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Fanalytics: Determining Which Sports Fans Cause More Mayhem

Photo of Professor Gil Fried

It may sound counterintuitive, but Gil Fried says sports marketers may not want to build their fan base with every diehard fan.

Not the bad fan base, anyway.

Fried, professor and chair of the UNH Sports Management program, is breaking ground in the new field of fanalytics, analytics developed to take a closer look at the kind of fans people are and how much value they actually bring – not just monetarily – to the teams they support.

Facilities managers and marketers and team owners are hoping fanalytics can be used to identify which fans are more likely to cause mayhem and lead other fans to stay away, causing teams to lose money and a share of their fan base, and which fans help build a positive experience.

"What If We're Investing In the Wrong People?"

Fried said students entering the field of sports marketing or facility management need to seriously consider this question: "What if we're investing in the wrong people?"

"People have a Constitutional right to act like an idiot," Fried said. "People exercise that right with great regularity in sports venues and outside them in parking lots."

Fried knows this all too well, as an expert witness in a number of high-profile cases involving fan violence, including a 2011 California case where a San Francisco Giants fan was beaten by an L.A. Dodgers fan, hit his head on the asphalt, fell into a coma and is still recovering.

The latest incident attracting a great deal of media attention occurred after the Patriots-Jets game on October 20, when a male New York Jets fan hit a female New England Patriots fan after the game. Four people were arrested and charged with assault in the incident. The Jets organization stated that none would be allowed back to the stadium.

An attorney with his own consulting practice and a specialist in sport law, finance, and facility management, Fried has written numerous books, and his textbooks are used in more than 100 universities across the U.S.

Over the years, the sport management industry has amassed so many statistics on fan spending and viewing habits that they have a framework to work from. Fans can be categorized by income, by spending on tickets, team apparel and other items, and by sports viewing habits on televisions in the home and, more recently, on the Internet and mobile devices.

Fried tossed out some of those statistics:

• The NFL makes $3.5 billion a year in logo-related apparel sales; college football makes $2.4 billion.
• The sport with the highest percentage of fans earning between $50,000-$75,000? NASCAR.
• The pro sport with the highest percentage of male fans? The NHL, with 63 percent.

How Much Is A Fan Worth?

A formula for determining the lifetime value of "core fans" was created in 1999, using fan spending over their lifetime and various team costs. The composite core fans were described as 76 percent male, 60 percent of them earning more than $75,000 a year. Their average lifetime monetary value to the team was calculated to average $95,000. "And that was in 1999," Fried said, noting that these are the fans teams want to market to – as long as they are also "good" fans.

On average, Fried said one in 12 fans is legally drunk at an NFL or MLB stadium. There are 27 ejections and three arrests on average at NFL games. With heated rivalries such as a Giants/Eagles game, Fried said ejections can rise into the hundreds.

From these and other statistics, Fried said marketers can identify and begin to predict patterns in fan behavior so an analysis can be undertaken to determine fans' overall value to a team.
What comes next is where it gets interesting for students hoping to enter the field, Fried said.

They will have the analytics they need to try to develop new marketing strategies to woo the top fans and keep the bad fans home.

They can also try to come up with new ideas to change bad fan behavior. Some ballparks limit alcohol sales after a certain time period. In Europe, those fans deemed to be "hooligans" have their travel visas revoked and they are also not permitted to return to the stadiums or, for that matter, travel for business.

In the U.S., people ejected from an NFL game who hope to return to the stadium have to write a letter of apology to the team and take a four-hour online course on appropriate fan behavior. Fried wonders if that is enough and urged students to think creatively about solutions.

"What is the value of a fan if the fan is going to be antagonizing other people?" Fried asked.

This story, by Writer/Editor Jackie Hennesseyoriginally appeared in UNH Today on October 28, 2013.