There are some “problems” with Michael Lewis’ evaluation of Fandom. Starting with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jay Busbee of Yahoo sports did a reflection on the recent Emory University Business School study of fandom. Michael Lewis did the study on fandom and it had some interesting results.
However, it may not be the best indicator of “Best Fans.” Much of the results are based on what criteria you focus on. For example, among Steeler fans, we can point to factors such as history, Super Bowl wins and fandom in road games to make our case for being the best fandom in football. By the way, Lewis would agree with the factor of which he calls road equity. However, my larger point is that the indicators Lewis used in his study were not the most telling factors of fandom.
The first criteria Lewis used in his study was “Fan Equity.” This is measured by what fans pay for merchandise and tickets to games. My argument here is that this is more of a reflection of the economy of the local fanbase more than the fervor of the fans. The three teams that did the best in terms of this criteria were booming economies. Dallas was one of the top three which is a booming economy with rich natural resources. San Francisco has some of the highest rents and home values in the country and so is more of a reflection of inflation. New England is home to a lot of suburban sprawl and some of America’s most prestigious colleges.
The second criteria Lewis used was “road equity.” This is an indication of which fans travel well. The interesting thing is the best performers were NFC East teams and the Pittsburgh Steelers. One of the explanations for why the Steelers did well in this category is that many Pittsburghers left the city and moved to other cities after the Steel Mills were shut down and Steel production was moved outside the country. The other explanation for why NFC East teams did well is that there is a trend in the country for those from the east coast to move to a more western city in the United States. This is my explanation for why NFC East teams seem to travel well.
The third criteria that Lewis used were “social equity.” Despite what this means in other contexts, in this context it meant social media following. The teams that did well in this category were teams that have done well in the last 25 years. The teams that did best in this category were the Steelers, Patriots and Cowboys. These three teams have been successful in the last 25 years and therefore would resonate more with younger fans who traditionally are more active on social media.
This is not to say that this is a poor study. The teams that did well are the teams fans would think would perform well. However, I think there are better indicators of fandom. I would have measured based on brand value. The brand value includes the economic success of a team’s brand in that it will reflect the volume of sales made. I would have also used TV ratings against the standard deviation to measure fandom. This would better include older fans who have grown the game over the past 50 years.