Fan Rankings 2014

Evaluating sports brands, or any brands, is a complicated endeavor.  The fundamental issue is that a brand is an intangible asset so the analyst must rely on indirect measures of the brand.  Last year, we introduced a measure of fan loyalty that we termed “fan equity.”  This measure was based on the degree to which fans were willing to support a franchise after controlling for factors such as population and winning percentage.  We also explored a social media based metric that used a similar approach to evaluate a team’s success in building a social media footprint.

This summer, we are updating our analyses across the four major sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, & NHL) and the two major college sports (football & basketball).  We are also including several additional analyses that further illuminate fan support and brand equity.  Shifting to multiple measures of “fan support” provides significant benefits.  First, using multiple measures allows for a form of triangulation, since we expect that a great fan base will excel on most or all of the measures.  The second benefit is that since each measure has some unique elements, the construction of multiple measures allows for a richer description of each fan base.  Next, we provide basic descriptions and critiques of each of the metrics to be published.

Fan Equity

Our baseline concept of fan quality is something we term fan equity.  This is similar in spirit to “brand equity” but is adapted to focus specifically on the intensity of customer preference (rather than to consider market coverage or awareness).  We calculate fan equity using a revenue-premium model.  The basic approach is to develop a statistical model of team revenues based on team performance and market characteristics.  We then compare the forecasted revenues from this model for each team to actual revenues.  When teams actual revenues exceed predicted revenues, we take this as evidence of superior fan support.

The fan equity measure has some significant benefits.  First, since it is calculated using revenues, it is based on actual fan spending decisions.  In general, measures based on actual purchasing are preferred to survey based data.  The other prime benefit is that a statistical model is used to control for factors such as market size, and short variations in team performance.  This allows the measure to reflect true preference levels for a team rather than effects due to a team playing in a large market, or because a team is currently a winner. However, the fan equity measure also has a couple of potential issues.  First, one of the distinguishing features of sports is capacity constraints.  Measures of attendance or revenues may therefore underestimate true consumer demand simply because we do not observe demand above stadium capacity.  The second issue relates to owner pricing decisions.  An implicit assumption in the revenue-premium model is that teams are revenue maximizers.

Social Media Equity

Our social media equity metric is similar in spirit to our fan equity measure, but rather than focus on revenues we use social community size as the key dependent measure.  The calculation of social media equity involves a statistical model that predicts social media community size as a function of market characteristics and current season performance.  Social media equity is then based on a comparison of actual versus predicted social media following.

The social media equity metric provides two key advantages relative to the revenue-premium metric.  Since social media following is not constrained by stadium size and does not require fans to make a financial sacrifice, this metric provides 1) a measure of unconstrained demand and 2) avoids assumptions about owner’s pricing decisions.  On the negative side, the social media equity does not differentiate between passive and engaged fans.  Following of a team on Facebook or Twitter requires a minimal, one time effort.

Trend Analysis (Fan Equity Growth)

A key issue in evaluating fan or brand equity is the time horizon used in the analysis.  The methods described above produce an estimate of “equity” for each season.  The dilemma is in determining how many years should be used to construct rankings.  The shorter the time horizon used, the more likely the results are to be biased by random fluctuations or one-time events.  On the other hand, using a long time horizon is problematic because fan equity is likely to evolve over time.  This year, we present an analysis of each team’s fan equity trajectory.

Price Elasticity and Win Elasticity

This year we are adding analyses that look at the sensitivity of attendance to winning and price at the team-level.  This is accomplished by estimating a model of attendance (demand) as a function of various factors such as price, population, and winning rates.  The key thing about this model specification is that we include team level dummy variables and interactions between the team dummies and the focal variables of winning and price.

The win elasticity provides a measure of the importance of quality in driving demand.  For example, if the statistical model finds that a team’s demand is unrelated to winning rate, then the implication is that fans have so much of a preference for the team that winning and losing don’t matter.  For a weaker team (brand) the model would produce a strong relationship between demand and winning.

This benefit of this measure is that the results come directly from data.  A possible issue with this analysis is that the results may be driven by omitted variables.  For example, prior to conducting the analysis we might speculate that demand for the Chicago Cubs might only be slightly related to the team’s winning percentage.  This speculation is based on the fact that the Cubs never seem to win but always seem to have a loyal following.  Our finding would, however, need to be evaluated with care since the “Cub” effect is perfectly correlated with a “Wrigleyville Neighborhood” effect.

Social Media Based Personality

This year we are adding another new analysis that uses social media (Twitter) data to evaluate the personality of different fan bases.  The foundation for this analysis is information on “sentiment.”  Sentiment is basically a measure of the tone of the conversation about a team.  To understand fan personality, we examine how Twitter sentiment varies over time.  We do comparisons of how much sentiment varies across teams.  This tells us if some fan bases are even-keeled while other are more volatile.  We can also look at whether some teams tend have higher highs or lower lows.  These analyses are based on the distribution of sentiment scores over a multiple year period.

Twitter based sentiment has both positives and negatives.  On the positive side, Twitter conversations are useful because they represent the unfiltered opinions of fans.  Fans are free to be as happy or as distraught as they want to be.  The availability of sentiment over time is also useful as it allows for the capture of how opinion changes over time.  On the downside, Twitter sentiment scores are only as good as the algorithm used to evaluate each Tweet.  Twitter data may also be a bit biased towards the opinions of younger fans.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.

The Best Sports Cities: Boston Wins in a Rout; Twin Cities Better than NY & Chicago

Boston InfographicWe started the Emory Sports Marketing Analytics blog back in March of last year.  Our goal was to bring analytics to the world of sports business.  To put a finishing touch on 2013, we are going to present our rankings of the best and worst sports fans by city.  These rankings are based on our revenue premium model of fan equity and our analyses of social media equity.

Phoenix InfographicFor our rankings, we have divided cities into categories based on how many of the four major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, & NHL) have franchises representing the city.  This categorization does introduce a bit of oddness since Los Angeles becomes a “three-sport” city.  Another tough issue is how to treat teams like the Packers.  Is Green Bay a one-sport city or is Milwaukee as three-sport city (we decided that we would treat Milwaukee as a three-sport city)?

Today we reveal our rankings of the four-sport cities, and a summary of the best and worst markets in the other categories (one, two, & three-sports cities).  Before the actual rankings, a couple of clarifying comments are in order.  The key to our rankings is that we are looking at fan support after controlling for short term variations in team quality and market characteristics.  Basically we create statistical models of revenues as a function of quality measures like winning percentage and market potential factors like population.  This allows our results to speak how much support fans provide as if market size and winning rates were equal.

The number one team on our four-sport city list is Boston; and it wasn’t even all that close.  All of the Boston teams have impressive fan followings.  The Red Sox ranked 1st in terms of fan equity and 1st in social equity. The Celtics finished 3rd in the NBA in both our fan and social media equity rankings.  The Patriots rank 2nd in fan equity and 3rd in social media equity in the NFL.  The Bruins rank relatively low in fan equity (perhaps because they could price higher), but very high in social media equity.  Number two on the list is Philadelphia.  The Eagles, Phillies and Flyers are all very strong fan bases.  The Sixers are weak within the NBA, but the three other sports carry Philly to a second place finish.

The city in third place is likely going to generate Twitter complaints about how clueless we are, and how academics should stay away from sports.  We rank the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul as having the third most supportive fans among the four-sport cities.  Minneapolis/Saint Paul show great support of the Twins and solid support for the Vikings.  The Wild also do surprisingly well in the NHL.

How could Minnesota finish in front of New York and Chicago?  It’s because these cities don’t do a great job in terms of supporting all their teams.  For example, The Brooklyn Nets perform poorly when market size is considered and the White Sox have very poor support on all metrics.  We can hardly wait for the semi-literate Twitter attacks to commence.

At the bottom of the list we have Phoenix.  We should note that the Suns perform well and finish 7th in terms of fan equity in the NBA.  But beyond that, Phoenix sports are a disaster.  In terms of fan equity, the Diamondbacks finish 26th in MLB, the Cardinals 30th in the NFL and the Coyotes 28th in the NHL.  As we have learned over the past year, it seems that weather and tradition are what creates a strong fan culture.  Perhaps the Phoenix teams overall are too new, and the weather is too warm.

Our other winners and losers are given below with linked infographics that summarize raw data and final rankings.

For the three-sport cities, the overall winner is St. Louis, and the worst fan support occurs in Tampa Bay.

For the two-sport markets, the leader in fan support is NashvilleOakland is at the bottom of the rankings.

For the one-sport cities, Portland leads the way, while Memphis trails the field.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2014.

Ranking Sports Cities: Nashville & New Orleans Are the Best “Two-Sport” Towns

There are ten cities on our list with teams in two pro leagues.  These cities include Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Nashville, New Orleans, Oakland, Seattle and San Diego.  While our previous analysis of one team towns was driven by a single team’s results, we now shift to cities with multiple franchises.

#1 Nashville

We have to admit, this was a bit of a surprise.  Not because of anything negative about Nashville itself, but because both Nashville teams are relative newcomers.  Our data suggest that Nashville has a population that will support teams even without having generations of history. This is somewhat unusual and suggests that Nashville should be considered as a candidate for future expansion clubs.

When Mike thinks of the Titans his mind goes back to Bum Phillips and Earl Campbell (Manish thinks of the Music City Miracle).  But despite Mike’s aging memory, the numbers suggest that the Titans have been able to develop a strong following in a relatively short time.  The Titans rank 10th in terms of NFL fan equity.  According to ESPN, Tennessee has sold out all tickets for the last several years.  Notably, these sell-outs continue whether the team goes 10-6 or 6-10.

Over the past 3 seasons, the Nashville Predators have sold at least 94% of available tickets.  This is impressive attendance considering the size of the market and ticket prices.  The Nashville market contains only 1.7 million people but Predators are able to charge ticket prices in excess of teams in larger markets.  The Predators rank 11th in our fan equity ranking and 15th in our social media ranking.

#2 New Orleans

New Orleans was one of the markets that enthusiastically embraced some of our earlier studies, so New Orleans finishing number two in our 2-sport city rankings was not a surprise.  Well, maybe it was a little bit of a surprise because we are old enough to remember the “Aints.”

New Orleans provides amazing support to the Saints.  In our fan equity rankings the Saints finished 4th in the NFL.  This placed the Saints ahead of more “prominent” teams like the Giants or the Bears.  The key is that our rankings account for population and variation in winning percent.  The results therefore mean that when you control for these factors, Saints fans are truly exceptional.

The Pelicans also have a solid fan base.  The Pelicans finished 16th in terms of fan equity and 7th in social media equity.

#3 Baltimore

We now turn to the top two-professional team markets.  At #3 we have the tradition rich Baltimore metro area.

The Orioles rank a solid 14th in our fan equity rankings of MLB.  This is impressive since up until the past two seasons, the Orioles struggled to compete in the AL East.  It is also impressive since some of the Orioles support was likely lost to the Nationals.  The Orioles also ranked 14th in our social media equity ranking.  The key to the Orioles success in the rankings?  If we had to guess we would say it is tradition. Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken etc… Also students have told Professor Lewis that he looks like Ripken.

The Ravens actually score bit better in our rankings with a 8th place fan equity and a 9th place social equity ranking.  Again, this is no surprise given the success of the Ravens franchise.  It is interesting, however, that each team’s equity seems to come from a different era.  While the Orioles glory days were probably from the late 60s to the early 90s, the Ravens equity has been built on recent success and stars.

#4 Buffalo

Just as we find that teams in warm markets seem to struggle to build followings, teams in colder climates seem to outperform their competition.  So it is no surprise that Buffalo (where Manish will be spending Thanksgiving) is in the top half of two team cities.

For the respective teams, the Bills finish 24th in fan equity and 14th is social media equity.  The Sabers finish 16th in the NHL fan equity rankings.

#5 Indianapolis

The Pacers and the Colts fan bases combine to give Indiana/Indianapolis a rank right in the middle of the list.  Despite their recent success, the Pacers rank near the bottom of the NBA with a fan equity ranking of 23rd.  In contrast, the Colts have a very solid fan equity ranking of 6th.  It will be interesting to see if the Colts can maintain this performance as a quarterback now playing in Denver becomes a memory.

#6 Seattle

Seattle ranks 6th on the list.  The Seahawks rank 23rd in the NFL in both fan equity and social media equity. The Mariners do a bit better with a fan equity ranking of 20th in MLB and a social media rank of 12th.

#7 Cincinnati

At number seven on our list of cities with two professional teams we have the home of the Bengals and Reds.  Even prior to running the numbers, this is about what we would have expected.  Our expectations were that the Reds had a strong fan base while the Bengals were fairly weak.  In terms of population Cincinnati is the 28th largest market in the US and the median income rank is #55.

The Bengals’ fan base is relatively weak.  The team usually ranks below average in terms of attendance and finished dead last in 2011.  The Bengals also do not have a great deal of pricing power as the average price of a Bengals’ ticket is well below the league average ($68.96 versus $81.54 league average in 2013).  The end result of this data is that the Bengals ranked 19th in our fan equity rankings.  The team scored even worse in social media with a ranking of 26.

The Reds do indeed have a stronger fan base.  In terms of fan equity the Reds ranked 11th in MLB and the social media rank was a strong 13th.  The Reds also price well below the MLB average ($21.35 versus $27.48 league average) but the team ranks right in the middle of the pack with attendance of more than 2.2 million in each of the last three years.

#8 San Diego

San Diego ranks 8th on our list of “2 sport” cities.  As we have noted, it seems that the better the weather, the more “fair-weather” the fans.  In terms of demographics, San Diego is a respectable market with a population of about 3.2 million (17th largest market) and the 27th highest median income.  But, fan support is questionable.  Strangely, especially for California, the NFL Chargers perform a bit better on our fan indexes than the Padres.

Last year the Chargers ranked 28th in attendance and only sold 84% of capacity.  In our fan equity rankings, the Chargers were ranked 11th.  The social media rank was 15th.  These are respectable numbers.  The reason that the Chargers are fairly highly ranked is that while attendance is low the team is able to charge relatively high prices.  This season, the Chargers average ticket price is actually higher than NFL stalwarts such as Green Bay and Pittsburgh.

The Padres ranked 20th in attendance this past season and 21st in 2012.  The Padres showing is particularly bad because the team’s average ticket price is the lowest in the league.  In terms of fan equity, the Padres ranked 19th in MLB.  The team’s social media rank was also 19th.

#9 Kansas City

Kansas City is our 9th ranked “Two Sport” town.  While Kansas City has been a poster child for the issue of the competitive balance between big and small markets, our analyses suggest that even after controlling for population and income differences that Kansas City is a relatively poor sports market.

This past season the Royals ranked 26th in terms of attendance and only sold 57% of capacity despite being in the hunt for a playoff spot.  And given that Royals prices are well below the league average, it is hard to make the case that price is the factor that is limiting support.  In terms of fan equity the Royals ranked 15th in MLB.

Chiefs are more of a middle of the road team in terms of attendance.  The Chiefs ranked 8th in terms of attendance in 2011 and 16th in 2012.  However, while the Chiefs raw attendance is higher many of their competitor’s attendance figures are limited by capacity constraints.  In 2012, KC attendance was just 89% of capacity.  And like the Royals, the Chiefs also price well below the league average.  In terms of fan equity, the Chiefs ranked 21st in the NFL.

#10 Oakland

At the bottom of the list we have the city of Oakland.  Oakland has two storied franchises in the A’s and the Raiders.  But despite the previous success of these teams they both rank near the bottom of their respective leagues.  The A’s finish 26th in terms of fan equity and 28th in social media equity in our MLB results.  The Raiders finish dead last in fan equity in the NFL.

Interestingly, the Raiders finish 10th in the social media ranking of NFL teams.  This is an important finding because it suggests that the Raiders may enjoy an above average following nationally while they struggle locally.  This means that the Raiders are likely to benefit from relocating.  Of course, this has been tried in the past, but perhaps the key is to move to a place where the team doesn’t compete with the weather.  How about the Portland Raiders?

To some degree Oakland’s finish at the bottom is not surprising.  While both teams have tremendous histories of success, this success mainly occurred in the 70s and 80s.  The Oakland teams may be suffering from fans being disappointed that the teams have fallen a long ways.  This type of “reference” effect is critical because the primary segment of affluent fans is likely to be in their 40s and 50s.

We have also noted in previous posts that there does seem to be a systematic weakness that happens in markets located in California, Florida and other “good” weather cities.  For whatever reason fans in these regions tend not to show the support that fans in colder climates tend to exhibit.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

College Basketball Recruiting Series

One of my (Lewis) favorite things in sports is college basketball recruiting.  Given the growth of the recruiting guru industry, it’s safe to say that I’m not alone in my fascinations.  For example in the case of the University of Illinois, If you took a look at the message boards you might think there is as much interest and speculation about the recruitment of Cliff Alexander (the number 3 ranked player in the 2014 class) as there is in the this year’s team.

Over the next couple of weeks, our plan is to take an in-depth, data-based look at the world of college basketball recruiting.  Our emphasis will be on judging how well teams really recruit and whether players make rational decisions about where to play ball.  As always, the key to these analyses will be that we will use statistics and data to go beyond the conventional wisdom and drill down to the fundamental issues.

As a starting point for our series, we are re-running an earlier analysis that looked at fan support across teams. This study is important for two reasons.  First, intuitively we expect that players will be more attracted to programs that have strong support.  This is a rational criterion because support likely translates to plentiful resources and television exposure.  Second, this study highlights the nature of our approach to these studies.  Rather than rely on simple metrics such as attendance, that are a function of team performance we examine fan support after controlling for short-term fluctuations in team performance.  In other words, we control for the fact that it is easy to be a Duke or Kansas fan, while it takes real character to support a team that may struggle on the court (e.g. Maryland & Illinois).

We have four analyses planned.  As noted the first one focuses on the “fan equity” enjoyed by each teams.  These rankings provide a sense of the customer or brand equity of each team.  The second analysis will take a look at each school’s ability to produce NBA draft picks as a function of their recruiting rankings.  This is something that recruits should definitely consider.  The third analysis will examine draft pick production as a measure of team success.  This analysis really gets at the value of choosing a high profile, blue blood program.

The fourth analysis is probably the one that we are most enthusiastic about.  In the fourth study, we examine recruiting success after controlling for a myriad of factors such as current winning percentage, markers of historical success and financial investment.  As we will discuss later this analysis as some significant implications for how we should evaluated coaches and may even provide some evidence that some teams recruit “too” well.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

The NFL’s Most Benevolent Owners: Atlanta Football Fans Get the Best Value, while Dallas and New England Fans Pay a Steep Price

We spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the consumer behavior of fans.  For example, our fan equity rankings provide a measure of fan loyalty that controls for factors such as team performance.  Today we take a look at the other side of the equation, by asking which NFL teams show loyalty to their fans. Specifically, our goal is to understand which teams provide the best value to fans.

Our analysis is built around a statistical model of team prices*.  The first step is to model team prices as a function of team winning percentages, stadium capacity, metropolitan area population and metropolitan area median income.  The model also includes quadratic terms and interactions between several of the variables.  We estimate the model using the last 11 seasons of data.  The second step is to compare each teams reported prices with the predicted prices from the model.  If teams price above the prediction, the implication is that the team is extracting more revenue from fans than would be expected based solely on team quality and market characteristics.  Of course, the alternative explanation is that the teams have additional knowledge of their markets that is not observable to the analyst.  But, in the course of previous analyses the point has been raised by several teams that they often price below the market in order to build fan equity.  Perhaps, a better way to describe the rankings on the left is that the teams on the top are providing the most value (bang for the buck) to fans.

The Atlanta Falcons are number one on our list.  Over the last decade, the Falcons have won 57% of their games while pricing at about 10% less than the league average.  This pricing is even more remarkable given that Atlanta is fairly large, and above average in terms of median income.  Other good values include Arizona, Carolina, Seattle and Jacksonville.

Perhaps the more interesting part of the list is at the other extreme.  This portion of the list identifies the teams that extract every last penny from fans.  At the very bottom of the list are the New England Patriots.  The Patriots have delivered a great product but they have also charged prices that are about 40% higher than average.  Second from the bottom are the Dallas Cowboys.  Over the last decade, Dallas fans have had the privilege of paying large price premiums for a very average product.  In fourth and fifth positions from the bottom, we have Tampa Bay and St Louis.  In both cases, these are relatively small market teams that have struggled on the field while charging fairly steep prices.

*Team Marketing Report’s Fan Cost Index Data

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

 

 

 

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.

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

PLEASE NOTE THAT THESE ARE OUR 2013 RANKINGS, FOR OUR 2014 RANKINGS AND IN-DEPTH STUDY, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

For our NHL Social Media Equity Rankings, please click here.

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.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

Social Media Equity in the NFL: Another Metric for Evaluating Fans

Please click here for our NFL Fan Equity Rankings

Please click here for our NBA Social Media Equity Rankings

Our approach to NFL fan equity begins from the premise that teams try and maximize revenues.  This is an important assumption, and one that one that seems to be justified by teams pursuing practices like dynamic pricing and personal seat licenses.  But, if a team is pricing below what local market conditions would allow, our method can be problematic because NFL stadiums are of finite capacity.

What we would ideally like to have is a fan metric that is not constrained by stadium sizes.  The world of social media can provide this type of metric.  In today’s installment we assess NFL fan base quality using information on teams’ ability to acquire Twitter followers.

The simplest measurement of social media strength is to look at Twitter follower counts across teams.  Using this metric, the top 5 teams are the Patriots, Cowboys, Jets, Steelers, and Packers.  The bottom five includes the Titans, Buccaneers, Rams, Jaguars and Cardinals.  While gathering this data we did come across some interesting results.  The Patriots lead the league with about 650,000 followers while the Cardinals are in 32nd place with 62,000 followers.  Notably the Cardinals had only 31 more followers than the Cowboy Cheerleaders.

But as always, the raw numbers can be deceiving. The Jets play in a market that dwarfs the Steelers, and Twitter success is probably highly correlated to teams’ recent on-field success.  To calculate “Social Media Equity” we start by building a statistical model that predicts Twitter followers based on team winning percentage from 2012, market population and median income.  We then compare this prediction with the actual follower count.  The difference between actual and predicted followers provides a measure of over or under performance in the social media space.  Note: We could also have used Facebook fans for the analysis.

In terms of this measure of “social media equity” the top 5 were the Steelers, Cowboys, Patriots, Packers and Saints (and the Jets in 6th).  In terms of our previous fan equity ranking, the biggest change was for the Steelers and Packers.  The Cowboys, Patriots, Saints and Jets were strong in both rankings.  In terms of the critique that some owners may systematically underprice, the Steelers and Packers seem like two of the most likely candidates.

At the other end of the list in last place are the Arizona Cardinals.  The Cardinals play in a larger market than the Steelers but only have 11% of the Twitter followers.  Another notable bottom dweller is the Redskins.  The Redskins play in a large market but have less than half the Twitter followers as do the Cowboys.

We have noted the advantage of using Twitter followers as a metric.  This measure is not constrained by stadium capacity and fans are able to show there interest without an economic sacrifice.  However, this measure could also be criticized.  For example, if the goal is to assess fan passion or loyalty it is not clear how correlated an unobservable trait such as loyalty will be with Twitter follow rates.  A second issue is that teams may invest different levels of resources into their social media efforts.  If team A emphasizes their Twitter handle in ad copy while team B does not, then a straight comparison can be misleading.  A third issue is that the data available for this type of analysis is very limited.  While attendance rates are observable for decades, social media data is a very recent phenomenon.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

NFL Fan Equity: Method Limitations and Focus on the Falcons

Our analyses frequently generate criticism.  Our work has been described as “garbage,” “silly” and “annoying” (and this is just from Mike’s wife).  To us, one of the most interesting things about this project is that we are often surprised by whom we offend.  In the case of last week’s analysis, we were humored by the fact that Saints fans seemed equally interested in their 4th place ranking and the Falcons’ 31st place ranking.  Given that we are based in Atlanta, we thought it would be a good idea to discuss why the Falcons finished so low and, more importantly, how these results should be interpreted.

Our starting point in these analyses is that we are evaluating fandom from a marketing perspective.   This means that we are trying to identify which customer base is the most loyal in terms of their willingness to support their team through buying tickets.  This may seem like a crass measure to some, but it is at least an objective and observable metric.  Most critics seem to want us to somehow read the minds of the fans, and make ratings based on “passion.”  This is a fine notion but the implementation is somewhere between difficult and impossible.  Difficult, because a large scale survey would be needed to ask fans questions about how passionate they are, and nearly impossible because the survey would need to be repeated year after year to control for variation in team quality.

Our method, like all methods, has some limitations.  In our case, two limitations are most notable.  First, we rely on publicly available data (FCI pricing data, ESPN attendance estimates, Forbes’ team value estimates, US Census data, Title IX reporting data, etc.).  Publicly available data (and private data) will always contain inaccuracies.  The real question is whether the publicly available data is inherently biased against certain teams or types of teams.  We are happy to listen to debate about this issue.

The second limitation relates to a team’s marketing objectives.  One issue in sports marketing is that we do not get to observe true demand due to the constraints imposed by stadiums with finite capacities.  For this reason, we primarily rely on estimates of revenue.  This is an important distinction because it means that we implicitly make an assumption about how teams price.  The implicit assumption is that teams are attempting to maximize revenues.

You can definitely criticize this assumption.  This assumption comes into play when evaluating teams that regularly sellout (e.g. Green Bay).  How can these fans be any more loyal?  This leads to the question of why don’t teams like the Packers price higher.  I can think of a couple of potential answers.  One, perhaps they don’t have enough information or expertise to maximize revenues.  Demand forecasting for an NFL stadium is a non-trivial task.  Historical data is of limited use because demand for certain types of seats is censored.  The variation in the quality of tickets is also a problem as revenue maximizing teams would also need to understand the cross-elasticities across ticket types.

But the salient question is: if not a revenue maximizing assumption then what?  The best answer, we believe, is that some teams may systematically underprice in order to build or invest in their customer base.  The logic is that because the team lacks an extended tradition of success or that the team competes locally with other sports offerings, it makes sense to charge below market rates to get people into an exciting, sold-out stadium.  Of course, as more astute readers may have noticed, this explanation is also consistent with the story that the team lacks brand equity.  We could also make arguments that some team price too high and may therefore be “harvesting” brand equity.

This brings us back to the case of the Atlanta Falcons.  The explanation for why the Falcons finished low despite recent success on the field and in terms of sellout attendance is because they price lower than would be expected.  According to the Team Market Report’s fan cost index, over the last decade the Falcons have tended to price below the league average.  But it isn’t sufficient to just consider relative prices.  We also need to consider the “quality” of the market.  The Atlanta metro area has population and median income levels that are well above the league averages.

The other issue that was mentioned locally is: what does this mean for the Falcons’ quest for a new stadium?  A case can be made that our findings support the need for a new stadium. If we believe the assumption that professional sports are an important civic asset (because they draw attention, create economic value, enhance the culture, etc.) then it makes sense for the city to invest in the team.  The Falcons’ have a relatively short history, and play in a city full of transplants.  Just as the Falcons may be underpricing in order to develop their fan equity, it may make sense for the local community to also invest back into the team.

Click here for an alternative methodology for ranking fan bases that relies on social media data.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

More on NFL Fan Equity: Dynamics & Mascots

Last week we presented our ranking of NFL fan bases.  The Cowboys, Patriots, Jets and Saints headed this list, and every other city in America let us know that our study was garbage.  As in any study of this nature, there will always be limitations that leave room for debate.

One such source of debate is in how much data we use for assessing fan equity.  We use 11 years of data to develop a model for forecasting expected consumer demand (the forecast is based on winning percentage, pricing, stadium capacity, metro area population, metro area median income and other factors).  We then determined fan equity (fan loyalty and support) by comparing the model forecasts to each team’s last three years of results.

One important question is whether three years is sufficient.  In our minds three years is a compromise.  An argument in favor of a lengthier time horizon is that fan loyalty is a persistent trait that moves slowly.  If this is the case, it might make sense to look at relative performance for the last five or ten years of data.  On the other hand, the world is constantly changing and evolving so it also makes sense to focus on recent history.  In the case of sports, if championships and post season success are the sources of long-term fan equity then using a shorter horizon that is sensitive to near term changes makes sense.

The top five for the last the last decade would be New England, Washington, Kansas City, Denver and Pittsburgh.  This list will likely make other fans happy but it will still result in significant unhappiness in Green Bay.  Later this week we will discuss in more depth why some of the teams that conventional wisdom would suggest to be at the top of our list fell short.

We can also look at who is rising and who is falling.  For this analysis we compare the fan equity rankings using the first 3 years of the data (2002 to 2005) with the last three years (2010 to 2012).  The analysis finds that the biggest risers were the Cowboys, Jets and Colts.  The four biggest drops were the Chiefs, Buccaneers, Rams and Redskins.  This list shows both the pros and cons of using short versus long horizons.  The short horizon allows us to capture the long-term impact of what Peyton Manning delivered the Colts and the importance of the Cowboys’ new stadium.  On the negative side, the early success of the Rams and the Bucs seems to have turned out to be short lived.

There is one other element of the preceding list of teams that have suffered a decline in fan equity that may raise some eyebrows.  Two of the teams that suffered dramatic drops have Native American oriented team names: The Chiefs and the Redskins.  Over the last decade we have witnessed an increase in efforts to eliminate Native American team names and mascots.  Lewis is an Illinois grad and Tripathi is a Redskins fan so they know firsthand how a mascot controversy can split a fan base.  There are, of course, alternative explanations for why these two teams’ fan equity has decreased (but keep in mind that we do control for team performance) but it is at least noteworthy that two of the four teams with the biggest drops have controversial team names.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.