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Baseball Makes A Comeback, National Pastime Is First in Fan Loyalty

Major League Baseball’s Opening Day was April 2. It's always a big moment, but this year it was considerably bigger.

Based on the 25th annual Sports Fan Loyalty Index from Brand Keys, the New York-based brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy, and according to 17,852 fans, Major League Baseball was rated #1 in fan loyalty for the first time in a decade, beating out the National Football League, perennially Major League Sports’ loyalty leader.

Fan loyalty ratings never lie. They’re a leading-indicator of behavior and profitability, and they always tell us what fans are going to do when it comes to increased TV game viewership and purchases of licensed merchandise.  

MLB’s 2016 World Series was the highest rated and most-watched series since 2004. For the Fall season, the World Series ranked as TV’s top show for adults 18-49 years of age, topping Sunday Night Football. MLB’s leadership, which recently eliminated the four pitch intentional walk in order to “speed up the game” may be tinkering too much, there are other powerful and emotionally-based loyalty drivers that need to be taken into account when it comes to fans, and those can’t be rushed. The percentages next to each loyalty driver indicates the contribution each makes to fan loyalty and league engagement:

History and Tradition (30%):

Are the game and the league part of fans’ and community rituals, institutions, and ‘tribal’ beliefs?

Fan Bonding (29%):

Are players particularly respected and admired?

Pure Entertainment (21%):

Win-loss ratios for sure, but more importantly, how entertaining is their play? Is it a consistent experience year-to-year?

Authenticity (20%):

How well they play as a team. Do they seem unified? Does it involve both skill and strategy?

For 2017 league loyalty rankings were found to be as follows:

  1. Major League Baseball
  2. National Basketball Association
  3. National Football League
  4. National Hockey League

NFL ratings took a nosedive throughout its last season, which is troublesome because live events are supposed to be the last bastion of defense against the Internet. This is the second consecutive year the Super Bowl has failed to set a new ratings record. Pre-election NFL ratings were down by 12 percent Year-Over-Year and ratings for the 2016-17 season were down 9 percent YOY and were off 6 percent through the playoffs.

The National Basketball Association, consistently ranked #3 in terms of fan loyalty, moved up to the #2 spot this year. Not-so-coincidently NBA’s viewership increased from last season on all four networks: ABC was up 9 percent, ESPN up 10 percent, TNT up 1% and NBA TV games were up 19%.

The 2016 Stanley Cup Final was one of the lowest-rated NHL title games since the sport returned to NBC 11 years ago, and is again ranked #4.

Via interviews with 250 self-declared fans in each team’s local market, current 2017 MLB top-5 and bottom-5 brand standings are listed below:

Top-5

1. Chicago Cubs (+6)
2. Washington Nationals (+3)
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (-1)
4. Boston Red Sox (+4)
5. San Francisco Giants (-2)
 

Bottom-5

30. Arizona Diamondbacks (-1)
29. San Diego Padres (-2)
28. Colorado Rockies (--)
27. Milwaukee Brewers (-5)
26. Minnesota Twins (-10)
 

Loyalty is incredibly powerful and emotional. And when it comes to loyal baseball fans, their attitudes echo what pitcher Gaylord Perry once noted, ‘The only trouble with baseball is that it’s not played year round.” In the meanwhile, for the rest of you fans for the rest of the season, “Go (INSERT YOUR TEAM’S NAME HERE)!”

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