Do Football Championships Benefit Other College Sports?

One of the most visible moments of all American sports is the NCAA division one football championship. Tens of thousands of fans pack into a stadium to see two universities compete head to head for the title of national champions. There is also added tension and excitement on the game as both teams battled through the College Football Playoff to get there. The battle to even get in the College Football Playoff has raged the entire season, and has been a highly watched affair. Sports networks and online articles have speculated all season who would get in, formulating scenarios and generating buzz about the teams most likely to get in. But with all of these eyes on the school’s football teams, do any other teams benefit?

The College Football Playoff is valued at more than 600 million dollars, with some of that money going to the schools that participate. The school that wins the national championship receives the most out of the four. Football is generally known around the NCAA as a revenue sport. Meaning that it makes more money than it takes to operate it. The other sport that is known as a traditional revenue sport is basketball. The rest of the sports in the college athletics landscape are known as non-revenue sports, meaning that they bring in less money than it takes to operate them. There are some schools that make money off of some of these sports, but in general the mass majority of these sports run in the red. 

That being said, with all of the eyes that are placed on football and all the exposure that it creates for the school, how much of a benefit is the football team to the rest of the sports at the university. Does having a national championship football team correlate into more success for traditional non-revenue producing sports? 

To answer this question, I choose five sports out of the traditional non-revenue producing category (women’s soccer, volleyball, men’s and women’s tennis, and men’s tennis) and compared their success pre and post national championship. These sports were chosen because all of the past five different schools that won the national championship sponsor them (men’s swimming at clemson is the lone exception as they recently cut their program). I also did not add repeat championships into the mix, so the date looks at the initial season of the sport and then the three years after the championship to see if they had improved. I voided the last two national championships, 2018 Clemson and 2017 Alabama, as they were very recent and not enough data had been accrued yet. The five schools that are included in this analysis are Clemson (2016), Alabama (2015), Ohio State (2014), Florida State (2013), and Auburn (2010). The graphs that follow show the same year that a championship was won, and then the next three years so see if there is any change (Year 1 is the year in which they won the national championship, and then the years afterward are the three year period).

The data shows that for four of the schools there is an uptick the year after the championship, with Alabama being the biggest jump at three wins. Ohio State had the biggest decrease with eight less wins at the end of the period. Generally, three of the teams (Florida State, Alabama, and Auburn) maintained about the same number of wins while Clemson had the biggest three year jump, improving from six to 11 wins.

For women’s soccer, the data tells us that Ohio State had the biggest jump over the three year period with eight more wins than what they started with. Florida State maintained their high win totals for the first two years but then dipped sharply to end with nine less wins than the first year. However, Florida State was the national runners up and then the national champions in the first two years so their three year run is deemed a short term success but a long term loss. Florida State, Auburn, and Alabama all had less wins at the end than they started with.

Out of the four men’s swimming programs, Florida State incurred the biggest loss dropping from 14th to 31st in the national standings in a matter of years (In swimming, lower is higher as one is best). Surprisingly, all four programs got worse over the period. Alabama incurred the lowest loss as they only dropped one place over the time period.

For women’s tennis, Alabama improved the most, improving by a staggering 13 wins over the period. Ohio State improved off of the jump by 11 wins, and then the following year accumulating 32 wins and a national semi finals appearance. But then the last year fell back to earth with a loss of 18 wins from the year prior. Clemson only had three years of data as they have not yet started their season this year. Alabama, Auburn, and Florida State were all on the upward trend. 

In men’s tennis, Ohio State improved every year and ended the period with an improvement of 7 wins from start to finish. The rest of the programs either improved slightly or declined slightly. Clemson (they have not started their season yet so that is why they are short a year in data) and Florida State had nearly no difference, while Auburn and Alabama essentially flipped win shares. Auburn starting with 16 and ending with 14 and then Alabama starting with 14 and ending with 16.

Out of the 24 programs that were analyzed, nine increased their win total over the three year period and 15 did not. Clemson with its four programs increased two and then saw two decline, its biggest jump was volleyball with five wins more at the end of the period. Alabama appears to be the most successful out of all the schools as four out of the five improved their win total and the one that declined only lost one place (swimming). Women’s tennis was the biggest beneficiary as they grew their wins by 13. Ohio State was very volatile as their sports for the most part went wildly one way or another. Women’s soccer and men’s tennis had big jumps but volleyball and men’s swimming suffered. Women’s tennis reached the national semifinal and grew their wins by 12 at the peak but then dropped 6 below their starting point at the end. Florida State either decreased or held steady in all of their sports. The outlier being soccer as they were hugely successful in the beginning with a national runner up and then a championship but then declined sharply towards the end of the period. Auburn decreased in every single sport except women’s tennis with which they had a giant jump with 12 wins.

The data appears to show that winning the national championship in football might have a negative effect on these five non-revenue sports as only 37.5% of them improved their win totals by the end of the three year period. 

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SEC Football Fan Frenzy

From the roar of the Crimson Tide to Vanderbilt’s sparse stadium… how can the fan experience change so greatly within the same conference? Is there a leading factor that contributes to these differences? In order to answer these questions, I turned to a platform that holds invaluable feedback and statistics on SEC fans…Twitter.

Twitter has become a place where raging fans can broadcast their opinion to an audience that may or may not be listening. There’s no barrier to creating an account and very few opinions that can go unsaid. When a quarterback fumbles the third down play, where can raging fans go to unleash their criticism? Twitter. Where can a lifelong fan go to express their support? Twitter. Through the highs and lows of SEC Football, Twitter is there to document those feelings. For that reason, this is the platform that I chose to analyze and compare how the fan experience changes among 10 SEC schools.

MY METHOD

14 teams make up the SEC. I decided to focus on 10 of those, removing the four schools with the lowest enrollment size. The figure below shows the enrollment size of the remaining 10.

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I studied 50 of the most recent tweets mentioning the team’s name. For example, for the Tennessee Volunteers, I used the keywords “Tennessee Football” as my search query. For certain teams, these keywords brought up tweets that were not relevant to my analysis. I excluded those tweets that did not pertain to the team. For example, during the Tennessee Football search, I surpassed anything to do with the NFL Tennessee Titans.

I wanted to analyze tweets from the middle of the week and not on a game day. I chose Wednesday, November 28th because I did not want the feed to be full of statistics around one single game. Then, I organized the 50 most recent tweets into the following categories: fan photograph, criticism, support, news source and player/official accounts. An example tweet of each category is below.

Fan Photograph:Screen-Shot-2018-12-17-at-11.13.12-AM.png

 

Criticism:Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 11.18.34 AM

 

Support:Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 11.08.24 AM

News Source:Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 11.06.46 AM

Player/Official Account:Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 11.10.42 AM

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After categorizing the tweets, I compared my findings to a study by Michael Lewis on college football fan base strength. In his study, he viewed college teams as a brand and ranked their strength in the college football market. His first metric was based off of revenue premium. He controlled for quality differences like team performance, alumni size and stadium capacity and argued that this metric showed the intensity of the fandom. Second, was the team’s return on investment. The stronger the team’s brand, the more benefits they would yield in the market, like recruits. The ROI measures the notion of brand efficiency. The last metric was football revenues or market share for each school. Lewis argued that this metric told us the most about the scale of each team. Lewis’ results of the 10 best football program brands is shown below.

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I wanted to see if the tweets of the 10 SEC schools I analyzed followed the pattern and rankings of Lewis’ brand strength findings. Would Tennessee, #2 on Lewis’ list show the most support on Twitter? To analyze the correlation between my findings and Lewis’, I will break it down into categories. For the purpose of my survey, an unsatisfactory team will be those with a worse record than the prior year or one with a losing record. A satisfactory team will be one that has improved or one with a winning record. The categories are 1) Unsatisfactory teams with a top 10 college brand ranking 2) Satisfactory teams with a top 10 brand ranking 3) Satisfactory teams with a sub-10 brand ranking and 4) Largest program.

1) Unsatisfactory Teams with a Strong Brand

Lewis ranked Tennessee 2nd and Auburn 9th on the best collegiate football brands list. Despite being in the top 10 for this metric, Tennessee’s record is 5-7 and Auburn’s 7-5. The tweets about these teams made it clear that these were some of the most passionate fans in the league. In this case, passion did not always correlate to support. The criticism category exploded for both programs.

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At first, it may seem contradictory that the best brands in college football got the most critique from fans. However, when a team’s brand is producing so much money and the team is still underperforming, of course these fans will be the most vocal. They support their team better than most other programs, so they become the most disappointed after a long season.

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                                 Tennessee                                                                Auburn

2) Satisfactory Teams with a Strong Brand

Now, let’s discuss the teams that were in the top 10 brands and also had a successful record. LSU (9-3), Georgia (11-2), and Florida (9-3) were among this group. Unsurprisingly, this group saw the most support and news coverage. All three schools ranked in the top 10 for revenue premium, ROI and market share. When they produce the results that the fans want, or at least have a decent record, the fans are there on Twitter showing their support. With each win, fans and news stations were there to tweet about it and spread the message.

LSU:LSU

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3) Satisfactory Team with a Sub-10 brand

There’s one team that often stands out from the crowd; Alabama. In my findings, this trend was no different. Despite Alabama having a 13-0 record, they fell short of making Lewis’ best college football brands. Alabama’s tweets were particularly interesting. Of course, support was still relatively high. These fans are known to be vocal. However, the criticism category held different context. None of the critiques were about the actual performance of Alabama. They were more about the conference in general and how the system is flawed. For example, the tweet below with the hashtag “#CFBisrigged.”

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This differed greatly from Tennessee and Auburn whose main critiques came from fans who were not pleased with their performance. For Alabama’s team, there was much more content on the specific players and coaches, almost like they were celebrities. This makes sense when the team is the nation’s best program in arguably the sport’s most competitive era.

Alabama:alabama.png

4) Largest Program

And finally, Texas A&M. The team that has nearly 18,000 more students than the 2nd largest SEC team, Florida. I wanted to find out if pure size of enrollment and alumni affect the fans Twitter spread? The categories for this team were much more even. Perhaps this is because the team is doing about as good as they have for the past few years. Nothing too much worse or better. There was a pretty even split between support and criticism. One trend I did notice was the difference in the accounts tweeting about Texas A&M. A majority of the tweets came from students and alumni themselves. At most of the other schools I saw a lot tweets from news sources and outside fans. Perhaps because Texas A&M has so many students, they have a larger presence on the platform.

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MISSING VARIABLES

It’s important to identify the variables that were not accounted for in this study. Perhaps the reason the Tennessee Volunteers have such a strong brand is because they are the only major program in the state whereas Alabama has another major team, Auburn, less than 3 hours away. Or the history of a team and if this season is a disappointment. If a team has notoriously been successful and then has an underperforming season, their fans may be more vocal with their critiques on Twitter.

WRAP-UP

The biggest shock of Lewis’ study was perhaps the fact that the Alabama Crimson Tide did not make the top 10 college football brands list. In Lewis’ attempt to explain the omission of Alabama on this list, he poses the GREAT question of, “what would happen if Tennessee had a run like Alabama’s? Would the Volunteer fan base be as intense as the Crimson Tide?”

It is hard to answer or even muse questions like this. Mostly because the day that Tennessee has a program and record like Alabama is unforeseen. But, my results combined with Lewis’ analysis show that if Tennessee ever did have a run like Alabama, the magnitude of college football fandom would change forever.

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