Throughout this article we will explore which NFL naming rights sponsors are getting the best return on investment by analyzing social media affinity from the Zoomph database. First, we will have an explanation of terms. Then we will breakdown the best and worst sponsors by spread, plus an analysis of the best and worst sectors for general affinity. Finally, we will explore interesting insights throughout the league and a cross comparison of teams.
Explanation of Terms
Hardcore NFL Fans = Twitter followers that have been identified as having an interest in American football + follow the official NFL Twitter account.
Hardcore X Team Fans = Twitter followers that use keywords (ex: “Steelers” for the Pittsburgh Steelers) and follow X team’s official account.
Affinity = The amount of people that follow a certain brand as compared to the population.
Hardcore NFL Fans Affinity = The amount of people that follow X brand divided by the amount of hardcore NFL fans.
Hardcore X Teams Affinity = The amount of people that follow X brand divided by the amount of hardcore X teams fans.
Hardcore NFL Fans Indexed (Affinity) = Hardcore NFL Fans Affinity divided by Hardcore X Teams Affinity.
Hardcore X Teams Indexed (Affinity) = Hardcore X Teams Affinity divided by Hardcore NFL Fans Affinity.
Spread = The difference between:
Hardcore X Teams Indexed Affinity for the naming rights sponsor divided by the Hardcore NFL Fans Indexed Affinity for the naming rights sponsor
Hardcore X Teams Indexed Affinity for the naming rights sponsors competitor’s average divided by the Hardcore NFL Fans Indexed Affinity for the naming rights sponsors competitor’s average.
Now, it’s time for kickoff.
Top 3 - Best Partnerships by Spread
To simplify spread – the spread is what total value the naming rights sponsor has gained from the partnership (a.k.a. the difference in what the affinity is now vs. what the affinity would have been if there was no partnership in place).
Buffalo Bills – Highmark
The best performing naming rights sponsor in spread among NFL teams was Highmark - sponsor of the Buffalo Bills. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York, which the stadium is named after, is a subsidiary of Highmark Healthcare and part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield system. Highmark and BCBS’s general accounts did not perform well among Bills fans. However, Highmark BCBS of WNY had the second highest indexed affinity of any company at 33.7x (second only to Texans fans’ indexed affinity for Reliant Energy (53.4x) – a localized company). This 33.7 indexed affinity, coupled with Bills fans having 1/3rd of the affinity NFL fans have for Highmark’s competitors, made for the highest spread among any NFL team.
Kansas City Chiefs – GEHA
Kansas City Chiefs sponsor, GEHA (aka: Government Employees Health Association) performed well beyond its expectations. The company has three factors that would normally scream “this will be a bad sponsorship,” however, they all are overcome by the health provider. First, GEHA is not the sponsor of the Chiefs stadium, but only the field. The stadium is still called Arrowhead due to it being iconic. However, in 2021 (which is the second factor working against them - a brand new sponsorship), GEHA became the premier sponsor, and it would become known as GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. The third factor working against the brand is that many people do not have a social media affinity for their health provider. Surprisingly though, the Chiefs and GEHA have overcome those obstacles and perform second best among NFL teams with a massive spread of 644.62.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Raymond James
St. Petersburg-based financial company, Raymond James, has been the naming rights sponsor for the Buccaneers stadium since it opened in 1998. This long-term loyalty has paid off for Raymond James, as Bucs fans have an 18x indexed affinity for the brand, plus less than half the affinity for Raymond James’ competitors as NFL fans in general. These factors, plus a recent Super Bowl LV win inside Raymond James Stadium for the hometown Bucs, make for the third largest spread among NFL teams.
Bottom 3 - Worst Partnerships by Spread
Houston Texans – NRG
The worst partnership for spread is NRG and the Houston Texans. While NRG and their subsidiaries Reliant and Direct Energy perform well, Texans fans have a much higher affinity for NRG’s competitors than NFL fans. Texans fans’ 10.32 indexed affinity for NRG’s general account is outshined by NRG’s competitors in the same measure at 12.64x. If NRG and their 2 subsidiaries Reliant and Direct Energy were averaged, they would still have the worst spread due to competitors’ high affinity among Texans fans. However, if only Reliant (which has an indexed affinity of 53.4x) was analyzed against the same competitors, they would be the complete opposite and have the best spread in the NFL at 2659x.
New Orleans Saints – Caesars
Caesars and Saints come in at second worst in the NFL with a negative 2.20 spread. This is likely due to many factors which will be explored later in the interesting finds section - most namely that the naming rights deal just went into effect in July of 2021. Caesars subsidiary Harrah’s has a New Orleans location which performed very well, with an indexed affinity of 29.07x. This however is not the true naming rights sponsor, Caesars, which did not register any affinity among Saints fans - making for the second worst spread in the league.
Los Angeles Rams – SoFi
The third worst spread in the NFL was the Los Angeles Rams and SoFi at negative 1.65. While Rams fans have roughly the same general affinity for SoFi’s competitors as NFL fans, the spread is taken into the red when we see Rams fans have a 45% less general affinity for SoFi itself. This is likely due to multiple factors; the naming rights sponsorship is new, plus it is being split between two teams and not synonymous with one specific NFL team.
Best & Worst for General Affinity Among Hardcore NFL Fans
Note: this average is of the naming rights sponsors’ competitors only.
Best in the League
Best (2.63%) – Airlines
The best sector for general affinity among NFL fans in the Airlines sector. Las Vegas Raiders sponsor Allegiant Air’s competitors registered an average affinity of 2.63% among NFL fans. Competitors such as Delta (4.7%) and Southwest (7.3%) made the airline sector undoubtedly number one across the board.
2nd Best (1.88%) - Tech
Seattle Seahawks stadium sponsor Lumen (formerly known as CenturyLink) had a low affinity among NFL fans at .08%. However, with competitors such as Microsoft and HP in the cloud space, Lumen’s competitor average went up a good amount. This average amount increased even more due to Lumen’s competitor Google having the highest general affinity of any company measured at 11.37%.
3rd Best (1.73%) – Telecommunications
The third best category among NFL fans was the telecom category. Dallas Cowboys sponsor AT&T, which is also the parent company of DirecTV, had a 3.9% general affinity among NFL fans. This was second highest in the telecommunications category behind Verizon at 5.8%. Verizon’s high affinity, along with other brands such as T-Mobile and Xfinity contributed to the overall average for AT&T’s competitors coming in at a 1.73% general affinity.
4th Best (1.33%) – Automotive
It is important to note that there was a solid showing in general affinity by the automotive industry among NFL fans, with all three auto naming rights sponsors having a high affinity. Mercedes-Benz (Atlanta Falcons) and Nissan (Tennessee Titans) had a general affinity of 1.5%, while Ford (Detroit Lions), had a general affinity of 2.4%. When averaging all three naming rights sponsors’ competitors, we see a general affinity of 1.33% - a promising number for automotive brands.
Worst in the League
Worst (.03%) – Online Finance
The worst sector for general affinity among NFL fans is in the newly created online finance space. SoFi, sponsor of the stadium in which the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers play, had less than half a percent of general affinity among NFL fans. This is a small number, but their competitor’s general affinity was even worse at an average of only .03%.
2nd Worst (.11%) – Themed Restaurants
Interestingly, the Miami Dolphins stadium is not named after a specific casino such as Hard Rock Hollywood (FL) but named after the Hard Rock Café. The brand, which is now owned by the Seminole tribe of Florida had only a .37% affinity among NFL fans, while their competitors (ex: Bubba Gump, Planet Hollywood) were even lower at an average of .11%.
3rd Worst (.18%) – Health Provider
Both Highmark (sponsor of the Buffalo Bills) and GEHA’s (sponsor of the Kansas City Chiefs) competitors had an average general affinity of .18% among NFL fans. This is 3rd worst among NFL fans, likely because many people do not follow their health insurance provider on social media, plus Highmark having such a highly localized market.
I will note, one of the worst teams in general affinity for competitors was the Houston Texans at .06% for NRG’s competitors. However, the Cleveland Browns naming rights sponsor FirstEnergy brought up the average for energy competitors to .19%, making energy the 4th worst of any sector.
Indexed affinity normally goes hand-in-hand with spread, so we will skip talking about that category and instead focus on some interesting observations seen when analyzing this sponsorship data.
M&T Bank vs. Bank of America
It is interesting to note that while Bank of America and M&T are competitors, their strategy in naming rights sponsorship is very different. Bank of America, which is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, has been the naming rights sponsor of the Carolina Panthers since 2004. This local strategy of penetrating the market by Bank of America is one that has been used for a very long time. Among Panthers fans, Bank of America has an indexed affinity of 1.5x and overall, Bank of America has a spread of 1.34. We can see this is working for Bank of America because the spread is positive. However, when looking at M&T and the Baltimore Ravens, we see that their non-traditional route of sponsorship is producing better results than Bank of America and the Panthers. M&T Bank, which is based in Buffalo, New York focused on an expansion strategy into new markets to gain brand recognition. We can see by Ravens fans 11.8x indexed affinity for M&T and their overall spread of 138.36, that M&T’s strategy is paying out high dividends. Many companies should take note from M&T and explore their options of sponsorship outside their home market, because it may just prove to be more successful than they thought.
Caesars + New Orleans Saints
Caesars new sponsorship of the New Orleans Saints could be a case study in itself. However, we will just scratch the surface of this topic. As many of you know, the Saints played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome from 2011 until 2021 when Caesars bought the naming rights. The global brand has many subsidiaries, namely Caesars sportsbook. Caesars general account and Caesars sportsbook did not register any affinity from Saints fans. However, Caesars also owns Harrah’s, which operates a location just over one mile from Caesars Superdome. This account had a large affinity among Saints fans, and a massive indexed affinity of roughly 29x. The final spread, which was mentioned earlier, was calculated on the Caesars general account so it would be a true reading. However, when all three (Caesars, Caesars Sportsbook, and Harrah’s) are averaged, they produce a very good spread of 842.85.
MetLife vs. MetLife
New York-based MetLife is naming rights sponsor of the Giants and Jets stadium. While both teams call MetLife stadium home, one performs better than the other. New York Giants fans have a roughly .9% higher (.41%) affinity for MetLife than NFL fans in general, while Jets fans have .5% less (.27%) affinity for MetLife in the same category. Jets fans lower affinity for MetLife, along with a similar affinity for MetLife’s competitors as NFL fans, makes for a spread of only .02 for the Jets and MetLife. The Giants on the other hand have 45% less affinity for MetLife’s competitors, which expands the spread for MetLife and the Giants to a total of 1.28.
Ford vs. Mercedes-Benz
Although we briefly visited car brands when seeing them come in 4th in general affinity among NFL fans, it is important to make note of this observation which is interesting. Both auto brands Mercedes-Benz and Ford have been the naming rights sponsors since their respective stadiums opened. Mercedes has an indexed affinity among Falcons fans of .97x, which is lower than the NFL average. However, Ford has a much higher indexed affinity among Lions fans at 2.4x. This is likely due to two factors - one of which likely bears a greater weight. Ford Field opened in 2002, while Mercedes-Benz stadium opened in 2017. This likely has some impact, since Ford and the Lions have been synonymous for 15 years longer than the Falcons and Mercedes-Benz. However, arguably the biggest factor in Ford’s better performance is that the company is based in Detroit itself and is 90% of the reason it is called Motor City. The Falcons and Mercedes cannot say the same, as Stuttgart, Germany is roughly 4600 miles from Atlanta, Georgia.
SoFi vs. SoFi
The newest stadium in the NFL, named after the online finance company SoFi, is still trying to establish themselves among Chargers, Rams, and NFL fans alike. SoFi has a .49% general affinity among NFL fans, which is one of the highest in the category. However, to be a naming rights sponsor, they are not performing well in indexed affinity. Chargers fans have a 1.06x indexed affinity for the finance company, while Rams fans are even worse at .55x. Both teams currently have a negative spread, which shows that it may take SoFi years to reap the benefits of this new partnership in uncharted waters.
Becoming a naming rights sponsor in the NFL is very expensive and is a big risk for any company wanting to pursue this opportunity. However, with the right data and an appropriate analysis, this risk can be mitigated tremendously. That is why it is necessary for companies to invest their limited resources into data analytics. If they do this, both the sponsor and the team are likely to see a great return and have a lasting partnership well into the future.
A special thank you to Zoomph for allowing us to use their platform to collect this data.
Link to the Data: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vRkm7R3dhaXBSvtHnzmxhG9n0yuAkDHw6bshrpCUxkyAI-vdxVxdwz-tv1Qx4L6uZ98Akqk77KPUHyD/pubhtml
Photo Credit: “AT&T Stadium”: Rachel Summerlin
Photo Credit: “FirstEnergy Stadium”: Marshal Smith
About the Author
Marshal W. Smith graduated from Samford University in December of 2021 and plans to pursue his master’s here at Samford once his diagnosis of Crohn’s disease/Ulcerative Colitis is in remission. He plans to work with a major sports franchise in marketing or data analytics. Here is a link to his LinkedIn profile: www.linkedin.com/in/marshalwsmith