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Emory University Study: Saints fans among NFL’s best

The study is the latest attempt academia has made at finding the NFL’s strongest fanbases.

SANTA CLARA, CA - New Orleans Saints fans dressed as superheroes cheer during a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.
SANTA CLARA, CA - New Orleans Saints fans dressed as superheroes cheer during a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

It’s not unusual to see academics across the country try to objectively rank professional sports team fans. They have used a variety of metrics to create the clearest picture possible of which city carries the most fanatical supporters, ranging from ticket sales to social media activity.

The latest attempt comes from Emory University’s Professor Michael Lewis, Ph.D. A longtime member of Emory’s Goizueta Business School, Lewis specializes in marketing science and research. He has recently conducted studies into the strength of fandom in the National Basketball Association (the New Orleans Pelicans placed 24th last year, which is typical of bad teams) and Major League Baseball (I guess the Atlanta Braves are a de facto team for New Orleans locals?), which laid the groundwork for his exploration of the National Football League. Lewis explains his methodology here in brief, but you can find a more-dense academic elaboration here:

In past years, two measures of engagement have been featured: Fan Equity and Social Media Equity. Fan Equity focuses on home box office revenues (support via opening the wallet) and Social Media Equity focuses on fan willingness to engage as part of a team’s community (support exhibited by joining social media communities).

This year I am adding a third measure Road Equity. Road Equity focuses on how teams draw on the road after adjusting for team performance. These metrics provide a balance – a measure of willingness to spend, a measure unconstrained by stadium size and a measure of national appeal.

To get at an overall ranking, I’m going to use the simplest possible method. We are just going to average the across the three metrics.

With this data in hand, Lewis found that fans of the New Orleans Saints were the NFL’s sixth-best community, narrowly missing a top-five finish to teams with major media market backing: the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Lewis allows a concession for bandwagon fans flocking to the stupid, perfect Patriots (my words, not his) after so many successful seasons behind head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady and suggests the NFL’s Deflategate controversy created a “signficant positive impact” (his words, not mine) on social media for the Patriots.

As for the bottom five? The Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Rams, and Kansas City Chiefs round out an inglorious finish. Despite young quarterback Marcus Mariota turning things around in Tennessee, the team struggles to find fans who travel well though its home crowd is quite supportive. The other teams are stuck with dead-end quarterback situations turning into quick playoff exits, or in the Rams’ case, a city that doesn’t really want them.

But back to the Saints. New Orleans’ fanbase ranks seventh-best in Fan Equity thanks to regular sellout crowds, and tenth-highest in Social Equity (if you’re not yet involved in #SaintsTwitter, you should be) as well as Road Equity; it’s fairly rare for the Saints to return many unsold away-game tickets. Hopefully head coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees, and running back Adrian Peterson can reward their fans with a strong run at the playoffs.