Generally, there are 2 types of attendees at NCAA Division 1 football and basketball games: fair-weather fans and diehard fans. Fair-weather fans are only enthusiastic about a sports team when that team is performing well, whereas diehard fans are constantly invested in a team’s success and will continue to support the team in the face of adversity. Understandably, having a passionate, devoted fan base is a source of pride for many college athletic programs, and people often argue about which of the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) has the most loyal following. Using correlation analysis, we can measure the dedication of fans in each major conference and settle this debate once and for all.
A correlation coefficient r is a measure of the strength of the relationship between two variables, with r= 1 indicating a perfect linear relationship. Let’s calculate the correlation coefficients for teams’ overall win-loss percentages and average attendance at games, keeping in mind that a strong correlation indicates that the attendance of fans relies heavily on the teams’ win-loss records. The conference with the most fair-weather fans will have the greatest correlation coefficient, and the conference with the most dedicated fans will have the lowest correlation coefficient.
Using every Power 5 football team’s win-loss percentage and average game attendance from the 2013-2017 seasons, I was able to determine that the correlation coefficients from the sets of data are as follows:
The table above reveals that the football teams in the Big Ten and ACC conferences have significantly more fair-weather fans than the football teams in the Pac-12, SEC, and Big 12 conferences. There are a few plausible explanations as to why this is the case:
- Many Big Ten and ACC members are located in the North, so attending their football games requires an ability and willingness to endure cold temperatures, strong winds, and snow and sleet. If a northern team consistently performs poorly and is expected to lose a game to an upcoming opponent, then fans will be less inclined to brave these harsh conditions and will probably opt to watch the game from the comfort of their own homes. Therefore, cold weather, combined with the fact that most, if not all, NCAA Division I football games are now televised and/or streamed online, could explain why fans of Big Ten and ACC teams appear to be less loyal than fans of teams in the other Power 5 conferences.
- Game day traditions are a great way to get fans excited about and involved in a football game. The cheers, gestures, songs, and performances help create a fun atmosphere and, more importantly, can make fans feel like they’re a part of one big family. NBC Sports recently compiled a list of the 20 best college football traditions, and half of them were from teams in the SEC and Big 12 conferences. These rituals included Arkansas’ “Calling of the Hogs,” Oklahoma’s Sooner Schooner ride, Florida’s “Gator Chomp,” and Kansas’ Rock Chalk Chant, to name a few. The sense of community that is built using these traditions enriches the fan experience and makes people want to attend games regardless of the team’s win-loss record. Hence, it’s logical that the 2 Power 5 conferences with the most well-known and grand traditions have the most consistent attendance at games.
- A lot of the schools in the Big Ten are located near an NFL team’s stadium. For example, the Minnesota Vikings’ stadium and the University of Minnesota are less than 10 minutes apart, the Washington Redskins’ stadium and the University of Maryland are about 25 minutes apart, and the Indianapolis Colts’ stadium and Indiana University are about an hour apart. That being said, the Big Ten might have the most fair-weather fans because when its football teams consistently lose games, fans have the option to attend NFL games, which feature more talented athletes and an advanced style of play, instead.
I also found the win-loss percentage and average game attendance of every Power 5 men’s basketball team for the 2013-2017 seasons. The table below shows the correlation coefficients that were calculated from the sets of data.
The following theories could explain why fans in a particular conference are more or less committed to the success of their teams than fans in other Power 5 conferences.
- Half of the Pac-12 teams are in close proximity to an NBA team’s arena. Specifically, the arenas of the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, and Phoenix Suns are all less than an hour away from at least one of the schools in the Pac-12 conference. Since fans of Pac-12 basketball teams have the ability to watch NBA stars like LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Draymond Green compete at the highest level of the sport, it’s unsurprising that they are by far the most fair-weathered.
- Teams in the ACC and SEC consistently recruit the nation’s top players and are home to some of the most revered coaches in college basketball, like Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, and John Calipari. Fans attend these teams’ games because they are loyal to the established coaches and excited to watch the talented athletes, some of whom are destined for NBA stardom, play. Thus, the ACC and SEC basketball programs’ legacies of excellence continually attract the attention and support of fans.
- March Madness is a thrilling time in college sports, and a majority of the tournament’s participants are ACC, SEC, or Big Ten members. Fans of teams in these 3 conferences are probably less fazed by games lost because they predict that their teams will still be selected to compete in the tournament come the end of the regular season. On the other hand, teams in the Pac-12 and Big 12 conferences rarely make NCAA tournament appearances, which would explain why their fans don’t commit too much time and energy to watching their games regularly.
In any Power 5 conference, you are sure to find diehard fans who are deeply passionate about a team and will continue to support it in spite of a losing record, postseason ban, academic scandal, etc. However, our findings prove that the SEC generally has the most dedicated fans and the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences generally have the most fair-weather fans.
About the Author
Courtney Williams graduated summa cum laude from Berry College (GA) in 2017. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and she wants to use her knowledge of statistics, probability, and more advanced mathematics to help sports organizations make good business- and player-related decisions.