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

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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.

Twitter Analysis: Michigan Cares More about Notre Dame “Rivalry”

Last week, Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly described the Michigan-Notre Dame game as not “one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries.”  These comments helped invigorate discussions, newspaper columns, and College GameDay signs debating the magnitude of the Michigan & Notre Dame rivalry.

Rather than listen to “experts” tell us about the significance of the game (or fabricate memories of the game), we decided to use Twitter to study how much people cared about the game in South Bend, IN and Ann Arbor, MI.  The setup for our study was fairly simple.  Using data from Topsy Pro Analytics, we were able to examine tweets originating from South Bend and Ann Arbor.  We compiled a list of words that could be used to describe Notre Dame (e.g. “Notre Dame”, “ND”, “Fighting Irish”) and a list of words that could be used to describe Michigan (e.g. “Michigan”, “UM”, “MICH”, “UMICH”).  We then collected all tweets that mentioned any of the Notre Dame related words and originated from Ann Arbor.  We also collected all tweets that mentioned any of the Michigan related words and originated from South Bend.  We believe that these tweets are capturing the level of “rivalry” that each campus has toward the other campus*.

For the game played on September 7, 2013 in Ann Arbor, we looked at tweets on September 5th and 6th (pre-game).  We also examined tweets on September 8th (post-game).   We computed the Twitter Share of Voice for tweets about Notre Dame in Ann Arbor and for tweets about Michigan in South Bend for both Pre and Post-game.  As an illustration, to compute Twitter Share of Voice for Notre Dame related tweets in Ann Arbor, you simply divide the number of tweets that mention Notre Dame in Ann Arbor by the total number of tweets in Ann Arbor.  We believe that this Share of Voice metric helps control for the relative sizes of Twitter bases in the two cities.

The results from the 2013 game are very interesting.  Pre-game, the Twitter Share of Voice in Ann Arbor for Notre Dame related tweets was 60% higher than Twitter Share of Voice in South Bend for Michigan related tweets.  This implies that people in Ann Arbor cared more about the game (at least on Twitter) than people in South Bend.  Post-game, the Twitter Share of Voice went up by 57% in Ann Arbor.  The sentiment (ratio of positive to negative tweets) of the post-game tweets also rose by 40%, whereas there was no change in sentiment in South Bend (Michigan won the game).  We could interpret this as Notre Dame fans were relatively unaffected by the loss.

Perceptive Michigan and Notre Dame fans could argue that these results are skewed because the game was played in Ann Arbor.  We have excluded tweets from the day of the game to try to correct for any game site effects.  However, to get a better understanding of the “rivalry”, we performed a similar study of the 2012 game which was played in South Bend.  Even though the game was played in South Bend, the pre-game Twitter share of voice was 18% higher in Ann Arbor. The Notre Dame victory only created a 14% increase in the post-game share of voice in South Bend, and a 23% increase in tweet sentiment.  Thus, looking at data from the past two years, there seems to be an asymmetry in this “rivalry”.  That is, it seems Michigan cares a lot more than Notre Dame.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

*Obviously, both of these universities have alumni all over the world.  We are limiting our study to South Bend & Ann Arbor because we believe this (1) captures current students and (2) is the cleanest way to separate out the two fan bases.

College Football Brand Equity Rankings: The Overall List

Over the last two weeks, we have been reporting our football fan base rankings conference by conference.  Today, we turn to our overall ranking.  We started the list with an analysis of the brand/customer equity of the major conferences.  The Big Ten and the SEC are the leading conferences largely because they have strong TV deals.  That being said, the number one team on our list is not a member of either the Big Ten or the SEC.

Number one on the list is the University of Texas.  The Longhorns have some built in advantages that make it such a powerhouse.  Texas is the flagship school in a highly populated state with an incredible football culture.  Texas is also interesting because it is such a frequent target in realignment discussions.   Texas would bring the most valuable fan base to any conference.   In fact, Texas football is such a valuable property that we doubt that they will move anytime soon.  Texas is a strong enough brand to keep the Big Twelve a viable conference.  This means that Texas has an immense amount of bargaining power within the Big Twelve; which would be lost in a move to the Big Ten or the SEC.

Number 2 on the list is a bit of a surprise.  Based on the numbers, we found Georgia to have the second highest customer equity.  We go into more detail about Georgia football in our SEC writeup.

Number three on the list is the Big Ten’s Ohio State Buckeyes.  Ohio State has many of the same advantages as Texas, as they are the flagship school in a highly populated and football crazy state.

Numbers 4 and 5 on the list also hail from the Big Ten.  We have Penn State in 4th place and Michigan in 5th.  These are two interesting cases, since PSU is obviously in a transitional stage, and may fade a bit over the next couple of years, while Michigan is making moves to become even more profitable.  In positions 6 through 8, we have Alabama, Auburn and Florida.  Our rankings seem to confirm that the SEC and Big Ten are college football’s top conferences.

The 9th place team is one that we haven’t talked about in any of our previous rankings, Notre Dame.  Our guess is that Notre Dame fans will feel slighted by their 9th place ranking.  But, at the end of the day, our approach is driven by a combination of revenue and team quality data.  What we find is that Notre Dame is a great college football brand, but far from the dominant brand their fans believe it to be.

In tenth place we have the lone West Coast team in the rankings.  The Washington Huskies were the surprise leader in the Pac 12, beating out teams like USC and Oregon.

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.

PREVIOUS: RANKING THE SEC

O’Bannon versus the NCAA (Part 2): Does Tim Tebow Owe Florida?

Click here for Part 1 (The marketing perspective)

Click here for Part 3 (The value  created by athletes)

Click here for Part 4 (How would paying players change college sports)

In a previous post, I began a discussion of the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit.  In this second part of the series, we delve a bit deeper into the nature of sports brands and how these “brands” are related to the antitrust concepts at the core of the case.  In this post, we will take the perspective of the university.  Our next post will examine the issue from the individual athlete viewpoint. The original issue in the O’Bannon lawsuit is that the structure of college sports, where athletes are unable to sell their images violates the Sherman act.  Michael McCann, discussed the antitrust elements of the lawsuit in Sports Illustrated, and describes the suit’s two main claims:

“First, by requiring student-athletes to forgo their identity rights in perpetuity, the NCAA has allegedly restrained trade in violation of the Sherman Act, a core source of federal antitrust law. Here’s why: student-athletes, but for their authorization of the NCAA to license their images and likenesses, would be able to negotiate their own licensing deals after leaving college. If they could do so, more licenses would be sold, which would theoretically produce a more competitive market for those licenses. A more competitive market normally means more choices and better prices for consumers. For example, if former student-athletes could negotiate their own licensing deals, multiple video game publishers could publish games featuring ex-players. More games could enhance technological innovation and lower prices for video game consumers.
Second, according to the plaintiffs, the NCAA has deprived them of their “right of publicity.” The right of publicity refers to the property interest of a person’s name or likeness, i.e. one’s image, voice or even signature. Last year, when explaining why the NCAA has refrained from suing CBS over its use of player information in its fantasy sports game on CBS Sportsline.com, NCAA officials acknowledged that players’ rights of publicity belong to the players, and not to the NCAA.”

Viewed collectively, these two issues really speak to the concept of brand equity, and about whether players should have the ability to “monetize” their individual brands while student athletes.  Branding issues in sports are fairly complex due to the nature of the sports product.  The key point is that sports products and brands are co-created by a collection of players, teams and leagues. What I mean by this is that while sports are inherently about competition, they also require cooperation between multiple entities.  Furthermore, while it is obvious that athletic success is correlated with an athlete’s or team’s brand equity (think Lebron, Michael or the Yankees) this equity is created through competition with other players and teams.  This co-creation is important because while fans may gravitate to star players, it is also obvious that league and team structures are needed for individual athletes to become valuable brands.  It is probably only the rare athlete, such as Michael Jordan, that can grow a league’s overall revenues or fan base.  The vast majority of athletes only temporarily capture some share of the overall brand equity of the teams and leagues with which they are involved.

This is particularly true in the case of college sports.  With a few exceptions, student athletes are relatively unknown prior to joining college football and basketball teams.  When a player puts on a college jersey, they immediately acquire a devoted fan base.  To take an obvious example, a Notre Dame Football player such as Manti Te’o (neglecting the strangeness that became public at the end of his college career) was the focus of a great deal of attention during his senior year.  Manti could have made money by endorsing products or licensing his image during his time at Notre Dame (again, lets clarify that we mean before December 2012).  However, Manti’s fame and marketability was, undoubtedly, largely a function of his playing at Notre Dame.  An argument could be made that Manti had minimal impact on the revenues of the Notre Dame Football program.  Notre Dame has a long and storied history, and already possessed a devoted fan base along with a lucrative television contract.  Notre Dame has a record of consecutive sellouts dating back to the late 1960s.

Tim Tebow is another, and more extreme, example of a high profile college player that could easily have made significant dollars while at Florida.  And again we could argue whether Tebow’s presence on the Gators actually increased Florida’s revenues.  This table shows that Florida’s home attendance increased slightly during the time that Tebow was on campus.  A comparison between 2009 and 2011 shows that attendance dropped by about 1,500 people or 1.7% per game.  At a ticket price of $25 multiplied by 7 home games, this would equate to an incremental $250,000 in revenue.  Of course, it is not entirely clear what these numbers mean, as Florida reported attendance that exceeded stadium capacity in every year (capacity = 88,548).  Also, we are not considering incremental merchandise sales.  Furthermore, given Tebow’s lack of success in the NFL, and his continuing marketability, a claim could be made that Tebow’s brand equity was entirely built at Florida.  Given that Tebow had little effect on Florida’s football revenues, it could be argued that Florida provided an opportunity for Tebow to build his brand while only slightly benefitting them.  Could Tebow have had similar success at another university?  Of course, this is an incomplete example, as Florida may have benefited from increased donations from alumni or seen an increase in applications from prospective students.

Another easy objection to the preceding argument is that it is based on marginal revenues generated by Tebow’s presence.  The distinction between marginal revenues and total revenues is important if one is truly concerned with fairness.  College athletic programs have significant and valuable brand equity.  This brand equity is maintained by current players.  If a team stopped fielding competitive teams, its brand equity would diminish over time.  In a perfectly fair world, players would enjoy rewards equal in value of how well they maintain and grow the school’s brand.  This would, however, be a difficult quantity to measure, as college teams’ brand equities have been built through extensive histories.  In the case of UCLA basketball, I think most would agree that the Bruin brand was primarily built by John Wooden, Kareem Abdul Jabber, Bill Walton and others.  If this is the case, then players like O’Bannon are merely temporary caretakers of the school’s brand.  Would Mr. O’Bannon have been on the cover of the EA sports game if he could not have been pictured wearing a UCLA jersey?

From this perspective, allowing current individual players to market themselves to the highest bidder could be viewed as unfair to past athletes.  If college athletes were suddenly allowed to pursue endorsement deals, I would expect that current high school players like Andrew Wiggins could become instantly wealthy (the fairness of Wiggins not being allowed to go directly to the pros is beyond the scope of this post).  And while many might view this as a fair outcome, I would have to ask the question as to how valuable the Wiggins’ brand would be in the absence of Kansas, the Big Twelve and the NCAA Tournament.  Consider for a moment that the MLB draft takes place in early June.  How well known are the players that are likely to be taken in the first few picks?  Would not a more equitable solution involve compensating past athletes that helped create the pre-existing fan interest that the next generation of athletes would be able to exploit?

Sports and anti-trust laws have a long history, and likely will generate controversy long into the future.  While competition between firms is typically the best way to improve consumer welfare, in the case of sports, sometimes pure competition may not be feasible.  All the major professional leagues now use some form of revenue sharing or salary caps to maintain some level of competitive balance.  As sports continue to morph into an entertainment product (remember the O’Bannon case began with a video game), it will be necessary to include greater consideration of the role of marketing assets such as a player’s brand equity and a college team’s fan equity to moderate future disputes.

Next in the Series: Part 3 – Valuing Exceptional College Athletic Performances

2011-2013 NFL Draft Performance by the Non-BCS Conferences FBS: Nevada, Boise State, and Idaho Excel, Notre Dame Disappoints

We have spent the last few days examining the performance of BCS Conferences schools in the 2013 NFL Draft with respect to converting high school talent into NFL draft picks (SEC, Big 10, ACC, PAC 12, Big 12, & Big East).   In this study, we consider the talent conversion ability of Non-BCS Conferences schools over the last three NFL drafts.  We find that the University of Nevada did the best job of converting high school talent into draft picks.  It should be noted that Notre Dame finished near the bottom of the list of Non-BCS schools.  While the Fighting Irish produced only one more pick than Boise State and two more than Nevada, their recruiting classes were better by leaps and bounds.

The FCS schools are excluded from this study because there is very limited recruiting data available.  However, Appalachian State produced six draft picks in the 2011-2013 NFL drafts!  It is not surprising that Appalachian State is moving to the FBS.

(*ARP refers to the average recruiting points as given by Rivals.com for recruiting classes represented in the 2011-2013 NFL Drafts)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Lewis & Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013.