MLB Team Relevance Rankings

Why Relevance Matters

Relevance is a measure that taps into the emotional connection fans have with sports teams. Fans are drawn to the most relevant teams – the ones that connect with them on a deep emotional level (both positively and negatively).

An example from the realm of human relationship development demonstrates the significance of relevance. When you agree to go on a date with someone, there is something that initially attracts you to the other person -- something that differentiates them from other people. However, relevance is much deeper than the initial attraction. "Relevance is the one you marry because you cannot live without them. It is emotional and irrational, but the bond is strong.” (Elliot Schreiber, Ph.D.).

A Personal Story of Sports Team Relevance

"Relevance is the teams and leagues you can't imagine living without. I grew up in Birmingham, AL, headquarters of the SEC and epicenter of college football. As an adult, college football now occupies a significant place in life -- in terms of purchase behavior, leisure time, friendship foundations, major family events, etc.

Many years ago I moved to a state where college football passion was significantly less prevalent in the culture and became desperate for college football conversations and news. I went to great lengths to purchase a 50-foot, long-range radio antenna (this was before the days of the internet), installed it on top of my house and pointed it south with the hopes of once again hearing the college football radio programs I so longed for.

Many years later the opportunity presented itself to move back to Birmingham, AL where, according to the New York Times, 85% of the population regularly follows college football. The ability to immerse myself once again in a culture saturated with college football passion was a major factor in the decision to move back to the state. Thus, college football is highly relevant in my life." (Darin W. White, Ph.D.)

Relevance Drives Fan Loyalty and Purchase Behavior

Amy Brown, head of planning at iris Amsterdam, argues that the digital age has enabled a new form of loyalty that is founded on relevance. Rather than being driven primarily by transactions, loyalty in the digital age is an outcome of consistently providing a great experience.

“Amazon Prime is the new kind of loyalty program precisely because their loyalty strategy isn't about driving loyalty – it's about creating an experience,” Brown says. “Prime has successfully evolved by consistently providing a great experience within the ecosystem, getting consumers to buy more varied things, more often.”

Relevance is one of the primary drivers of creating great experiences. Relevance increases ‘decision simplicity’ in a world of expanding choice. According to Brown, "A 20% increase in relevance has been shown to lead to a 96% increase in customer loyalty and an 86% increase in purchase conversion." (ADMAP, 2017)

Relevance Changes Over Time

Relevance drives market penetration and refers to the function a team plays in people's lives. According to Baylor University marketing professor Dr. Kirk Wakefield in Team Sports Marketing, "You can likely think of clothing brands that were relevant to your life as a young teenager (but aren't any longer). On the other hand, some brands (e.g., Levi's) are classics and maintain relevance. The same is true for sports teams, which may be more or less relevant to individual fan segments. For example, you may be very familiar with the top teams in FIFA, but unless you are a soccer (football) fan these teams will not be relevant to you no matter how differentiated they may be."

How We Calculate Relevance

The relevance rankings are based on a deep dive into social media data from over 7 million U.S. sports fans. Samford University's Center for Sports Analytics and Affinio, a big data consumer insights company in Canada, run detailed studies of U.S. sports fans to ascertain teams’ relevance. Our analysis, utilizing audience intelligence technology, advanced machine learning algorithms, and unsupervised segmentation technology, tap into billions of interest variables and network connections.

By analyzing how over 7 million U.S. sports fans are connected to teams, sports brands, events, athletes and sports reporters, we are able to develop a relevance ranking for every team.

According to ADWEEK, "Social media data is a remarkable source of unsolicited, unbiased consumer data. Interest and interconnectivity trends can help creative marketers “collect dots” in social spheres where they have no experience, no exposure, and no gut feelings to rely on.

Audience insight platforms like Affinio, Crimson Hexagon and Hive can help bring unfamiliar audiences into focus. By mining millions of social interactions, these tools can identify shared behaviors and patterns that make each audience segment unique. You are no longer constrained to having real-life experiences and observations. You can now sit behind your keyboard and play cultural anthropologist, learning valuable details about your audience such as; trends, topics, celebrities, brands and publications they follow, words they use to describe themselves, hashtags they use, memes they post, etc."

Interpreting the Relevance Score Metric

The relevance score, found in the lower right corner of each box, is a custom metric of a sports property's significance to U.S. sports fans based on its affinity score (how many times more likely U.S. sports fans are to have an interest in the sports property as compared to the U.S. population as a whole on the social network), audience size, and the number of members who already have this interest. Historically sports properties relevance scores have been found to be between 0 to 35 with U.S. sports fans. Currently the NFL has the highest relevance score of any sports property in the world with U.S. sports fan with a relevance score of 33.86. The NBA is second with a 25.83 and MLB is third with a 19.45. Individual sports teams tend to exhibit relevance scores between 0 to 10 with teams like the Dallas Cowboy, New England Patriots, New York Yankees, L.A. Lakers and the Golden State Warriors normally at the top. 

A Brief Introduction to Affinio

Understanding Relevance Changes Over Time

Some teams experience significant fluctuations in relevance while others are relatively stable over time. Relevance is built on the unwavering, passionate support that loyal fans have for the team. The larger and more passionate a fanbase, the more stable team relevance scores. Significant fluctuations in relevance are an indication that a team's fanbase is less engaged than the fanbase of teams that do not experience significant fluctuations.

All teams will experience small fluctuations in relevance over time. These fluctuations are based on team performance, players performance, coaching staff news, general team news, primary rival news, time of year, etc.

The Center for Sports Analytics regularly updates our relevance rankings. We list the percentage change in relevance for each team in the lower left corner. This number represents the positive (green) /negative (red) change in relevance since the last time we ran the report. We run reports three times per season for each league we measure (beginning of the season, midpoint, end of the season). Thus, if you visit the site during week 12 of the 17 week NFL season and see that the Atlanta Falcons have a +6% change in relevance, that means the Atlanta Falcons relevance score increased by 6% from the beginning of the season to the midpoint of the season.