New Scientific Study Ranks All 32 NFL Fan Bases From Best To Worst

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If there’s one constant debate other than which NFL team is the best, it’s which NFL fanbase has the best fans.

It’s become somewhat of a tradition each summer for Dr. Mike Lewis of Emory’s Goizueta School of Business to end this debate on annual terms. This summer is no different.

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Lewis’ study to find out the ranking of NFL fanbases measures teams’ brand equity—broadly defined, the level of support each team enjoys in the form of dollars spent, miles traveled, and social media assaulted by its fan base. You can dig into the methodology here, but in basic terms, if a team’s fans spend more money than expected on a team, that team ranks ever higher.

Dr. Mike Lewis –

The basic approach (more details here) is to use data to develop statistical models of fan interest. These models are used to determine which cities fans are more willing to spend or follow their teams after controlling for factors like market size and short-term variations in performance. In past years, two measures of engagement have been featured: Fan Equity and Social Media Equity. Fan Equity focuses on home box office revenues (support via opening the wallet) and Social Media Equity focuses on fan willingness to engage as part of a team’s community (support exhibited by joining social media communities).

This year I have come up with a new method that combines these two measures: Dynamic Fan Equity (DFE). The DFE measure leverages the best features of the two measures. Fan Equity is based on the most important consumer trait – willingness to spend. Social Equity captures fan support that occurs beyond the walls of the stadium and skews towards a younger demographic. The key insight that allows for the two measures to be combined is that there is a significant relationship between the Social Media Equity trend and the Fan Equity measure. Social media performance turns out to be a strong leading indicator for financial performance.

Dynamic Fan Equity is calculated using current fan equity and the trend in fan equity from the team’s social media performance. I will spare the technical details on the blog but I’m happy to go into depth if there is interest. On the data side we are working with 15 years of attendance data and 4 years of social data.

Here is the official 2016 list resulting from Lewis’ findings:

(Click image to enlarge)

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The Winners

We have a new number one on the list – the New England Patriots. Followed by the Cowboys, Broncos, 49ers and Eagles. The Patriots victory is driven by fans willingness to pay premium prices, strong attendance and phenomenal social media following. The final competition between the Cowboys and the Patriots was actually determined by the long-term value of the Patriots greater social following. The Patriots have about 2.4 million Twitter followers compared to 1.7 for the Cowboys. Of course this is all relative a team like the Jaguars has just 340 thousand followers.

The Eagles are the big surprise on the list. The Eagles are also a good example of how the analysis works. Most fan rankings are based on subjective judgments and lack controls for short-term winning rates. This latter point is a critical shortcoming. It’s easy to be supportive of a winning team. While Eagles fans might not be happy they are supportive in the face of mediocrity. Last year the Eagles struggled on the field but fans still paid premium prices and filled the stadium. We’ll come back to the Eagles in more detail in a moment.

The Strugglers

At the bottom we have the Bills, Rams, Chiefs, Raiders and Jaguars. This is a similar list to last year. The Jags, for example, only filled 91% of capacity (ranked 27th) despite an average ticket price of just $57. The Chiefs struggle because the fan support doesn’t match the team’s performance. The Chiefs capacity utilization rate ranks 17th in the league despite a winning record and low ticket prices. The Raiders fans again finish low in our rankings. And every year the response is a great deal of anger and often threats.

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22 COMMENTS

  1. Since your model accounts for “willingness to spend” but ignores “ability to spend”, your model is deliberately biased in favor of markets that are in wealthier areas of the country. Try running a comparison that factors in the amount spent compared to the average income in the market and you will get a much less biased result against teams in poorer cities.

    • Approximately half of the top 10 teams reside in areas which are not affulent, meaning, the fanbases are more than likely legit. Sooooo, any other thoughts???

      • So you’re saying because half of the top ten are more than likely legit fan bases. The other half should be scrutinized, and that makes it ok to NOT redo the list like lordcalvert said? If I turned in something at work that was half correct, I’d get fired.

      • What you are saying is that Buffalo, Cleveland and Oakland have the same buying power as Boston, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, Philliadalphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Charlotte and New York City? Just look at the populations of the cities on this list and youll see the largest population and wealthiest cities on top and the lower population and poorer cities on bottom. When your list has such an obvious bias how can you still support it? Buffalo fans are packed in 100 deep at bars in every city in this country after 17 years of losing ( I know because I live in Baltimore and we have a line out the door at 2 different bars in a 15 mile radius on sundays). Are setting attendance records at their sold out stadium after 17 years of losing. This is a team that apparently has bad fans? You want bad fans? Look at dallas and Philly fans tearing each other apart after 1 or 2 losing seasons. Cry us a f**king river and talk to us in a decade.

        • Without seeing exactly how he calculates “capacity utilization” other than it being a percentage, I have to believe there’s another mathematical issue at play, here. Larger stadiums in smaller markets are automatically going to have a harder time ranking high on his list than do smaller stadiums in larger markets. So stadium size is not a trivial independent variable here.

          Regardless, market size (or market population density) and market affluence are definitely variables that need to be controlled when talking about ticket sales. Then there’s also marketing and competition.

          That this list is basically, sans an outlier or two, a ranking of market size, of media coverage (another variable), and of recent winning percentage indicates some signficant statistical bias.

      • So you’re saying Kansas City Chiefs doesn’t have a legit fan base? The chargers doesn’t know where they’re playing next yr but they’re rated 15 spots higher then the NFL loudest crowd. This is a bogus ass article. I quote ” the Chiefs struggle because the fan support doesn’t match the team’s performance “. In order the be the lo

    • FWIW, I actually think the model does a decent job of connecting a team’s fan base to its on-field success (IOW, which fan bases are most able to force their owners to win games for them). However, the easiest way of measuring overall fan support is to look at what happens to the team’s attendance when they lose. Is the team still able to fill half the stadium on a given night? Can the team turn a profit? Social media is a dangerous means of measuring support, though, b/c Lewis doesn’t appear to control for market size.

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  2. My one gripe with the map would be that “Broncos” is placed on the map in Wyoming and not in Colorado. Every other team seems to have placed the name of the team in a relatively good place in relation to the location of the team.

  3. What are the formulas behind this? I am not offended or anything, but I just am interested in knowing how this is all calculated.

    • They explained it a little.

      “(…)The Patriots victory is driven by fans willingness to pay premium prices, strong attendance and phenomenal social media following. The final competition between the Cowboys and the Patriots was actually determined by the long-term value of the Patriots greater social following. The Patriots have about 2.4 million Twitter followers compared to 1.7 for the Cowboys. Of course this is all relative a team like the Jaguars has just 340 thousand followers.(…)”

      • Since “buying” Twitter followers is a thing for which he didn’t account, his entire study would be thrown out at first glance by any peer reviewed journal.

        • I’m gonna assume that he probably mainly based it on buying premium stuff and merchandise.
          Also, I don’t think NFL teams buy Twitter followers, that’s something politicians and celebrities do. There is no point for teams to do that.

          And it makes sense. The Patriots have been one of the best teams every year (and the best team overall) in the NFL for a decade and a half, obviously they have a very enthusiastic fanbase. Also, Boston is stuffed with money.

      • Tie breakers are social media based is all I got out of that. How did each team get to the top? Due to fans being able to spend more money or? It’d be nice to see the math behind it. The criterion seems to only relate to spending. I also have a hard time believing a team like the Steelers is 18th ranked… this list doesn’t seem to make much sense.

        • True, considering the Steelers’ success, I’m gonna assume their merchandise is very popular, so that can’t be it. Gotta be honest though, this study is not important enough to me to look into^^

  4. It should also take into account decades of suffering. It’s easy to buy Patriots shit when they do nothing but win, but try being a Lions fans. How many Barry Sanders jerseys can one man be expected to buy. The fact that this team, which has one only one playoff game since the merger, and never appeared in a Super Bowl, and still sells out every week should count for something. Ravens fans were rewarded with a SB right away, wasn’t too hard to get on that bandwagon. Try growing up in Detroit or Cleveland where all you hear as a kid is how much your team sucks. It plays a role.

  5. More Steeler than Charger fans in SD last year, but SD has better fans. Has the author of this study been drug tested?

  6. You sir are lost! I’ve been to almost every NFL stadium and I’m pretty critical Of other stadiums when it comes to stadium decor, ambiance, home teams fans, and overall experience. I could give a better argument for each team then this schmuck. To have the Cowboys, patriots, Saints, and panthers In his top 10 shows he’s never been to any of these stadiums or dealt with their fans. Just for a quick example, patriot fans are quiet and I noticed a lot of white collar, cowboy fans have problems filling the seats (still selling out but not filling the seats) and they pump noise into the speakers on Defense, Saints fans seemed to be there more for the “mardi gras” party than the game that was being played, and panthers fans show up when their team is good… The top of your list should me more like:
    packers
    steelers
    Chiefs
    bills
    Vikings
    Broncos
    Seahawks
    Ravens
    bears
    eagles

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