cardinals.  Perhaps it is a Southern California issue, since the Angels finished dead last in our ranking.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

Numbers Suggest Cubs Management Bluffing or Foolish about Move

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The Chicago Cubs are simultaneously a source of great joy and great pain to Chicago baseball fans.  Almost universally, fans love the Wrigley field area and the traditions of the Cubbies.  And given the Cubs’ history of (a lack of) success, the degree of loyalty exhibited by Cubs fans is amazing.  I should note that I grew up in the Chicago area, and watched many afternoon games on WGN during the summers.

The preceding comments about the loyalty of Cubs fans are on my mind due to the recent news that the Cubs are considering a move out of historical Wrigley Field.  For those who are unaware, the current Cubs ownership groups is attempting to grow its advertising revenues by installing a large video screen on which advertising and highlights can be shown.  The Cubs claim that this addition can generate $20M in incremental revenue.

However, the Cubs currently have contractual agreements in place with neighboring building owners and these owners are concerned that the screen will harm their rooftop viewing businesses.  Tom Ricketts threatened on Wednesday that if the Cubs are not allowed to execute their planned renovations to Wrigley, that they will consider moving the team.  According to ESPN, the city of Rosemont has even offered a free land deal on which the Cubs could build a new facility.

The close connection between the Cubs and the Wrigleyville neighborhood makes this an interesting marketing story.  My conjecture is that it is the Wrigleyville area (and a history of broadcast on WGN) that separates the Cubs from the White Sox.  I tend to think that the Cubs are a unique team that is largely insulated from the pressures faced by most MLB teams.

To investigate this conjecture, we performed a couple of statistical analyses this morning.  For the techies out there we used linear regression and Tobit models to examine the relationship between attendance in MLB and pricing, team winning percentage, team payroll and a large variety of other factors that are likely to affect consumer demand.  When this analysis is conducted across ALL MLB teams using the last 20 years of data, we find a significant positive effect between team winning percentage and attendance.  In contrast, when we limit the analysis to only the Cubs we do not find a significant relationship between winning rate and attendance.

This is an illuminating result as it suggests that consumer demand for the Cubs is largely independent of the Cubs on-field success.  Furthermore, we do find a strong positive coefficient for the Cubs payroll.  Collectively, these results suggest that the Cubs are more about entertainment and environment than the actual baseball product.

What does this mean?  Frankly it suggests that the Cubs are either bluffing about leaving the area or that the Cubs don’t understand their brand or their customer base. Finally, as a Chicagoan I would be very nervous about a move to Rosemont.  The Cubs should ask DePaul how a move to the suburbs worked out.

By Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013