Major League Soccer (MLS) Social Media Equity Rankings: Sporting Kansas City & Seattle Sounders FC on Top

MLS Social Media Equity RankingsFan base evaluation has always been a topic of interest for sports researchers.  The world of social media provides an opportunity to look at fan base support/loyalty without worrying about capacity constraints, pricing, or revenue data issues.  To calculate MLS teams’ “social media equity” we collected social media engagement metrics (Twitter mentions of the club, both with and without hashtags).  We then created a statistical model that predicts these measures of social media engagement as a function of factors such as market size, official club tweeting activity, team payroll, and team performance for this past season.  We then compared each team’s actual social media engagement against the model predictions.

To examine the social media equity of MLS teams, we collected tweets for each team from 2009 to 2013 and built a statistical model.  The logic behind this model is that social media engagement from fans is driven by a bunch of factors like team performance, city demographics, etc.  Unlike other factors, social media equity is not directly measurable.  So we can attribute the contribution from social media equity to model residuals after controlling for measureable factors like team performance.

Social Media Engagement MLSWe first used data from 2009 to 2012 to calibrate the model, i.e. to estimate the coefficients for the explanatory variables, and then we used these estimates to calculate expected social media engagement using data for explanatory variables in 2013. The difference between our prediction and the true engagement we observed is the social media equity for each team.

Across the various specifications of the model, average attendance was significant.  This means home game attendance is crucial for engaging fans online.  This was also true for championships won by the club.  Social media equity rankings from the models are quite consistent.  Here, we present the ranking from the model whose dependent variable is the sum of all types of mentions on Twitter regarding the club.  It is not surprising to see Sporting Kansas City & Seattle Sounders FC at the top the chart.  Sporting Kansas City has been very strong in recent years, and won the championship in 2013.  Seattle Sounders FC has the highest average attendance among all MLS teams, which is evidence for the enthusiasm of fans.

Zhe Han, PhD Student

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.

Ranking American Sports Cities: The Top “One Team” Markets – Candidates for Expansion Teams?

Over the last 9 months we have looked at fan support across the 4 major US professional sports leagues using a variety of financial and social media metrics.  The thing that sets our  evaluations of fan support apart is that we focus on observable, objective measures of support AND we control for factors related to market size and team quality.  Our measures are therefore not biased towards large cities and we adjust for the bandwagon nature of fans in markets with teams that are currently winning.

To end the year, we are putting all of these rankings together in order to create a ranking of cities.  For this list we combine our revenue premium based fan equity measure with our social media measure.  To combine these we assume that a social media follower or like is worth $1.  Today we begin our list of the best and worst one team sport towns (cities that have a professional team in only one of the four major sports).  The set of single team sports towns includes Columbus, Jacksonville, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City and San Antonio.

#1 Portland

The number one small market (only one professional team) sports city is Portland.  Portland provides exceptional support to the Trail Blazers.  In terms of the fan equity measure the Trail Blazers ranked 4th in the NBA and the social media ranking was 11th.

According to the US Census, the Portland metropolitan area is the 24th largest with a population of almost 2.3 million.  But despite this mid-level population base the Trail Blazers had the 4th highest attendance in the NBA last season and the second highest in 2012.  Notably, this support occurred despite the team missing the playoffs in each season.  The attendance also was NOT generated by deep discounts as the Trail Blazers price at just below the league average.

Our analysis suggests that the Portland market has a great deal of potential.  The population base is decent, median income is above average and the fans seem to be extremely supportive.  We know that there has been some interest in trying to attract an MLB team to Portland.  With the number of struggling franchises across all the major leagues, it is somewhat surprising to us that Portland isn’t mentioned more frequently.

#2 Sacramento

The Sacramento market’s 2nd place ranking was a bit of a surprise.  Sacramento just doesn’t ever seem to be top of mind when we think about sports cities.  The most recent time Sacramento has really been in the news was during the controversy surrounding the proposed sale of the team to a Seattle based group.

The Kings have struggled in recent years.  The last two years’ annual attendance rankings have been 30th and 27th.  But we need to consider that these attendance numbers have occurred in seasons when the team has played well below .500 basketball.  If we go back a few years to when the Kings were winning, the team was able to generate consistent sell-outs.  When we run our analysis over a ten year period the Kings end up with a fan equity ranking of 6thWhat this means is that Sacramento fans are well above average in terms of supporting their team.  If the Kings are reasonably successful then our data suggests that the fans will turn out.

The Sacramento market has a population of more than 2 million and a respectable median income of more than $46,000.  These demographics are favorable to many small markets so it is a bit surprising that Sacramento has been in danger of becoming a “zero” team market.

#3 Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is our number three “one sport” city.  Salt Lake City is a small market with a population of just 1.1 million but the metro area’s median income is a solid $48K (ranking 21st).

The Jazz rank 11th in our NBA fan equity ranking and 19th in the social media ranking.  These rankings are not surprising.  The Jazz has been a very successful franchise with notable players such as John Stockton and Karl Malone.  But recent seasons may not be meeting fan expectations causing the relatively poor social media results.

Based on the metro area population we don’t know that the city could support multiple pro franchises but Salt Lake City is a tremendous “one sport” city.

#4 San Antonio

Now we are getting into the “good” one team cities, but my guess is that folks in San Antonio will be upset by a 4th place finish.  This is the beauty (or enraging) part of our rankings.  When we assess revenue or social media we explicitly control for team performance.  This is important because it is obviously easier and more enjoyable to be a fan of a team that is winning.  It is also likely that fans are willing to pay more for a winning team.  The goal of our rankings is to get at the underlying passion and support of each city’s fans.

The Spurs ranked 10th in our NBA fan equity measure and only 24th in social media.  This is a very solid showing on the fan equity metric.  In terms of social media, San Antonio is an under performer. Based on the San Antonio market’s demographics and the Spurs on-court success our model suggests that the Spurs should have an additional 1.7 million Facebook Likes and Twitter followers.  In other words, in comparison to other NBA teams’ social media communities the Spurs fall short of what is expected for a market with San Antonio’s population and the Spurs’ winning rate.

#5 Orlando

The number 5 city on the list is Orlando.  While many observers might question the intensity of the Magic fans, the numbers tell an interesting  story.  For example, last season the Magic won only 24% of their games.  However, despite this futility, the team reported a 93.4% attendance rate.

Orlando also has a relatively rich history for a newer team. In addition to two conference titles, the team has featured notable players such as Shaquille O’Neal, Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard.

Within the NBA, the Magic rank 17th in terms of fan equity and 21st in social media equity.  As we noted below, Florida teams tend to struggle in our rankings.  Demographically Orlando is a decent market with a population of over 2.2 million.  However, while the Magic doesn’t compete with other pro teams, the Magic does face tough competition. In the case of Orlando, pro sports compete with the weather, golf and the mouse.

#6 Oklahoma City

Oklahoma at number 6 may be a bit of a surprise. The Thunder has enjoyed recent success, Kevin Durant is a marquee player and over the past few years the team has usually played  before a packed arena.  But the sellouts have only been achieved as the team has become a winner.

Our analysis explicitly controls for bandwagon fans.  After controlling for winning percentage and market characteristics we find that the Thunder ranks 19th in terms of revenue based fan equity and 15th in social media equity.

From a marketing perspective, the Oklahoma City NBA franchise made an interesting decision to drop ties to the team’s previous incarnation.  Typically, the belief is that the previous brand contains some value.  By keeping names like the Jazz or Colts some connection to historical achievements is often retained. We should note that we don’t know why the Sonics name was dropped – perhaps this was negotiated with the city of Seattle.

On the plus side, our analyses also confirm that the key to building fan equity is a tradition of winning.  The Thunder has not gotten over the hump but they have made strides.  We also suspect that the social media results are a leading indicator for fan equity.   

#7 Columbus

Columbus finishes #7 on the list of one team towns.  Columbus is the 32nd largest metropolitan area by population and the 57th ranked based on median income.  In terms of our rankings the Blue Jackets ranked 23rd in the NHL based on revenue premium based fan equity and 29th for social media equity.

The Blue Jackets were founded in 2000 and they therefore lack the multi-generation history of other franchises.  The team has also struggled on the ice as it took 9 years for the team to reach the NHL playoffs.  As such it’s not surprising that Blue Jackets are below average in terms of fan support.  Of course, the real issue with the Columbus market is that it is dominated by Ohio State sports.

#8 Jacksonville

The state of Florida is an interesting situation for professional leagues.  The state population has boomed and college sports have great following.  However, almost all professional franchises have struggled and many believe that the pro leagues have created too many Florida teams.  In terms of key demographics, Jacksonville ranks 82 in median income and 40th in population.  This is a bad combination of population and income given that the average ticket price in the NFL exceeds $80.

Within the NFL, the Jaguars ranked 27th in terms of revenue premium based fan equity but the team did score a much healthier ranking of 17th for our social media measure. It’s not surprising that Jacksonville ranks low as a market given these marginal demographics, a lack of franchise history and stiff competition from college teams. 

On the plus side, Tebow is still available.

#9 Memphis

In last place on our list we have the city of Memphis.  The Grizzlies are the only pro game in town.  Within our NBA rankings the Grizzlies were ranked 25th in terms of revenue premium based brand equity and 20th in terms of social media equity.  Of the nine onesport markets, Memphis was ranked last in terms of revenue premium equity and 7th for social media equity.

Memphis as a market has some natural disadvantages for teams in terms of population base (ranked number #41) and income levels (ranked number 104).  But even after controlling for these factors Memphis fans support levels are well below the levels provided by other cities.  For example, the Grizzlies average ticket price of $29.49 is far less than the league average of $50.99).  Even at these low levels attendance has been poor.  Despite winning 56% of games in the 2010-2011 season, the Grizzlies only sold 74.4% of their available seats (ESPN.com).  It was only last year when the Grizzlies broke the 90% capacity utilization rate and the team needed to win 68% of its game to do that well.  In comparison, Orlando sold about 94% of seats with a winning percentage of 24%.  In terms of social media, the Grizzlies have just over 407,000 Facebook Likes compared to Portland with 550,000 and Oklahoma City with about 2.3 million.  For reference the Lakers have 17 million Facebook Likes.

But while Memphis ranks last on our list, there are a few positive indicators.  Last year was the team’s most successful season and ESPN has ranked the Grizzlies organization as the top professional franchise.  It is also true that the Grizzlies have only been in Memphis since 2001.

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.

Red Wings & Bruins Top NHL Social Media Equity Rankings

Last week, we published our ranking of NHL Team Fan Equity.  We have coined the term “Fan Equity” as a sports specific version of customer equity.  This metric is driven by “economic” measures of loyalty.  But, we do realize that a fan base also includes factors such as passion and engagement that may be (to some extent) overlooked in an economically driven ranking.

As a second look at fan base quality in the NHL, we use an approach that removes factors such as non-revenue maximizing pricing policies and capacity constraints that limit our ability to measure the customer equity of a hockey team.  The ranking we present today is based on what we call “Social Media Equity”.  The ranking is developed as follows:  First we collect information on each team’s social media presence such as the number of Twitter followers and Facebook likes.  We then develop a statistical model that quantifies the relationship between these social media metrics and measures of performance such as the team’s winning percentage for the last three years, and market factors including median income and metro area population.  We also include each team’s number of tweets in the model.  We then look at the difference between predicted social media followers and actual social media followers.  This delta between predicted and actual followers is reflective of Social Media Equity.

This social media based rankings has both pluses and minuses.  On the plus side, fan interest is not constraint by either high prices or stadium capacity.  On the negative side, while liking a team on Facebook or following them on Twitter shows fan interest, we can’t economically quantify this interest (these teams are businesses after all).

The number one team in our social media ranking is the Detroit Red Wings.  This is not a surprise, as the common wisdom is that the Red Wings are the number one team in Detroit (at least according to Professor Lewis’ sister in law).  The Red Wings have great social media presence on both Facebook and Twitter.  In positions 2 through 5 we have the Bruins, Devils, Flyers and Avalanche.  These are all big time fan bases with the exception of the Avalanche (actually we are not sure about the Devils but there was an episode of Seinfeld involving face painters so we assume Devils’ fans are indeed very passionate).

The Avalanche is where the story gets interesting.  While the Avalanche rank only 21st in the league in Twitter followers and 12th in terms of Facebook likes, they have achieved these results in a relatively small market, while often struggling on the ice (16-25 last year).  Our model suggests that Denver is potentially a strong hockey market.

The Social Media Equity results are a bit different than the economically driven results of last week.  Notably, the Canadian teams drop quite a bit.  In the social media rankings, Montreal finishes 6th, Vancouver 8th and Toronto 10th.    We can only speculate as to why the results differ.  Perhaps the previous results overrate the fan bases of the Canadian teams because Canadians are too nice to balk at high prices.

At the bottom of our list we have Tampa Bay in 5th from the bottom, Ottawa in 4th, the Kings in 3rd, Columbus in 2nd and Anaheim in last place.  Later in the year we will combine our various rankings to come up with a list of the best and worst sports cities.  We expect that Tampa Bay will be a front runner for one of those lists.  Ottawa performed similarly poorly in the economics based list so the verdict is in, Ottawa is the worst hockey city in Canada.  LA has a decent social media presence, but when we adjust for team performance and market size the results are not pretty.  Finally, perhaps Columbus should call themselves the “Buckeyes” rather than Blue Jackets.

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: The NBA

A challenge in evaluating fan bases in professional and college sports is how to adjust for capacity constraints.  Unlike most consumer categories, teams have a limited number of seats to sell.  One way to get around this issue is to look at team revenues.  But this approach also has some strong implicit assumptions in that we must assume that teams are trying to price in a manner that maximizes revenue.

The world of social media provides an opportunity to look at fan base support without worrying about capacity or pricing issues.  To look at NBA teams “social media equity” we collected follows and likes from Twitter and Facebook.  We then created a statistical model that predicts these measures of social media engagement as a function of market size, tweeting activity and team performance for this past season and for the season before that.  We then compared each team’s actual follows and likes against the model predictions.  This method attempts to control for short term fluctuations in winning percentage and market differences.

The top team in terms of social media equity is the LA Lakers.  The Lakers crush the competition both in terms of raw numbers and in our model.  In second place, we have the Miami Heat.  This one is interesting, and we suspect that the Heat results may be a bit misleading.  While the Heat does very well currently it is not possible to separate out how much of the social media equity is driven by the team versus by LeBron.  This is something to watch as we collect more social media data over the next few years.  In third place, we have another non-surprising result in the Celtics.

It is the next three teams that are surprising as Golden State ranks 5th, New Orleans ranks 6th, and Charlotte ranks 4th.  The case of Charlotte illustrates the value of our model based approach.  In absolute terms, Charlotte performs relatively poorly in terms of social media metrics.  However, when we adjust for team performance and market size, the team does fairly well.  This indicates that the Charlotte market has fairly resilient fans, and likely speaks to the potential of the market if a consistent winning team is developed.

At the bottom of the list, the most surprising result is the New York Knicks’ 27th place finish.  This is doubly interesting because when we ranked fan bases in terms of “economic” support, the Knicks were number one.  What these two results imply is that the Knicks’ fan base is economically valuable but not engaged (at least in terms of social media).  The Knicks play in the largest market but have only about 20% of the social media activity of the Lakers.

There were a couple of other interesting findings from this study.  First, the number of Twitter followers was uncorrelated with the number of times a team tweeted.  This suggests that fans follow based purely on their feelings for the teams, rather than the entertainment of following an interesting Tweeter.  We also found a very high correlation between the two social media platforms as the social media equity estimates across the two platforms exceeded 0.91. However, when we looked at the correlation between the social media equity and the economics based fan equity the correlation was just 0.3.  We will leave this disconnect between social media and revenues for a future post.

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.