The NFL season starter is this week with the Pittsburgh Steelers facing the New England Patriots. The latter has already won in at least one regard: it has the most loyal fans.
That is good news for Bank of America, Toyota, American Airlines, McDonald's, PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch and Verizon, major corporate sponsors of the team -- especially for regional marketing efforts. New York-based engagement and loyalty market research firm Brand Keys, in its 2015 Sports Fan Loyalty Index, says the Patriots have retained their top position, various intrigues notwithstanding. Second are the Green Bay Packers, up from number three last year. The Seattle Seahawks, who were in sixth place in 2014, are number three. In fourth place for fan loyalty are the Denver Broncos, which held that spot last year. The Indianapolis Colts also held steady in fifth place.
Brand Keys says the five worst for loyalty are the Oakland Raiders, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins, and Cleveland Browns. Said Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president, in a statement: “Consumers have in their minds an ‘ideal team.’ Teams that are able to better meet fans expectations for that Ideal, always win.” He points out that brands that do well in loyalty get emotionally engaged fans, increased game viewership, and increased purchases of licensed merchandise.
The index provides an apples-to-apples comparison of the intensity with which fans within the team’s home market area support the home team versus corresponding values for fans of other teams or leagues in the same market.
Some pointers: loyalty isn’t all about wins, and game attendance. Brand Keys says about a third of fan loyalty is influenced by the team’s history and tradition, and the extent to which the game and the team are part of fans’ and community rituals, institutions and beliefs. Twenty-nine percent of loyalty is from fan bonding — how admired and respected the team's players are. About 20% comes from how entertaining the team is on the field. And about the same percentage is derived from “authenticity,” or how much fan passion for the team derives from the team itself, rather than from the performance of individual star players. It includes offense and defensive play, managers, and how credible and responsible they are.
“Since rankings can be influenced depending upon how loyalty drivers are managed, it’s critical that team marketers manage them strategically to better meet fan expectations,” said Passikoff, “But you have to know what the fans expect — beyond a winning season.”
The NFL has had plenty of bad news over the past year, and that news just got worse, and not just around the league’s suspension of the Patriots‘ star QB Tom Brady being overturned, giving commissioner Roger Goodell (another) black eye.
The latest involves the forthcoming film, “Concussion,” and how the NFL is girding its loins for the film’s release, and how it may have actually tried to influence the storyline of the Will Smith vehicle to soften the PR blowback. Still, the NFL remains the teflon league: Brand Keys says the NFL has the most loyal fans, followed by Major League Baseball, then the NBA, and the National Hockey League in fourth.