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2015NBAPlayoffsThe 2015 NBA playoffs are just underway, and while it may be unwise to jump to conclusions as to which team will ultimately win over all others, fan loyalty turns out to be much more than just the teams’ win-loss ratios. As they say in New York City, when it comes to making the playoffs, “it couldn’t hurt.” Making the playoffs helps increase a team’s fan loyalty levels by about 10%. Winning almost doubles that and the 23rd annual Sports Fan Loyalty Index reflects just that.

The Sports Fan Loyalty Index was designed to help professional sports team management identify what drives fan loyalty in their home and national markets and allows team management to identify areas, particularly the emotional ones that need strategic brand coaching. Brand Keys assesses all teams, interviewing 250 self-classified fans from each of the 30 NBA teams’ immediate metropolitan catchment areas. The current 2015 NBA top-5 and bottom-5 team standings (and their standings last year) are as follows:

Top-5 2015                                       2014

1. Chicago Bulls                                    (#5)
2. Los Angeles Clippers                      (#4)
3. San Antonio Spurs                          (#1)
4. Miami Heat                                      (#3)
5. Dallas Mavericks                             (#6)

Bottom-5 2015                               2014

30. Sacramento Kings                       (#30)
29. Minn. Timberwolves                   (#29)
28. Milwaukee Bucks                         (#27)
27. Orlando Magic                              (#24)
26. Detroit Pistons                              (#23)

Winning may be the only thing when it comes to a playoff championship, but when it comes to fan loyalty it’s not the only thing. Fan loyalty correlates very highly with broadcast viewership, merchandise purchase, and to a certain degree, ticket revenues. Teams can count on some “lift” to fan loyalty from making the playoffs (a 10% lift) or a championship win (about a 20% lift), both of which fall into the “Pure Entertainment” category driver.

Before your go ballistic that your team didn’t make the top-5, keep in mind that teams don’t leap to the top of the loyalty roster just because they win a playoff or even a championship. It adds to a team’s loyalty bond (and their related ranking), but you need the complete package, and there are three other emotionally-based factors that must be taken into account when measuring real fan loyalty: Authenticity, Fan Bonding, and History & Tradition, with all the loyalty drivers functioning like this:

How well they play as a team. Sometimes a new arena and, often, new manager, can help lift this driver. Which brands sponsor the team can matter here as well.

Fan Bonding:
Are there players ­– the more the better – that are particularly respected and admired, but in this case that means respect and admiration for something more than just a great 3-point shot. If it helps, think of it as the “Jordan Factor.” And if you have to really think about who that might be on your team, or can only come up with one name right off, your team’s Fan Bonding is likely to be low. And yes, all these pro players are supposed to be the best of the best, but the roster of players that fans emotionally bond with is relatively small.

History and Tradition:
Have the game and the team become part of fans’ and community’s rituals, institutions, and beliefs? This is one of the strongest drivers when it comes to fan loyalty in all of Major League Sports. For some teams it accounts for the lion’s share of loyalty they possess. Think about a team like the Utah Jazz where only a reasonable level of History & Tradition keeps them out of the bottom-5.

Teams need to meet some minimum levels on all four factors to create reasonable levels of fan loyalty. If one of those drivers weakens, or even disappears, so do high levels of loyalty. Want proof? Consider the New York Knicks’ past season.

The NBA again ranks 3rd of the four Major League Sports Brand Keys tracks. The National Football League is currently 1st, with Major League Baseball in 2nd place, and the National Hockey League last. Keep in mind that overall league and team rankings – no matter which league – correlate with viewership merchandise sales and ticket sales, and since rankings can be influenced depending upon how loyalty drivers are managed, it’s critical team marketers act as strategically as the coaches.

Want to know the secret to high NBA loyalty levels? Have 5 great players – and as many fans as possible for as long as possible.


Find out more about what makes customer loyalty happen and how Brand Keys metrics is able to predict future consumer behavior: Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about Brand Keys methodology, applications and case studies.

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