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The Major League Baseball season opened this week with the cry “play ball,” accompanied by the release of the 24th annual fan survey conducted by Brand Keys, the New York City-based market research firm specializing in brand loyalty and consumer emotional engagement modeling.

It was Yogi Berra who said, “If the fans don’t want to come out to the ballpark, no one can stop them,” and though teams may not be able to manage that aspect of the game, they can manage fan loyalty. Our annual survey – interviews with 250 self-declared fans in each of the 30 team’s local markets – was designed to help sports teams identify precise fan loyalty metrics in their home and national markets. Those metrics correlate very, very highly with TV viewership and purchase of licensed merchandise. Oh, and the survey is more than just gate counts and win-loss ratios, but real insights that enable both league and teams identify areas – particularly emotional aspects of loyalty – that need strategic brand coaching.

The 2016 MLB top 5 and bottom 5 team standings are listed below. Numbers in parentheses represent the teams’ 2015 loyalty rankings.

Top 5 Teams – 2016           

  1. Louis Cardinals (#1)
  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (#3)
  1. San Francisco Giants (#2)
  1. Detroit Tigers (#4)
  1. Washington Nationals (#5)


Cellar Dwellers                    

  1. Seattle Mariners (#25)
  1. Arizona Diamondbacks (#29)
  1. Colorado Rockies (#28)
  1. San Diego Padres (#24)

26. Houston Astros (#30)

The Sports Fan Loyalty Index, which measures all teams in the four major sports leagues, provides an apples-to-apples comparison of the emotional intensity with which fans in a team’s home market support the home team. Everybody loves a winner, but it’s important to note that win-loss ratios govern only about 20% of fan loyalty. Losing may have little to recommend it, but it turns out that ultimately there are three, more loyalty-leveragable aspects (in addition to the final stats, which fall under “Pure Entertainment”) that need be considered, including:


How well they play as a team? Offensively or defensively, one or the other, sometimes both. Sometimes a new stadium or new manager can help lift loyalty when it comes to this driver.

Fan Bonding:

Are the players particularly respected and admired on and off the baseball diamond?

History and Tradition:

Is the game and team part of fans’ and community rituals, institutions, and beliefs? No matter how you feel about them, the Yankees (#9, down from #7 last year) have the highest rating when it comes to this driver and, for what it’s worth, it’s what kept the Cubs going for years!

Pure Entertainment:

This has always been the most-important driver when it comes to reinforcing or building fan loyalty, but that said, while winning playoffs or the World Series certainly moves a team up the loyalty list, it doesn’t automatically skip a team to the top of the list (unless, of course, the team was already ranked in the top five, then it’s a high probability that their loyalty rank will end up #1!)

Because overall league and team rankings correlate very highly with game viewership and merchandise sales, and since rankings can be influenced depending upon how loyalty drivers are managed, it’s critical that team marketers do accurate scouting regarding the strategic ball they intend to pitch to fans. All teams benefit from increased fan loyalty levels, particularly baseball teams.

There’s a reason it’s called America’s “National Pastime.” Teams need to create strong emotional connections if they want to succeed with their fans. Former San Francisco Giants third baseman, Al Gallagher, may have expressed baseball’s emotional bond best. “There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem is once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit.” Which is why teams need to track fan loyalty with emotional metrics because those are the most meaningful values of all.

As to other major league sports leagues, Brand Keys will be issuing rankings for the NBA before playoffs, the NHL for the Stanley Cup, and NFL rankings in time for the season kickoff in September.

In the meanwhile, for the rest of the season, “Go (INSERT YOUR TEAM’S NAME HERE)!”


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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