After revealing the franchise valuations of NBA teams this year, featuring a 77 percent year over year increase for some teams, Forbes Magazine also released its data-centric evaluation of fan bases. And anytime you remove context and focus only on cold hard numbers, you're going to get some interesting conclusions. Say hello to your No. 1 fan base, the Miami Heat!
The Miami Heat fans took the top spot to little surprise, although with a tad bit of initial disgust. But then we looked at the team’s numbers pre-LeBron and realized there was no need to jump on the Heat-hater bandwagon. Fact is the team has ranked in the top 5 in the league in attendance and/or filled their arena to capacity since the 2004-05 season. Thanks to Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade and LeBron’s 4-year train stop, the team has had a player among those with the best selling jersey and/or the team’s merchandise has ranked among the league’s best-selling since 2004. The team ranks 3rd in the league in terms of its social media sheer volume of fans and its following as a percent of its population, a number that shows its reach extends beyond Miami-Dade County. To boot, LeBron’s exit didn’t lead to a mass exodus of fans. The Heat are still playing to a full capacity crowd and its merchandise remains among the top-selling in the league. There is enough momentum that the team signed an extension with Fox’s Sun South this past November that pays triple the current rights fee and keeps them on the network through the 2024/25 season.
So hey, if you only look at the numbers, they look awesome!
How then, did we reach this conclusion?
The factors used:
hometown crowd reach (defined by market researchers Nielsen Scarborough as a percentage of the local population that watched, attended, and/or listened to a game in the last year), 3 years worth of television ratings, 3 years of arena attendance based on capacity reached, 3 years worth of merchandise sales, and social media reach (a combination of Facebook likes and Twitter followers).
Attendance in terms of selling tickets has never been a problem, the team has been a hot ticket since Dwyane Wade showed up. They've been competitive consistently and have a great marketing scheme.
I don't want to label their entire franchise off of the fans' exodus at the end of Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. Fans left all sorts of arenas during the playoffs last year too early. The Spurs have had issues over the years, and they're the best franchise in sports. But the Heat did suffer a huge bandwagon problem, understandably, during the Big 3 era. That's going to skew the social media impact dramatically, as is the merchandising sales. What do you want to bet Cleveland's going to go climbing up those rankings next year?
But if you want to look at the fans as dollars signs, the Heat have done the most over the past three years to maximize the money their fans produce. And to a lot of people, that's what's important.
Here's the rest of the top ten from Forbes:
1. Miami Heat
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Chicago Bulls
5. Los Angeles Lakers
6. Boston Celtics
7. (tie) Dallas Mavericks
7. (tie) Indiana Pacers
9. Portland Trail Blazers
10. Los Angeles Clippers
Look at the Indiana Pacers at No.7. That's a little surprising given their attendance issues. The rest is pretty predictable. OKC's gaga over the Thunder, the Spurs are the Spurs, the Bulls have one of the best attendance records all time, the Blazers are nuts, etc.
But the Clippers? Yeah, I think we're done here.
You can't define the best fans. You can't generalize, label, quantify or qualify them. It's a spirit, and everyone's going to believe theirs are the best. It's fine to put this metric together, but let's be honest about it is. Dollars produced per piece of laundry.