With the Major League baseball season set to open on Easter Sunday, the New York Yankees topped the 21st annual Sports Fan Loyalty Index released this week by Brand Keys.

Robert Passikoff, Founder and President of Brand Keys, told Loyalty 360 that the Sports Fan Loyalty Index is released four times per year – one each for Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL, and the NFL.

Passikoff said the Sports Fan Loyalty Index was designed to help professional sports teams identify precise fan loyalty rankings in their home and national markets. As a result, professional teams can identify areas within the Loyalty Index that need to be addressed.

Passikoff said the Sports Fan Loyalty Index released this week announced the top five and bottom five Major League baseball teams, according to the Index criteria.

The Top five teams in the 2013 Sports Fan Loyalty Index for Major League baseball are:

1. New York Yankees                   

2. Philadelphia Phillies                

3. San Francisco Giants              

4. St. Louis Cardinals                  

5. Atlanta Braves

The Yankees and Phillies swapped rankings this year from 2012.

The bottom five, or Cellar Dwellers are:

30. Houston Astros                       

29. Kansas City Royals                 

28. Pittsburgh Pirates                  

27. Seattle Mariners                     

26. New York Mets                       

The loyalty index for pro teams correlates highly to three areas in which teams make money: television viewership, ticket revenue, and licensed merchandise sales.

“The process looks at fans of a particular sport and fans of the local team,” Passikoff said.

The Sports Fan Loyalty Index looks at the following engagement metrics: pure entertainment value (winning and losing); authenticity (how do they play together as a team); fan bonding (is there someone on the team that becomes the emotional center, such as Derek Jeter on the Yankees); and history and tradition (watching games with family, wearing the hats).

“You will in fact get a bump in loyalty if a team is doing well, makes the playoffs, gets to the World Series, or wins the World Series,” Passikoff said. “Win-loss ratio only contributes 20% to engagement. Some teams exist entirely on either fan bonding or history and tradition, like the Cubs. To gain the real loyalty and engendering of positive behavior that results in sales and profitability, you really need to be strong across everything”

Biggest surprise from the current Sports Fan Loyalty Index for baseball?

“The fact that Pittsburgh moved up from last, it had traditionally been in the cellar, to No. 28,” Passikoff said. “Boston fell to No. 6.”

Although it experienced its 20th consecutive losing season (79-83) last year, Pittsburgh was 67-54 on Aug. 19 and gained more loyalty from a much more impressive season.

“The Pirates have a high degree of history and tradition, but they’re getting killed on pure entertainment and the authenticity factor,” Passikoff said.

Passikoff said the Index surveys 125 fans from each Major League team, which equates to about 4,000 per league.

“Things that can affect the index are teams who get new managers or if a new stadium is built,” Passikoff said. “And if a team doesn’t have much money, fans feel ripped off. Loyalty isn’t static. It’s carved in rock. But even when it’s carved in rock, time, space, behavior, and expectations can all be eroded. The Yankees have always been at the top of the list. I don’t know what you’d need them to do to fall from there.”

Just where do sports fans rate in the loyalty world?

“We do a fashion brand index as well,” Passikoff said. “When we ask people about brands and logos, sports teams were the No. 1 answer. You’ll see more sports and team logos than Ralph Lauren logos. That tells you about people’s sense of affiliation and identification.”

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