By Barry Janoff
(Originally Published in MediaPost)
March 31, 2017: The Chicago Cubs waited 108 years between World Series championships.
MLB had to wait ten years to again be ranked No. 1 among the four major U.S. sports in the Brand Keys Sports Fan Loyalty Index.
According to the 25th annual survey conducted by Brand Keys, MLB has been rated No. 1 in fan loyalty for the first time in a decade, replacing the NFL, which has perennially been the Brand Keys loyalty leader.
In fact, the NFL dropped to No. 3, with the NBA moving up to second. The NHL was No. 4.
"To be honest, we didn’t expect to see baseball move from No. 2 to No. 1 and football at No. 3," Robert Passikoff, founder and president for New York-based Brand Keys. "We had indications it might happen, but we certainly were surprised."
Passikoff said the Cubs’ World Series win was a motivating factor in MLB’s rise, just as the NFL’s current status of franchise relocation was a big factor in the league’s fall. The Cubs are even featured in MLB's new umbrella marketing campaign, "This Season On Baseball" (pictured below).
"Cubs fans can now say, 'All that time I put into supporting my team, and they win the World Series! Isn’t that the greatest thing ever!' Baseball as a whole has been fostering that attitude,” said Passikoff.
"But in football, the fact that they moved two franchises (St. Louis and San Diego to Los Angeles) and talked about moving Oakland (to Las Vegas, which was approved by the NFL after the Brand Keys survey was conducted), fans see the NFL treating franchises as if they were Monopoly pieces. That has a big impact on people."
Cubs power carried through when Brand Keys compiled a list of the MLB teams with the most loyal fan base.
The Cubs were No. 1 (up from No. 6 last season), follwed by the Washngton Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants.
At the bottom of the list: the Minnesota Twins were No. 26, the Milwaukee Brewers No. 27, trailed by the Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondback at No. 30.
Brand Keys has four "loyalty driver" categories it uses when gathering information. The percentages next to each loyalty driver indicates the impact each has when Brand Keys compiles its fan loyalty and league engagement factors:
• History and Tradition (30% of total impact): “Are the game and the league part of fans’ and community rituals, institutions, and ‘tribal’ beliefs?"
• Fan Bonding (29%): "Are players particularly respected and admired?"
• Pure Entertainment (21%): "Win-loss ratios for sure, but more importantly, how entertaining is their play? Is it a consistent experience year-to-year?"
• Authenticity (20%): "How well they play as a team. Do they seem unified? Does it involve both skill and strategy?"
Although Passikoff admits that his findings are open to interpretation, he believes that the Brand Keys Sports Fan Loyalty Index, conducted among 17,852 people, is a true reflection of the current sports landscape.
"Fan loyalty ratings never lie," said Passikoff. "They’re a leading indicator of behavior and profitability, and should be a key statistic professional sports teams should track because it always tells us what fans are going to do. And what they’re going to watch."
According to Passikoff, Brand Keys’ Sports Fan Loyalty Index was "designed to help professional sports team management identify precise fan loyalty rankings with insights that enable leagues to identify areas — particularly emotional ones — that could use some strategic brand coaching.
"Because besides win-loss ratios, there are other powerful and emotionally-based loyalty drivers that need to be taken into account when it comes to fans," he said.
Among other factors, Passikoff pointed to recent TV ratings as more evidence of Brand Keys’ findings.
Thanks to the Cubs and Cleveland Indians (who have not won a World Series since 1948), TV ratings for the 2016 World Series were the highest since 2004, when the Boston Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918, according to World Series broadcast network Fox.
Meanwhile, NBA’s viewership has increased from last season on all four networks: ABC up 9%, ESPN up 10%, TNT up 1% and NBA TV games up 19%, according to Passikoff.
"Cubs fans can say, 'All that time I put into supporting them and they win the World Series! That's the greatest thing ever!' Baseball has been fostering that attitude."
Concurrently, NFL ratings were down last season, with even the Super Bowl falling short of setting a new ratings record.
"Which is troublesome because live events are supposed to be the last bastion of defense against the Internet," said Passikoff. "The NFL can say what they want, but (TV numbers were) down before the election and they were down in the playoffs (after the election).
"All sports fans have an ideal league in mind," said Passikoff. "The league that better meets fans’ very high expectations for game features and values that drive loyalty always sees increased TV game viewership and purchases of licensed merchandise."