Sports Fan Loyalty Index

Normally I don’t like to just directly publish press releases that I receive (I’m on several lists now), but this one caught my attention, and I think you will all find it quite interesting. It came from Robert Passikoff, Founder and President of Brand Keys, Inc.

“After years in the #2 spot, Major League Baseball is now tied with the National Football League with the “most loyal fans,” according to the 15th annual 2010 Brand Keys Sports Loyalty Index,® a survey which helps professional sports teams increase broadcast, ticket and merchandise revenues by providing loyalty rankings and fan diagnostics in their home and national markets.

2010 League Rankings

  1. NFL/MLB
  2. NBA
  3. NHL

“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,” said Robert Passikoff, president of New York-based Brand Keys, Inc. a leading brand and customer loyalty consultancy.

“These insights allow leagues and teams to identify areas that need strategic reinforcement. Done correctly, an increase in broadcast viewership, merchandise purchase, and ticket revenue will follow, and happier fans. Everybody loves a winner, but it’s important to note that win/loss ratios do not entirely govern fan loyalty,” noted Brand Keys’ 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. New stadia can help on this driver. Oftentimes, so can a new Manager.
  • Fan Bonding – Are players respected and admired?
  • History and Tradition – Is the game and the team part of a fan’s and a community’s rituals, institutions and beliefs?

The top-5 teams in each league in terms of fan loyalty for 2010:

National Basketball Association:

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

National Football League:

  1. Indianapolis Colts
  2. New England Patriots
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers
  4. Tennessee Titans
  5. New York Jets
National Hockey League:

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

Major League Baseball:

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. New York Yankees
  3. Philadelphia Phillies
  4. Anaheim Angels/Los Angeles Dodgers
  5. Minnesota Twins/Milwaukee Brewers

Top Gainers: Teams with the largest growth in fan loyalty include the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA (both up five positions), the New Orleans Saints (+6) and the Minnesota Vikings (+5) in the NFL, and the Colorado Rockies and Minnesota Twins in MLB, both up 4 positions. In the National Hockey League no team moved up more than one position, although many moved down as many as 4 rankings. A list of the bottom-5 teams with lowest fan loyalty in each league can be found at

Methodology:  The Brand Keys Sports Fan Loyalty Index is an outgrowth of Brand Keys’ specialization in measuring customer loyalty that began with work for the National Football League in the mid-90’s. Interviews are conducted by telephone and in-person (to account for cell phone-only fans) includes 150+ local fans for each professional sports team in the four major leagues. Participants self- select a preference for a particular league and then indicate an allegiance to the local team being evaluated. The methodology identifies the four drivers of fan loyalty and rates each team on each of the drivers. The respondents are also asked to rate the sports leagues that they’re interested in on an overall basis.

“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!”

8 thoughts on “Sports Fan Loyalty Index

  • March 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Interesting article, anyone else wondering more about the methodology of the rankings? I hope they surveyed more then 150 plus people. That seems like a small sample size to me if one is trying to measure sports fan loyalty.

    Anyone else with thoughts?

  • March 31, 2010 at 3:56 am

    I would love to hear how social media is changing this brand awareness and loyalty scale and how they are going to be working with it. I believe it is a great way to measure. I mean if you wanted analytics you could use “What the Hash Tag” to track it and see who is influential. Well at least with Twitter.

    With the Herm to Hockeytown it proved the Red Wings had a very large fan base around the country and not just in Detroit. It also proved that when fans decide to get together for something good they can raise money and bring people together to further an already popular brand.

    Interesting concept though.

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  • April 5, 2010 at 12:09 am


    I’m glad that you decided to disregard your temptation to pass over the Brand Keys press release and write about the topic of fan loyalty in this post. I found it very interesting that the MLB has now tied the NFL in overall fan loyalty, especially since I feel like there’s such a large discrepancy between the fan interest in the two sports. Not only do non-game events such as the combine and draft receive much more attention in football than baseball, but the NFL also has a higher viewership on its network (NFL Network) than the MLB (MLB Network). I, admittedly, am not an avid fan of baseball, however this was not always the case. I’ve become jaded by the abundance of steroids and lack of a salary cap which has led to excessively bloated contracts for “athletes” (see Sabathia, CC) whose actual athleticism pales in comparison to NFL players being paid significantly less. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that my fanship’s transformation applies to all baseball fans (or even many baseball fans), but I’m surprised that loyalty has increased during the exposure of the steroid era. Cheating and lying to the fans by taking banned substances seems like a perfect reason why the MLB’s popularity would decrease, so why are fans more loyal when players are less?

    On an individual team basis, I also found it interesting to see how a team’s geographic location and corresponding market size seemed to impact the rankings. While larger cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston would theoretically have and advantage over smaller markets because of their sheer size, small market teams have the “center of attention” factor. Nashville, by most accounts, isn’t a large metropolis, however the Tennessee Titans (who play in the city) essentially hold a monopoly on the region when it comes to the attraction of a professional sport. I see this being the case with my hometown team – the Kansas City Chiefs. The team hasn’t given its fans much to cheer about over the past decade, but since they’ve been around for so long (i.e. it’s not an expansion team) and there aren’t any nearby markets with alternative teams, fans have little choice for who they root for. In a situation like this, the team has the upper hand with regard to sponsors and other business partnerships in the area. Local broadcast affiliates have to outbid one another for the rights to broadcast the team’s games and sponsors looking to advertise through a pro sports organization will also likely have to pay a premium on the basis of basic supply and demand.

    Teams in larger markets are not without their own advantages. Even though they likely compete for loyalty with other teams in other sports (and occasionally teams in their own sport as well), they have more wiggle room for higher fan turnover. For every casual fan who decides to curb the amount of time they spend cheering for the team (both live and on TV), there is a higher chance of a new fan developing interest in following the team. In addition, these teams tend to have a larger national appeal. People living in rural areas without a local team tend to gravitate toward the teams in the larger markets, maybe because smalltown folk are often drawn to big city life like moths to a flame.

    I would be interested to see the advertising and media revenue of the top teams in the Brand Keys rankings. Thanks again for the very informative post!

  • April 8, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    This must be a U.S. only study?

    Can’t believe that none of Canadian NHL teams scored in the top five…

  • March 19, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    I would have to say that the Green Bay Packers are definitely in the top 5 for loyalty as teams goes, yes fans love the Brewers but the Wisconsin has always been huge on football. They have one of the longest waiting lists for season tickets and before the Favre era the Packers went through a 30 year drought and many fans stayed loyal.

  • April 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    You make some good points. But I’m stunned that throughout your post you seem to imply that steroid use has been a massive problem in baseball but not football. This baseball fan will acknowledge that MLB’s steroid problems are real, if sometimes a bit overblown. But for some reason these problems get huge press while the frequent steroid use in the NFL gets hardly a mention.

  • November 24, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Good article. Although I was suprised to see that certain teams were not in the top 5, it is interesting to see what drivers are used in implementing this kind of research for marketers. Knowing the brand loyalty of your consumer is important in decision making and planning for the future. Catering to your consumer base and fan base for professional sports is essential in obtaining further success.

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