On The Ball: Brand Keys 2010 Sports Survey Gauges Fan Loyalty

March 31, 2010: With the 2010 Major League Baseball season swinging away, marketing partners will be glad to know that a prominent survey supports what league pundits have been saying all along: Baseball fans are the most loyal in the nation.

Actually, NFL marketers also have reason to gloat: Football fans have not been dislodged from the top spot, but after several years in sole possession have merely been tied by MLB for No. 1, according to the 15th annual Brand Keys Sports Loyalty Index.

"The Sports Loyalty Engagement Index gives an apples-to-apples comparison of the intensity with which fans support professional sport leagues and their home team vs. the corresponding values for the fans of other teams in the market," Robert Passikoff, president of  brand and customer loyalty consultancy Brand Keys, New York, said in a statement. According to Passikoff, the survey can aid professional sports teams to increase broadcast, ticket and merchandise revenues by providing loyalty rankings and fan diagnostics in their home and national markets.

"Done correctly, an increase in broadcast viewership, merchandise purchase, and ticket revenue will follow, and happier fans," said Passikoff. Everybody loves a winner, but it's important to note that win/loss ratios do not entirely govern fan loyalty."

The Brand Keys 2010 Index ranks the NBA third and the NHL fourth among leagues, a somewhat disappointing placement for hockey considering the boost in national awareness the league received this year from the Winter Olympics. Regarding specific teams, the Boston Red Sox have the most loyal fans in MLB, the Indianapolis Colts have the most loyal NFL fans, the NBA's most loyal fans follow the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Red Wings top all NHL fans in loyalty.

According to Passikoff, fan loyalty is driven in four ways: Pure Entertainment ("How well a team does, but more importantly, how exciting is their play"), Authenticity ("How well they play as a team, which can be driven by such factors as a new stadium or a new manager"); Fan Bonding ("Are players respected and admired?); and History and Tradition ("Is the game and the team part of a fan's and a community's rituals, institutions and beliefs").

Teams with the biggest growth in fan loyalty from 2009 include the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder, which relocated last season from Seattle (both up five positions), Super Bowl XLIV champion New Orleans Saints (up six) and the Minnesota Vikings (up five) in the NFL and the Colorado Rockies and Minnesota Twins in MLB (both up four positions). In the NHL, no team moved up more than one position, although many moved down as many as four rankings, according to the Brand Keys survey.

"Since overall league and team rankings correlate very highly with TV viewership and sales of licensed merchandise, rankings can be influenced depending upon how loyalty drivers are addressed and managed," said Passikoff.  "It's critical that marketers do accurate scouting regarding the strategic game they intend to play with their fans because today, when it comes to loyalty, there are no free-agent fans!"

The Top and Bottom Five teams in each league in terms of fan loyalty for 2010:

National Football League

Top Five
1. Indianapolis Colts
2. New England Patriots
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Tennessee Titans
5. New York Jets

Bottom Five
20. Cleveland Browns
21. St. Louis Rams
22. Washington Redskins
23. Cincinnati Bengals
24. Oakland Raiders

Major League Baseball

Top Five
1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees
3. Philadelphia Phillies
4. Anaheim Angels (tie)
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (tie)
5. Minnesota Twins (tie)
5. Milwaukee Brewers (tie)
5. Houston Astros (tie)

Bottom Five
17. Arizona Diadmondbacks
18. Washington Nationals
19. Kansas City Royals
20. Baltimore Orioles
21. Pittsburgh Pirates

National Basketball Association

Top Five
1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Boston Celtics
3. Phoenix Suns
4. Dallas Mavericks/Detroit Pistons
5. Utah Jazz

Bottom Five
16. Memphis Grizzlies
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (tie)
17. Atlanta Hawks (tie)
18. Golden State Warriors
19. Sacramento Kings
20. Charlotte Bobcats

National Hockey League

Top Five
1. Detroit Red Wings
2. Philadelphia Flyers
3. San Jose Sharks
4. New Jersey Devils
5. Boston Bruins

Bottom Five
18. New York Rangers
19. Florida Panthers
20. Los Angeles Kings (tie)
20. Nashville Predators (tie)
20. Tampa Bay Lightning (tie)
21. St. Louis Blues (tie)
21. Phoenix Coyotes (tie)
21. New York Islanders (tie)
22. Atlanta Thrashers

Source: Brand Keys 2010 Sports Loyalty Index