An analysis of Major League Baseball fans conducted by two marketing professors at Emory University, Michael Lewis and Manish Tripathi, concluded that fans of the Philadelphia Phillies are the most demanding in the study’s “win sensitivity” list. The fan base least likely to forget about its team during the dark times: The New York Yankees.
“If we look at the sensitivity of the demand to winning for Philadelphia or the New York Yankees, they are not even close,” explains Dr. Lewis. “Yankee fans basically show up regardless; Phillies fans have the greatest sensitivity in the league towards winning rates.”
In other words, Phillies have a bunch of bandwagon fans.
The “loyal and passionate fans” of the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox were also the least sensitive to their team’s won-loss record. The Washington Nationals, on the other hand, were mid-pack at 16, indicating that fans are less focused on wins and losses and perhaps more focused on their bearded bobbleheads.
The Emory Sports Marketing Analytics team also looked at price sensitivity, studying the relationship between average ticket prices and attendance. Fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks seem to be the most price sensitive, followed by fans of the Cleveland Indians and the Baltimore Orioles. Milwaukee Brewers fans were least worried about ticket prices, according to the study.
“We are looking at attendance as a function of win-loss record and pricing,” explains Lewis. “We got 15 years of data and were looking at individual team response to those two variables. So interaction between team-level [dummy variables] and win percentage or average ticket price. The rest of the model includes thing like income level of the city and population — just about everything we can throw into this.”
Nats fans were in the top 10 of price sensitivity at No. 8, showing that there could be a price point where fans are willing to forgo their #Natitude.
The study also looked at fan sentiment, using factor and cluster analysis on Twitter over the past two seasons.
“All these social media companies have some kind of algorithm where they look for certain words to try and understand if the words are positive, negative or neutral,” Lewis said. “Based on those they create an index from 0 to 100, with 100 being most positive/happy and zero being the most negative, so we are using that analysis for all the tweets over a two-year period. We use [Topsy's] algorithm to look at fan sentiment — or fan happiness — over time. This one gets into geeky marketing research, but we take that sentiment score and based on how it moves around or the distribution of it over time and tag a personalty on it.”
“Atlanta’s average sentiment was 85, Boston 56 and Washington 70,” Tripathi explained. “So Atlanta tends to be more happy than Washington, and Boston tends to be a more miserable fan base.”
“Atlanta tends to vary downward. Boston varies upward.” Lewis said. “Washington tends to vary downward, and that’s where we got the ‘miserable marriage’ — they are a little bit on the unhappy side, fairly stable but tend to go towards depression when things happen rather than moving upward. Boston tends to be unhappy, with a lot of volatility.”
— Sports Mkt Analytics (@sportsmktprof) June 12, 2014
Some Nats fans I spoke with corroborate the study’s findings.
“I became a Nats fan the day the team arrived in D.C.,” Jimmie Bise, Jr told me via e-mail. “Aside from the amazing (and perhaps miraculous) 2012 season, the Washington Nationals have given me moments of joy among long stretches of frustration, despair, and exasperation.”
Kate Kirkpatrick takes a different view. “I would say I get a lot of joy from the Nats … as well as annoyance, right? Ultimately, isn’t the real definition of fandom that your own emotions rise and fall with the team’s successes and failures? I’m a season ticket holder from day one, so I’ve suffered the humiliation of those first six seasons, tasted the elation of Strasburg’s unbelievable debut and the horrible deflating bitterness of Game 5. That said, my daily mood does not live and breathe by the Nats.”
Joy. Despair. Bitterness. Sounds about right for any fan base. The bright side? Misery loves company.
“The Nationals are one of the teams that have really grown in terms of fan equity, which makes sense since they are one of the newer teams,” Tripathi said. “Fans are becoming more and more loyal over time.”