ASU football fans are about as loyal as you might expect (and that's bad news)

A statistical analysis of the most fair-weather fans in college football's Power Five conferences

Fair weather.

It is a fitting portrayal of both the climate of Arizona and ASU's college football fans.

At least, that is what the common narrative has established about ASU's fan base. However, conventional wisdom is often misleading, so I took a statistical approach to measure the most (and least) loyal college football fan bases in the Power Five conferences

As much as it will pain Sun Devil fans to admit, the data confirm that ASU football has one of the most irresolute fan bases in college. 

I used a linear regression model to analyze data from 2007 to 2016, comparing a given team’s win percentage to its in-game attendance — both as a raw number and a percentage of the stadium’s capacity (to factor out differences in stadium size). 

I drew attendance and capacity data from ASU’s Sports Market Analytics database and win-loss data from TeamRankings.com

My goal was to identify fan bases that showed up for games when the team was winning, as well as fans that filled stadiums no matter what their team’s win-loss record was that season. 

The stronger the relationship between win percentage and stadium attendance, the more the fans might be considered “fair weather.”

You can find the full data set here

To identify which programs had the most disloyal fans, I first removed any teams that consistently had stadium capacity at 95 percent or above. That knocked off many of the pedigree programs in college football, including Michigan, Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.

The remaining rankings place ASU 14th out of all Power Five schools in the win rate’s ability to predict changes in game attendance, at around a 23% R-Squared. ASU’s stadium attendance from 2007 to 2016 averaged out to 81 percent, ranking them 55 out of 65. With each additional loss, stadium attendance dipped by an additional 1.85 percent. Those numbers all place ASU in the bottom third of the Power Five teams in fan loyalty. 

Data compiled from ASU's Sports Analytics database and TeamRankings.com

What the numbers really illustrate is that ASU football fans are not a particularly loyal bunch. While seats are fuller when the team is winning, fans struggle to maintain interest during off-years, and despite averaging a 55 percent win rate over the past decade, our stadium is among the emptiest in the sport. 

Other programs ranking amongst the most win-dependent fan bases include Baylor, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Kansas, Virginia and Washington State. 

Fan behavior is a complex problem to tackle, but on-field success is one of the most important factors in predicting game attendance. It is easy for winning teams to draw crowds, but it is crucial for ASU fans to support their team when the team is not performing well. 

“What you'll see is that there are different tiers of fans, and the casual fans start to increase attendance after winning persists,” Daniel McIntosh, a sports marketing specialist who lectures on sports analytics at ASU, said. 

"A second critical piece (in predicting stadium attendance) is historical community significance," McIntosh said. "This is an incredibly important moderating effect for on field success." Programs with historical significance draw a deeper attachment from their fans. 

Another factor that affects attendance is the fans' perceived value of seeing a live game.

"The consumer has virtually endless ways to spend their hard-earned money," McIntosh said. "If the fan perceives that the cost outweighs the benefit, they'll choose to spend their money elsewhere."

These factors combined help to tell a better story as to why fan loyalty varies so much from market to market. Schools like Alabama, where football fanaticism is practically a way of life, have an immediate advantage over smaller schools with newer, less-storied football programs.

Teams that are heavily reliant on team performance to boost their crowd attendance can use that information to their advantage. These universities might seek to allocate their resources more heavily in recruiting and coaching, factors that are highly predictive of team performance, and thus fan attendance. 

In any case, ASU’s chronic underperformance in driving fans to the stadium poses daunting challenges to marketers and fan engagement specialists. 

ASU football fans are certainly not the most fair weather in college football, but we are perennial underperformers. However, any fan base can change, and ASU fans have a massive student population that could make them one of the most feared in sports. All students need to do is tap into that potential.


Reach the columnist at jmsloan3@asu.edu or follow @jakeuzzi on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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