For the past three years, we have tried to answer the question of which teams have the “best” fans. “Best” is a funny word that can mean a lot of things but what we are really trying to get at is what team has the most avid, engaged, passionate and supportive fans. The twist is that we are doing this using hard data, and that we are doing it in a very controlled and statistically careful fashion.
By hard data we mean data on actual fan behavior. In particular, we are focused on market outcomes like attendance, prices or revenues. A lot of marketing research focused on branding issues relies on things like consumer surveys. This is fine in some ways, but opinion surveys are also problematic. It’s one thing to just say you are a fan of a local team, and quite another to be willing to pay several thousand dollars to purchase a season ticket.
To truly understand fan engagement, it’s important to statistically control for temporary changes in the environment. This is a huge issue in sports because fans almost always chase a winner. The real quality of the sports brand is revealed when fans support a team through the tough times. The Packers or Steelers will sell-out the year after they go 6-10, not so much for the Jaguars. The other thing that separates sports brands from consumer brands is the cities themselves. The support a New York team gets in terms of attendance and pricing is always going to be tough to achieve for the team in Charlotte.
In terms of the nuts and bolts of what we are about to present, we use fifteen years of data on NFL team performance, ticket prices, market populations, median incomes, won-loss records and multiple other factors. We create statistical models of box office revenue, and then see which teams over- and under- perform the model’s predictions. For a much fuller description, and some limitations about what we are doing click here.
So who has the best fans? The winner this year is the Dallas Cowboys followed by the Patriots, Giants, Ravens, and Jets. The Cowboys have a storied history, a market that loves all forms of football, and a world-class stadium. “Deflate-gate” hasn’t hit the window of our analysis yet (it is after the 2014-2015 season), but the Pats strong showing in our ranking suggests that the impact will be small. The Jets position might be somewhat surprising, but this team draws well, and has great pricing power without a lot of winning on the field.
Maybe the biggest surprise is some of the teams that aren’t at the top. The Steelers and Packers have great fan followings. The Seahawks are slowly developing a great fan base. And these teams will do better when we switch to non-financial metrics such as social media following. But for the current “revenue premium” model these teams just don’t price high enough. In a way, these teams with massive season ticket waiting lists are the most supportive of their fans.
At the bottom we have the Bills, Jags, Raiders, Browns and Dolphins. There are some interesting and storied teams on this list. The Raiders have a ton of passion in the end zone but maybe not throughout the stadium. Cleveland may have never recovered from the loss of the Ravens, and the recreation of the Browns. Florida is almost always a problem on our lists. Whether it is the weather or the fact that many of the locals are transplants that didn’t grow up with the team, Florida teams just don’t get the support of teams in other regions.
Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory 2015.