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The 2016 National Basketball Association playoffs have concluded but when it comes to the fans loyalty is much more than a team’s win-loss ratio.

Historically, making the NBA playoffs raises a team’s fan loyalty levels by about 10%. Winning almost doubles that. When a team makes the playoffs, they always get a lift in fan loyalty, according to the 24th annual Sports Fan Loyalty survey conducted by the New York-based brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy, Brand Keys.

The Brand Keys Sports Fan Loyalty Index (SLI) was designed to help professional sports team marketers identify the key drivers of fan loyalty in their home and national markets by identifying emotional aspects surrounding the team that require strategic brand coaching. Brand Keys assesses all of the teams in the league, interviewing 250 self-classified basketball fans from each of the 30 NBA teams’ immediate metropolitan areas. The current 2016 NBA top 5 and bottom 5 team standings follow:

Top 5 2016                                                         2015

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder                             (#6)
  2. San Antonio Spurs                                       (#3)
  3. Miami Heat                                                   (#4)
  4. Golden State Warriors                                (#10)
  5. Chicago Bulls/Los Angeles Clippers        (#1, #2)

Bottom 5 2016                                                  2015

  1. Sacramento Kings                                       (#30)
  2. Minn. Timberwolves                                  (#29)
  3. Milwaukee Bucks                                        (#27)
  4. Utah Jazz                                                      (#24)
  5. New Orleans Pelicans                                (#22)

Winning may be the only thing when it comes to a playoff championship, but when it comes to winning 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, and teams can count on “lift” to their fan loyalty levels – by making the playoffs any team sees about a 10% lift. Or if they win the championship they’ll see about a 20% lift. A team’s win-loss ratio is a component of the Pure Entertainment loyalty driver. But teams don’t automatically leap to the top of the roster just because they get into the playoffs or even a championship. It adds to the loyalty bond, but you need the complete package: relative success in three other emotionally-based factors, which include Authenticity, Fan Bonding, and History and Tradition. Each function like this:

Authenticity: How well they play as a team. Sometimes a new arena and, often, a new manager, can help lift this driver. A new name helped the Hornets. Which brands sponsor the team can matter as well.

Fan Bonding: Are there players ­who are particularly respected and admired? More is always better and it helps if the reason for that bonding extends beyond the ability to sink a three-point shot. If you have to think about “who” that might be on your team, or can only come up with one, maybe two names, your team’s Fan Bonding is likely to be low.

History and Tradition: Have the game and the team become part of fans’ and community rituals, institutions, and beliefs? For some teams it accounts for the lion’s share of loyalty they possess. Think about a team like the Washington Wizards, only a reasonable level of History and Tradition keeps them out of the cellar.”

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 disappears, so do high levels of loyalty. Want proof? Put aside your preconceptions and dissect a team like the Sacramento Kings or the San Antonio Spurs according to those four loyalty drivers and see where you end up.

The NBA again this year ranks third of the four Major League Sports. The National Football League is first, followed by Major League Baseball. The National Hockey League is last. Overall league and team rankings – no matter which league – correlate with viewership and merchandise and ticket sales and game attendance, and since rankings can be influenced by how loyalty drivers are managed, it’s critical that teams act strategically. And maybe philosophically, too.

After all, wasn’t it Phil Jackson who advised, “If you meet the Buddha in the lane, feed him the ball”?


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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