Are your fans die-hard or just plain dead?

crazy-red-sox-fanToday’s guest post is by Peppercommer Paul Merchan- renowned for being a superb publicist, writer and client manager. He’s also a world-class rapper and a devout Yankees and Giants fan. But, he’s no fan of a new Emory University survey about fan loyalty. Check it out:

Sports news website Fansided recently posted about a study conducted by students from Emory University to determine the most loyal fans in the NFL by team/city. My first thought was that this is a remarkably subjective task and someone is bound to disagree with their findings. My second thought was that this kind of measure can reflect either positively or negatively on the city where the team plays – a passionate fan base reflects a thriving city, a tepid fan base gives off the perception of being a boring city. Now I’m a Giants fan, and was relatively pleased to see that the Giants fan base was ranked in the top five. But I was astounded that our stadium rivals, the New York Jets, were ranked third, two full spots ahead of us! I have grounds for an argument here, but first here are the variables that this group of sports marketing analytics majors developed into a formula to come up with their results:
•    Team box office revenues
•    Team on-field success
•    Market population
•    Stadium capacity
•    Median income

The assessment seeks to understand the brand equity of sports franchises to their markets using empirical data. So no anecdotal evidence is taken into consideration, thereby eliminating biases.

Now here’s my rebuttal:

They started with a theory that “team revenue is based on the loyalty of fans.” I strong disagree with that. The premise is that if you’re a fan, you’re attending the games in person, and with more persons attending, the higher the revenue for the team. Growing up in Brooklyn as a Giants fan, it was sometimes difficult, both from a travelling and economic perspective to make it to a game. Does that make me less of a loyal fan? Mind you that as a kid, Giants season tickets had a quarter-century waiting list, and today you can only buy season tickets if you first buy a Personal Seat License, all of which are sold out for life.

It’s also quite a coincidence that on the NFL list, the most successful on-field teams are at the top (the Jets being the glaring exception), while most of the teams that stink are at the bottom. Now, the Emory folks tried to control for that. They developed a predicted revenue value that takes into account how good/bad the team is versus how much money they make, and then compare that to the actual revenue. If there’s a large difference, that’s where they determined fan loyalty came into play. But the results still lead one to assume that the “better” teams have the most loyal fans. This certainly can’t be true.

I think the focus of the study was too centered on box office revenue. What about fans that have never been to an NFL game, such as myself, who are loyal to a team, watch their games consistently, wear their apparel, etc.? TV/radio ratings and website traffic should also be taken into account.

In their NBA analysis earlier this year, the Emory students figured the New York Knicks had the most loyal fan base, while the crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets had the least loyal fan base. The fact that they based this on attendance figures, when the Nets’ home arena has a smaller seating capacity, makes it a flawed assessment. And how about all of the revenue generated from merchandise and apparel sales after the rebranding of the team when they moved to Brooklyn? Every other person I see walking in the borough is rocking Nets gear now, including me. But not everyone has been to a game.

In their MLB analysis, they rank the Houston Astros far ahead of the Detroit Tigers, based on the fact that the Astros charge 12 percent more for their tickets. Can’t the Tigers have more loyal fans even though they pay less at the box office? Is it their fault that the prices are lower? Compounding the issue is that the Los Angeles Dodgers were ranked first on the MLB list. I know, this is supposed to be a scientific study, and anecdotal evidence is not taken into consideration. But I’ve attended baseball games at Dodger Stadium and if those fans are loyal, it’s kind of hard to hear their loyalty on a summer night; I heard no applause on a two-strike count in the first inning with the opposing team up, which baseball fans know is a staple of crowd participation.

The baseball assessment is particularly egregious because they ranked the Kansas City Royals in the bottom five. However, the Royals have by far the highest ratings jump from last year, with 64 percent more local fans tuning in, even though the team hasn’t made the playoffs since Reagan was president. Is that not loyalty?

So what does this mean for how we feel about certain cities? Detroit just filed for bankruptcy, and now their NFL and MLB teams are ranked 28 and 29 respectively in terms of loyalty. Upon first glance, doesn’t say much about the town, does it? Yet, the Tigers have enjoyed consistent fan support for most of the decade, while the Lions, despite their tough recent history, still packed Ford Field to the tune of 98 percent of capacity a couple of years ago. So I would say this reflects pretty well on the people of Motown, and kind of makes me want to go there to catch a game. On the opposite spectrum, you have a franchise like the Oakland Raiders, with just a tarnished fan reputation due to fights, assaults and their black/silver colors being banned from certain schools. Having their team ranked dead last is just like kicking a man while he’s down. Yet, with their L.A. roots, the Raiders probably enjoy a larger and more loyal regional fan base than we might think.

Overall, if the only color to measure team loyalty is “green,” then we all suffer from a bad reputation.

5 thoughts on “Are your fans die-hard or just plain dead?

  1. Paul, great blog. As a die hard Jets fan, you have to imagine I’ll take any win I can, and third place out of 32 sounds like a win, but this study by Emory University holds no weight when it comes to determining who has the best fans. I am able to attend 2-3 Jets home games a year and do not own a PSL. In Emory University’s report, they said, the “Jets…draw consistently well, regardless of the on-field product.” That’s because the PSL owners will sell their season tickets to the visiting team’s fans on the NFL ticket exchange website. Also, how about Fireman Ed, the unofficial leader of the Jets fan base and the one who would start the J-E-T-S! chant every game? He gave up on the team, threw in the towel, or should I say Sanchez jersey, at the end of last season! If the fans can bring back the chant, without him, that’s the type of data that Emory University should consider in addition to profitability and revenue.

    • I see your point, Adam. So really there’s no way to quantify fan loyalty based on attendance, because the people who go to the games may be rooting for the other team, anyway. Same thing happens when the Yankees go down to Tampa – the building is packed, but not with Rays fans…

  2. Great post, Paul. Coming from a family of Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears fans, I can vouch for the fact that low scores on the variables in the Emory study do not tell the whole story when it comes to fan loyalty. Goes to show how important a well balanced analysis is regarding sports and many other things people spend their time and money on!

  3. Andrew, totally on board with your argument for a well-balanced analysis. Your Cubs and Bears are ranked in the top 10, but I’d probably but Cubs fans first just for your 100 year long suffering through no World Series wins. And the Bears haven’t won a Super Bowl since the Reagan administration, either, so you guys have a good case for being more loyal than us Giants fans.

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