Emory School of Business releases rankings of NBA teams’ social media equity

New York Knicks v Miami Heat

Emory Goizueta School of Business released a ranking of brand equity for NBA teams, which you can read here.

The formula that Emory uses for their social media rankings is explained as such:

  • “To look at NBA teams “social media equity” we collected follows and likes from Twitter and Facebook.  We then created a statistical model that predicts these measures of social media engagement as a function of market size, tweeting activity and team performance for this past season and for the season before that.  We then compared each team’s actual follows and likes against the model predictions.  This method attempts to control for short term fluctuations in winning percentage and market differences.”

I have some doubts in the Emory formula. First of all, I believe that social media is not a constant. Digital media is very fluid, and brands search for consistency when evaluating their content’s analytics. But here’s the thing, sports teams are not traditional brands. Cheerios, JIF, Hershey and Taco Bell all want consistent results. But sports is a fluctuating market, especially on the internet. Teams can make impact signings, reach new media heights after trades and go on winning streaks. All of the aforementioned are reasons why a team’s social media becomes more relevant, more attractive to sponsors and worth more money.

I believe the sports marketing industry should view social media “equity” (as the Emory study put it) as a stock market. Teams should capitalize on selling social media sponsorships when their interactions and followers are at their highest. If a team is losing, and not making headlines at all, their social media assets should reflect the poor outreach. Even a losing team should be able to capitalize on reaching some amount of fans, and thus no team should ever fear a complete loss of value. But, teams be warned, there can be a Great Depression of sorts when it comes to social media worth – just look at the Houston Astros (valued at $4 a post last month).

Emory’s social media values attempt to rule out the extreme highs and lows:

  • “The top team in terms of social media equity is the LA Lakers.  The Lakers crush the competition both in terms of raw numbers and in our model.  In second place, we have the Miami Heat.  This one is interesting, and we suspect that the Heat results may be a bit misleading.  While the Heat does very well currently it is not possible to separate out how much of the social media equity is driven by the team versus by LeBron.  This is something to watch as we collect more social media data over the next few years.”

This is where I disagree with their rankings. Emory’s rankings are trying to separate LeBron James from the Heat. But LeBron is part of the Heat. In fact he is the face of Heat marketing. I challenge you to find a piece of marketing material that does not include #6 on it – if he sells tickets he should sell sponsorships too.

And the same goes for other NBA teams, or teams in general. If the Houston Rockets are more relevant in 2013-14 because they signed Dwight Howard, then they should receive more money from sponsors because more people will talking about them that year. There is no reason to study social media trends over the past 3 years unless you are looking to invest or see trends for a team.

Teams should be evaluated based on a daily update of worth, like a stock market, and sponsors should pay for those rates. Similar to a newspaper, teams attract their fans to read content no matter who, or what, sponsors it. A newspaper can sell ads because people pick up a paper to read the news. Fans read a team’s Twitter and Facebook to get news about the team. Hence, teams can sell sponsorships because they have a proven ROI to a sponsor based on clicks for content (they also have measurable demographics for readers, which appeals to advertisers). Ad prices fluctuate in newspapers based on dates, days of the week, supply/demand and long-term trends. This should hold true for teams; sponsorship reach depends on the time of season, how well the team is doing and how much buzz the team is generating.

In a perfect world, I would be hired to measure and update these values daily. Like a stock market, I could advise teams and sponsors when to BUY, BUY, BUY, or when to SELL, SELL, SELL!

Another aspect that the Emory formula does not determine is market efficiency, based on the market that the team is in. NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL can appeal to national brands. But social media may attract more localized businesses to partner with a team because it is cheaper than stadium elements (A Coke scoreboard for instance), and it reaches their direct market. This needs to be included because it cannot be assumed that every team operates in a vacuum; every NBA team is in its own unique market. The only way to fairly evaluate a ranking, or “equity” is to measure how well each team appeals to its own market. Using followers per capita is a good start.

It should also be noted that for the purposes of my formula, and I’m assuming Emory’s as well, is that I do not have direct access to the most accurate statistics from Facebook and Twitter. Teams would have to forfeit their exclusive access to their fan pages for me to download the exact numbers. The numbers we use are the public ones that Facebook or Twitter publishes.

Here are Digital Sports Voice’s ranking for NBA teams, based on current market trends and team news:

Name TF Sports Marketing Score
Heat 10,799,588 1176
Celtics 8,528,318 527
Bulls 9,977,394 477
Lakers 20,365,192 440
Magic 2,944,180 406
Thunder 2,848,347 318
Spurs 2,297,478 104
Warriors 806,033 93
Mavericks 2,951,886 79
Cavaliers 1,242,555 74
Jazz 601,692 48
Nuggets 1,259,909 45
Rockets 1,002,676 44
Trail Blazers 655,601 39
Hawks 484,833 37
Timberwolves 495,678 33
Pelicans 523,972 33
Pistons 686,908 28
Clippers 1,280,770 24
Knicks 4,778,581 23
Kings 446,944 22
Grizzlies 469,979 21
Bucks 452,571 21
Suns 996,683 16
Pacers 604,432 15
Bobcats 454,344 11
Wizards 375,183 10
76ers 583,310 8
Raptors 649,090 4
Nets 1,408,903 4

Note how the Rockets have a solid potential to rise throughout the season because of the acquisition of Dwight Howard. There is no reason in evaluations why we should ignore this potential. Emory’s formula would argue that it is an extreme, and that the value of the Rockets will not hold steady.

The Digital Sports Voice formula works best because it punishes those teams that play in large markets who cannot attract large followings (Brooklyn Nets) and rewards those with passionate and responsive followings (San Antonio Spurs). The ultimate team is a large market team, or a team the extends much beyond its current market to attract fans, and keeps them interacting (Miami Heat). Another added bonus of this formula is the ability to measure teams in the same market (Clippers and Lakers). If I were an LA business I would demand a cheap discount from the Clippers, or buy with the Lakers and expect decent results from my social media sponsorship.

I invite the Emory study to engage in a debate between our formulas. I’d like to see the raw data that they collected and compare its accuracy to mine. But for now, it’s website against website.