MLB’s “Fan Loyalty” faltering

Newsday’s John Jeansonne reports the results of some consumer research which suggests that baseball’s popularity is eroding compared to the other major sports:

It’s not just the stupid economy. (Although the Yankees’ 76.3-percent jump in average ticket price amid our Great Recession could have its unpleasant consequences this season.) Major League Baseball, according to the New York-based consumer research firm Brand Keys, has fallen below the NFL and NBA in its latest Sports Fan Loyalty Index. While ballyards across America swell this week with crowds celebrating the ritual return of the national pastime, Brand Keys founder and president Robert Passikoff argues that baseball’s drawn-out steroids scandal heads the list of factors that have eroded the sport’s popularity.

Passikoff uses what he calls “loyalty drivers” — pure entertainment, authenticity, fan bonding and history/tradition — to produce his annual loyalty yardstick that provides leagues and teams with data to address broadcast viewership, merchandise purchases and ticket revenues. In 2000, he ranked baseball No. 1, the NBA second, the NFL third and the NHL fourth.

Based on the information provided on their website, the Brand Keys survey really gauges the intensity of fandom — how much merch is bought per person and stuff like that — as opposed to sheer numbers of customers as measured by ticket sales or television viewers, though those obviously go into it too. This might explain how, despite the fact that baseball’s overall revenues and ticket sales have risen steadily for the past decade — with a slight decline in attendance last year — Brand Keys has baseball steadily falling on its scale over that same time frame. More casual fans, fewer body-painting fanatics who buy anything with their team’s logo painted on it.

Which I’m fine with, quite frankly. The numbers go up and down — and baseball will surely see a dip in everything this year due to the economy — but I’m much happier in a world where just about anyone I know is likely to go to a ballgame once in a while than I am to be in a world of a relatively smaller number and considerably scarier brand of intense enthusiasts.

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Comments

  1. DXMachina said...

    The other day you posted a link to an article about how the recession is affecting the Red Sox financial picture, and the most stunning thing to me about the article was the mention that NESN’s ratings for games dropped 20% from 2007 to 2008. That seems like a huge drop, especially with the Sox coming off a World Championship. I’d have expected ratings to go up a little, given both the difficulty in getting tickets for Fenway and the bump from bandwagon fans. Some of it may be due to people canceling cable, but I can’t believe all of it is.

  2. SomeCallMe...Tim said...

    The season is too long for casual fans and MLB should do something drastic to compete with the immediacy of the football season where fans feel like every game counts.

    Maybe the season should be broken up into two halves or go even further and create a playoff system where each team with the best record for the month gets into the playoffs. The more months you win the less games you need to win in the playoffs to advance or the more home games or something like that to encourage the teams that get in early to keep playing hard.

    This would create multiple pennant-chase drives throughout the season and also give hope to teams who start off slow because the records are zeroed out multiple times.

    Hell, the Royals and Nationals could even put together a good month and get into the playoffs.

    Sure, the schedules are unbalanced and the playoff details could get complicated but think about the excitement that would be generated by a system like this without destroying the sanctity of the 162-game schedule.

  3. Pete Toms said...

    @DXM – Couldn’t agree more with you.

    I think baseball has fallen out of step because it is the sport most often associated with excessive greed (unfairly so, but nonetheless).  Greed is out of step with the times.  Folks are pissed off and don’t feel like supporting millionaires.

    Brian Burke (GM, Toronto Maple Leafs) was quoted a week or two ago saying that fans don’t like players.  They like the games but not the athletes.  (I’m obviously paraphrasing and I don’t think his remarks were restricted to the NHL).  He advocates mandatory community work for the players.  Obviously during the season that is not realistic but during the offseason maybe it is time for these guys to “give back”.  Easier said than done but the PA might realize that it would be good for business.

  4. GWR said...

    David Malin – you can say the NFL doesn’t have these problems but that says more about their fans than it does about the league.

    They have an exclusive deal with one provider for their games package (Sunday Ticket is DirecTV only) and they also employ the same blackout policy that MLB does. Although the blackout policy is not as far reaching I don’t believe. I live here in Austin, TX – in the middle of the state – and all the Astros and Rangers games get blacked out for me. Houston is 3 hours one way and Arlington is 2.5 the other. Ridiculous.

  5. David Malin said...

    MLB TV restrictions is enough reason to be upset the MLB policy.  I fail to understand why I can’t choose the baseball game that I want to watch on Saturday.  MLB greed contract with Fox TV?  I fail to understand why I can’t watch Yankeeography on the Yes Network because I live in the West Coast.  Even though I bought the MLB package?? 

    My suggestion is to boycott games!  That’s what I will do until these restrictions are lifted.  NFL, NBA, and NHL don’t have these problems.

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