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Volume 20 No. 42

Research and Ratings

The Milwaukee Bucks and their season-ticket sales staff scored the highest mark among NBA clubs in a mystery shopper survey done this season by research firm IntelliShop exclusively for SportsBusiness Journal.

Mystery shoppers found plenty to cheer about in Milwaukee.
The survey features professional mystery shoppers calling each club multiple times over a five-week period, extending from the start of the preseason through the first two weeks of the regular season, to inquire about buying season tickets. The shoppers evaluated how well the agents performed through the sales process, including touting the benefits of full- and/or partial-season-ticket ownership; assessing the needs of the prospective buyer; closing the sale; and overall ability to engage the prospect emotionally (see methodology, below).

The Bucks led the way in a number of areas. During every surveyed call, for example, the team’s salesperson made an effort to engage in small talk outside the immediate discussion of the ticket sale. The league average for that measure was 46 percent. Additionally, 80 percent of the time, Bucks agents asked the caller to go to the team’s website during the call in order to see the layout of the arena (league average: 46 percent); and 80 percent of the time Milwaukee agents played up the benefit of exclusive access to special areas for season-ticket holders, such as select food vendors or social areas. Less than one-quarter of the agents leaguewide took such actions.

Ultimately, 90 percent of the Bucks’ conversations were rated by the IntelliShop callers as “above average” or “one of the best sales experiences I’ve ever had,” matching the Denver Nuggets and Washington Wizards for the highest such score in the survey.

Following the Bucks on the survey’s leaderboard were the Philadelphia 76ers and New Orleans Pelicans. Each of those top-three clubs is operating in the wake of notable changes in its front office.

In Milwaukee, Ted Loehrke was hired as chief revenue officer, a newly created position for the club, in October 2012. This past spring, Jamie Morningstar from Madison Square Garden was hired as vice president of ticket sales and service.

For the 76ers, industry veteran Scott O’Neil came aboard in July as CEO. The team also hired Chris Heck as chief revenue officer and increased its ticket-sales staff over the summer from about 15 employees to 60, with more hires expected since then.

No team staff did a better job asking questions than the Sixers’ staff, according to the survey results. For example, while attempting to assess the needs of the caller, 67 percent of the Philadelphia agents contacted asked “Who will be going to the games with you (spouse, kids, clients, etc.)?” the highest such rate in the NBA (league average: 29 percent). Ultimately, the team’s agents asked an average of 3.75 needs assessment questions during the calls made, compared with a leaguewide average of 2.65 questions.

In New Orleans, a new team nickname, an improved roster and venue, and a change in sales culture brought on by new ownership helped push the Pelicans this season to their highest season-ticket sales total since moving to the city in 2002. The team now boasts 13,500 full-season-ticket holders, according to Mike Stanfield, senior vice president of sales for the Pelicans and the New Orleans Saints, topping the NBA club’s high of 11,800 for the 2008-09 season.

The Pelicans were bought in April 2012 by longtime Saints owner Tom Benson, who merged the front-office staffs of the two franchises. Stanfield, who has been with the Saints since 2001, said the longtime success of the Saints’ staff (the team has sold out every game since September 2006 and has a long season-ticket waiting list) was parlayed into the Pelicans’ operations.

“We are all singing from the same hymn book now,” Stanfield said. “Everyone here is well-versed on our philosophies, and expectations are high and crystal clear. We do a lot of training … and we feel if we are all telling the same story — new owners, new on-site practice facility, upgraded arena and an exciting team — fans will see that all the promises we made when we bought the team have been fulfilled.”

The strategy of teams selling with a narrative was echoed by Amy Brooks, senior vice president of team marketing and business operations for the NBA.

“The sales focus is on telling a compelling story about the team and the benefits of the season ticket,” Brooks said.

Brooks said the league hosts workshops throughout the year where team representatives share best practices. The league also internally secret shops all the teams regularly on the entire ticket-sales process (using league employees) and provides the results directly to the clubs.

Going into this season, the league had sold more than the record 250,000 full-season tickets it sold last season, and the Pelicans were among the top five in attracting new full-season-ticket clients, Brooks said.

The Washington Wizards, according to the NBA, were also in that top-five class for 2013-14. The Wizards were among the top scorers in the IntelliShop survey, as well.

Overall, 60 percent of the mystery shoppers said that compared to other telephone sales experiences they’d had as mystery shoppers, the NBA call was “one of the best” or “above average.” In addition, according to the results, more than one-third of the agents had a phone personality that was described by shoppers as “truly exceptional.”

“This really is a good-news story for the league as a whole,” said Chris Denove, senior vice president of research and analytics at IntelliShop. “The league overall saw improvement over the 2011 study, and the NBA’s agents, for the most part, provided one of the better call-center sales environments we’ve seen at IntelliShop.”

The Ohio-based market research company was scheduled to conduct its first team-by-team NBA survey before the 2011-12 season but scaled back when labor issues delayed the start of that season by two months. No NBA-based survey was done for the 2012-13 season.

IntelliShop has also conducted a survey of each MLB club in each of the past three springs and conducts similar customer experience surveys in other industries, including automotive, luxury retail and health care services.
Denove expressed surprise at the large disparity between the performance of the 25 individual NBA teams, “especially since each team is selling the same basic product: a pair of season seats,” he said. He noted that the survey’s higher-ranking clubs were more likely to use a sales approach aimed at converting fence-sitters into season-ticket buyers, while other teams’ agents “often seemed to be there only to process ticket orders from fans who are already committed to buying.”

Among other findings in the survey:

Callers to the Houston Rockets spent the least amount of time on the phone between making the call and when an agent came on for assistance: 7 seconds. The leaguewide average was 1 minute, 27 seconds.

Across the NBA, 39 percent of agents took advantage of the call opportunity to advance the sales process from the telephone to a face-to-face meeting by inviting the caller to come down to the arena to sit in the targeted seats. The Cleveland Cavaliers led the way, with two-thirds inviting.

About the survey

IntelliShop, an Ohio-based market research company, provides customer-focused research services such as mystery shopping and customer satisfaction surveys. The company has an in-house staff of about 50 employees and it retains and manages panels of nearly 400,000 “mystery shoppers” who are brought in as topic-specific independent contractors for the company.

From Oct. 5 through Nov. 11, IntelliShop representatives contacted each NBA club indicating that they were interested in purchasing season tickets. Chicago, Miami, New York, Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers were excluded from the survey after their representatives indicated on the first call received that such tickets were no longer available. A minimum of 10 calls were completed to each of the remaining 25 clubs, with each call marking a survey opportunity.

IntelliShop educated its “shoppers” (each of whom lives in the same market as the team he or she was shopping) on the teams and the physical layout of each club’s arena. It also trained the shoppers to sound disappointed that the season seats they wanted would cost as much as they did once they learned that the quoted price was more than their budget. This allowed IntelliShop to measure which alternatives the sales agents used to overcome the price objection. The time and day of each call was randomized; the goal was to speak to as many agents at each club as possible.

The survey consisted of 30 mostly objective, multiple-choice questions. One question — “Which of the following ‘selling points’ did your agent mention as a reason for buying season tickets (or a partial-season-ticket plan)?” — had 13 answer options, all of which could have been checked off by the caller. More subjective topics included evaluating volume and clarity of the sales agent’s voice, the agent’s ability to retrieve and access information, and background noise.

IntelliShop conducts about 200,000 mystery shops and 230,000 customer surveys per year. The firm in the past year has evaluated event-day experiences at several arenas and stadiums but does not have an NBA team as a client.


Select results of the top-performing teams
To read: Representatives of the Milwaukee Bucks made an effort to engage in small talk outside the immediate discussion of the ticket sale on 100 percent of the calls made by IntelliShop surveyors to the club. That compares to 76ers representatives doing so on 92 percent of the calls, Pelicans representatives doing so 45 percent of the time, and leaguewide such conversation happening on 46 percent of the calls made.

Sales representative made an effort to engage in small talk outside the immediate discussion of the ticket sale
100% 92% 45% 60% 67% 30% 40% 45% 30% 70% 55% 46%
Caller considered the conversation an “above-average” experience compared to other telephone sales calls, or “one of the best” ever had
90% 83% 63% 70% 75% 90% 60% 73% 90% 70% 45% 60%
Personality of the agent was “truly exceptional”*
90% 83% 64% 50% 50% 70% 20% 55% 50% 60% 27% 41%
Strong effort was made to convince the caller of the benefits of alternative ticket options once it was determined he/she couldn’t afford the full-season plan in the seats desired
80% 75% 91% 50% 60% 90% 80% 73% 80% 60% 64% 63%
Sales representative mentioned as a selling point that there is a system to allow season-ticket buyers to sell or exchange their unused seats
80% 67% 73% 40% 25% 60% 30% 45% 30% 30% 45% 33%
Sales representative mentioned as a selling point that season-ticket prices were discounted compared to single-game tickets
20% 41% 54% 50% 33% 30% 50% 18% 40% 20% 54% 32%
Strong effort was made to convince the caller to come to the arena and sit in the seats before buying
70% 42% 36% 40% 58% 60% 60% 45% 70% 50% 18% 39%
Strong effort was made to sell the benefits of the specific suggested seats by stressing intangibles**
60% 67% 45% 70% 67% 60% 60% 36% 20% 50% 36% 42%
Sales representative asked the caller at least once if he/she wanted to buy now, or put down a deposit
60% 75% 73% 50% 75% 30% 60% 73% 70% 50% 73% 62%

* Defined as being “unusually engaged and enthusiastic — someone who sounds like they really love their job and dealing with people.”
** For example, being “really close to the action,” “near the home team tunnel,” or “one of the agent’s favorite places to sit.”
Source: IntelliShop


Home team Dates Total Avg. % cap. Previous Change Dates (2012) Max. Min. 98+% 75-%
Arizona Cardinals 8 488,271 61,034 93.9% 60,891 0.2% 8 63,570 60,034 1 0
Atlanta Falcons 8 561,795 70,224 98.6% 70,097 0.2% 8 70,744 69,522 8 0
Baltimore Ravens 8 569,084 71,136 100.2% 71,279 -0.2% 8 71,433 70,921 8 0
Buffalo Bills (a) 8 502,842 62,855 92.0% 61,928 1.5% 8 69,519 38,969 1 1
Carolina Panthers 8 587,544 73,443 99.9% 73,293 0.2% 8 74,225 72,686 8 0
Chicago Bears 8 498,864 62,358 101.4% 62,329 0.0% 8 62,708 62,181 8 0
Cincinnati Bengals 8 506,377 63,297 96.6% 61,188 3.4% 8 64,633 61,555 3 0
Cleveland Browns 8 569,939 71,242 97.3% 66,632 6.9% 8 71,513 69,654 6 0
Dallas Cowboys 8 704,345 88,043 110.1% 88,531 -0.6% 8 92,758 80,848 8 0
Denver Broncos 8 614,977 76,872 101.0% 76,633 0.3% 8 77,076 76,497 8 0
Detroit Lions 8 510,369 63,796 98.9% 63,770 0.0% 8 64,934 62,098 6 0
Green Bay Packers (b) 8 623,577 77,947 96.5% 70,508 10.6% 8 78,200 77,550 0 0
Houston Texans 8 573,271 71,659 100.9% 71,665 0.0% 8 71,778 71,104 8 0
Indianapolis Colts 8 527,606 65,951 104.7% 65,190 1.2% 8 67,196 65,406 8 0
Jacksonville Jaguars 8 503,140 62,893 90.7% 64,984 -3.2% 8 83,559 59,416 1 0
Kansas City Chiefs 8 602,877 75,360 98.6% 68,509 10.0% 8 77,065 73,386 5 0
Miami Dolphins 8 514,553 64,319 85.5% 57,379 12.1% 8 71,863 52,388 0 1
Minnesota Vikings 8 531,653 66,457 99.7% 60,725 9.4% 8 83,518 63,672 8 0
New England Patriots 8 550,048 68,756 100.0% 68,756 0.0% 8 68,756 68,756 8 0
New Orleans Saints 8 583,210 72,901 99.6% 72,888 0.0% 8 73,150 72,348 8 0
New York Giants 8 641,184 80,148 97.1% 80,496 -0.4% 8 81,285 79,114 3 0
New York Jets 8 615,656 76,957 93.3% 79,088 -2.7% 8 76,957 76,957 0 0
Oakland Raiders 8 403,556 50,445 94.7% 54,217 -7.0% 8 53,549 46,001 2 0
Philadelphia Eagles 8 553,152 69,144 102.3% 69,144 0.0% 8 69,144 69,144 8 0
Pittsburgh Steelers 8 458,489 57,311 88.1% 61,142 -6.3% 8 62,295 45,873 0 1
San Diego Chargers 8 513,641 64,205 91.7% 59,965 7.1% 8 68,847 57,954 2 0
San Francisco 49ers 8 557,856 69,732 100.0% 69,732 0.0% 8 69,732 69,732 8 0
Seattle Seahawks 8 545,577 68,197 101.8% 67,946 0.4% 8 68,387 67,873 8 0
St. Louis Rams 8 455,657 56,957 86.3% 60,116 -5.3% 8 66,024 54,266 1 0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8 470,548 58,819 89.2% 55,102 6.7% 8 64,448 44,956 1 1
Tennessee Titans 8 553,144 69,143 100.0% 69,143 0.0% 8 69,143 69,143 8 0
Washington Redskins 8 617,767 77,221 84.2% 79,655 -3.1% 8 83,147 56,247 0 1
TOTALS 256 17,510,569 68,401 96.6% 67,591 1.2% 256 92,758 38,969 152 5

% cap.: Total as a percentage of seats available at home games. Previous: Last season’s average on same date. Change: Difference between current average and last season’s average. Max.: Highest single-game count for current season. Min.: Lowest single-game count for current season. 98%+: Number of current-season games with total being at least 98 percent of available seats. 75%-: Number of current-season games with total being less than 75 percent of available seats. Notes: Totals included a designated St. Louis home game played in London in 2012 and designated Jacksonville and Minnesota home games this year. (a) Includes results for an annual home game played in Toronto. (b) Lambeau Field expansion project increased stadium capacity to 80,750 this year compared to 73,094 in 2012. Compiled by: Brandon McClung


Dallas Cowboys 704,345
New York Giants 641,184
Green Bay Packers 623,577
Dallas Cowboys 88,043
New York Giants 80,148
Green Bay Packers 77,947
Dallas Cowboys 110.1%
Indianapolis Colts 104.7%
Philadelphia Eagles 102.3%
Miami Dolphins 12.1%
Green Bay Packers 10.6%
Kansas City Chiefs 10.0%
Oakland Raiders/td> -7.0%
Pittsburgh Steelers -6.3%
St. Louis Rams -5.3%
15 Teams 8
5 Teams 1

United Airlines and Anheuser-Busch highlighted a year of divergence among PGA Tour fans in 2013 in terms of how those followers view the tour’s sponsors, according to the results of the latest annual Sponsor Loyalty Survey conducted for SportsBusiness Journal/Daily by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment.

Among avid PGA Tour fans surveyed last fall, United saw its fourth straight year of improvement in our study, which dates to 2008. More fans again in 2013 correctly identified United as the tour’s official airline as opposed to thinking another airline had that role.

United replaced Delta as the PGA Tour’s official airline after the 2010 season and has seen its recognition level among the sport’s avid fans, in particular, increase from 8.8 percent in 2010 to 23.5 percent in 2013. The airline in 2013 increased its presence at tournaments and used NBC’s final-round coverage of the season-ending Tour Championship by Coca-Cola to launch its biggest advertising effort in decades. The resurrection of the “Fly the Friendly Skies” spots were narrated by actor Matt Damon and continued to air through the fall on NFL and other sports telecasts.

Similarly, Anheuser-Busch enjoyed its highest level of recognition among avid PGA Tour fans dating to our first measurement of the tour. The brewer last year signed a multiyear extension with the tour to continue featuring its Michelob Ultra and O’Doul’s brands, furthering a relationship that dates to 1994. The brands activated at approximately 55 PGA Tour, Champions Tour and Tour events in 2013, and at several of those events set up the new Michelob Ultra Build-A-Bar, a high-end, 40-foot mobile bar featuring four 42-inch plasma screens and a rooftop viewing area.

Bridgestone was the only tour sponsor not to see a decline among casual fans.
But compared with our 2012 study, both United and A-B saw a decline in the percentage of casual PGA Tour fans who were aware of the brands’ PGA Tour sponsorship. A-B saw a drop of 6.5 percentage points among casual fans; United’s recognition rate fell to 10.5 percent, half of what it was a year earlier.

In fact, all but one of the sponsors that were measured at the conclusion of both the 2012 and 2013 seasons saw a decrease in awareness level among casual fans of the PGA Tour. Bridgestone was the only tour sponsor not to see a decline among casual fans, and its 20 percent recognition rate among that group was flat with its 2012 result.

Rob Ohno, senior vice president of corporate marketing at the PGA Tour, said the improvement seen by Anheuser-Busch and United among golf’s avid fans — as well as gains for MasterCard and Bridgestone — likely occurred because each activated “in breakthrough ways” in 2013.

“Plus, our avid fans see more facets of the broad range of activation than casual fans do,” Ohno said, “since they are attending more tournaments, watching more telecasts and absorbing more of our product through digital and print.”
Among other key findings:

40 percent of the avid tour fans who were surveyed correctly identified Bridgestone as the official tire of the PGA Tour. The brand’s 6.5 percentage-point increase over the 2012 survey in that measure was the biggest improvement among all the tour’s sponsors. The tire maker in August announced an extension of its title sponsorship of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, through 2018.

31 percent of avid fans recognized MasterCard’s official partner status, an increase from 29 percent among that fan group in 2012. The company has been a PGA Tour partner since 1995. Throughout the season, MasterCard’s logo was one of the most prominent on Via that site, fans could enter the Member for a Day sweepstakes to win a weekend for four at a TPC course. Fans also could buy a daylong MasterCard Experience at 12 TPC courses.

More than one-third of avid fans correctly identified MetLife as an official corporate partner of the tour, topping fellow PGA Tour sponsors Travelers and Aflac in the insurance category. MetLife blimps have been hovering over PGA Tour events since 1987, and in July the company signed a four-year pact, running through 2016, that gives it the designations of official life insurance company of the PGA and Champions tours and official aerial coverage provider of the PGA Tour.

Coca-Cola, a tour sponsor since 2002, is halfway through a six-year extension the Atlanta-based company signed in 2010 with the PGA Tour ensuring that the Tour Championship will remain in the company’s hometown market through 2016. Although the company saw a drop of 6 percentage points in its recognition level among avid fans surveyed, its rate was higher than in the 2011 study and even with the 2008 and 2010 levels.


For this project, Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, through its Turnkey Intelligence operation, conducted national consumer research surveys among a sample of more than 400 members of the Toluna Online panel who were at least 18 years old. The 2013 survey was conducted Sept. 17-23, a period that included the year’s last FedEx Cup playoff event, the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola. In both 2012 and 2011, the survey was fielded Sept. 26-30, a five-day period that followed the Tour Championship.

Respondents were analyzed based on their general avidity levels. Fans categorized as “avid” were those who responded “4” or “5” to the question “How big a fan are you of the PGA Tour?” then claimed to “look up scores several times a week or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 11 tournaments per season” and “have a favorite player.” Fans categorized as “casual” responded “3” to the same initial question, then claimed to “look up scores several times a month or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least three tournaments per season” and “have a favorite player.”

When asked to identify official sponsors, respondents selected from a field of companies and brands that was provided to them for each business sector. Only the top-scoring companies and brands are listed in the results published here.

The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for each survey is +/- 4.9 percentage points.

Turnkey works with more than 70 retainer-based clients across the major professional leagues in North America, but none is directly affiliated with the PGA Tour.


Are you more or less likely to consider trying a product/service if that product/service is an official sponsor of the PGA Tour?
  Avid   Casual
  2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
More likely 64% 69% 67%   29% 41% 44%
Unaffected / less likely 36% 31% 33%   71% 59% 56%
Are you more or less likely to consciously support a company by purchasing its products/services if the company is an official sponsor of the PGA Tour?
  Avid   Casual
  2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
More likely 67% 66% 68%   30% 38% 47%
Unaffected / less likely 33% 34% 32%   70% 62% 53%
Are you more or less likely to recommend a product/service to a friend or family member if that product/service is an official sponsor of the PGA Tour?
  Avid   Casual
  2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
More likely 62% 64% 66%   25% 34% 45%
Unaffected / less likely 39% 36% 34%   75% 66% 55%


Subject: How much more likely are fans to consider purchasing/using a PGA Tour sponsor’s product/service if they are aware of the relationship?

To read: 44 percent of PGA Tour fans said they would be more likely to consider drinking a soft drink that is the tour’s official soft drink if they knew which brand had that designation. The rate increased to 67 percent when considering only those fans who correctly knew that Coca-Cola is the PGA Tour’s official soft drink.

Insurance (Aflac, MetLife, Travelers)* 37% 69% +32 pct. points
Spirit (Ketel One)^ 38% 69% +31 pct. points
Soft drink (Coca-Cola) 44% 67% +23 pct. points
Credit card (MasterCard) 36% 57% +21 pct. points
Investment firm (Charles Schwab) 36% 54% +18 pct. points
Airline (United) 37% 54% +17 pct. points
Tire (Bridgestone) 37% 53% +16 pct. points
>Beer (Anheuser-Busch) 43% 58% +15 pct. points
Shipping services (FedEx) 39% 47% +8 pct. points

* If a fan selected any one of Aflac, MetLife or Travelers, that fan became part of the second grouping in this survey question.
^ Ketel One had category rights at the time of the survey. In November, after the survey was completed, Grey Goose signed a deal to be the official spirit of the PGA Tour, replacing Ketel One in the category.

Subject: What brands do fans think should be PGA Tour sponsors?

To read: 62 percent of PGA Tour fans said they think FedEx should be a PGA Tour sponsor, compared with 38 percent who think UPS should have a PGA Tour deal. Those numbers became 78 percent and 36 percent, respectively, when considering only those PGA Tour fans who correctly knew that FedEx is the tour’s official shipping services sponsor.

Anheuser-Busch/ 44% / 24% +20 pct. points 73% / 26% +47 pct. points
FedEx/UPS 62% / 38% +24 pct. points 78% / 36% +42 pct. points
Charles Schwab/E-Trade 44% / 30% +14 pct. points 65% / 24% +41 pct. points
Coca-Cola/Pepsi 56% / 38% +18 pct. points 72% / 31% +41 pct. points
United Airlines/
American Airlines
38% / 38% None 65% / 30% +35 pct. points
Travelers/State Farm 31% / 37% -6 pct. points 71% / 37% +34 pct. points
Ketel One/Grey Goose^ 14% / 30% -16 pct. points 62% / 31% +31 pct. points
MasterCard/Visa 48% / 53% -5 pct. points 71% / 46% +25 pct. points
Bridgestone/Michelin 40% / 38% +2 pct. points 65% / 41% +24 pct. points

^ Ketel One had category rights at the time of the survey. In November, after the survey was completed, Grey Goose signed a deal to be the official spirit of the PGA Tour, replacing Ketel One in the category.
Notes: Fans could select both the official sponsor and the competitor if they chose to do so. The one specific competing company listed was selected by Turnkey for consideration in the survey file.

Which of the following is an official sponsor of the PGA?

  Avid   Casual
Shipping Services 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
FedEx* 56.0% 56.5% 62.6%   42.5% 46.5% 56.5%
UPS 12.0% 12.5% 11.6%   10.5% 9.5% 9.5%
U.S. Postal Service 5.5% 4.0% 4.0%   2.5% 3.0% 2.0%
DHL 2.5% 4.5% 5.6%   1.5% 3.0% 3.5%
I’m not sure 23.0% 21.0% 15.2%   42.0% 38.0% 28.5%

FedEx scored the highest recognition marks of any sponsor in the survey for a fourth consecutive year. The company in 2013 completed its first year of a five-year extension to remain the tour’s official shipping services partner and title sponsor of the FedEx Cup points competition, which was first awarded in 2007. FedEx also is the lead sponsor for the Memphis-based FedEx St. Jude Classic.

  Avid   Casual
Shipping Services 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
Coca-Cola* 40.5% 46.5% 37.9%   24.0% 35.5% 33.0%
Pepsi 17.0% 13.5% 18.2%   13.0% 11.5% 18.5%
Dr Pepper 2.0% 3.5% 4.0%   3.0% 4.0% 4.0%
I’m not sure 31.5% 25.0% 27.3%   52.0% 42.5% 37.0%

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, a tour sponsor since 2002, is the presenting sponsor of the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. The tournament winner, in addition to receiving a $1.44 million purse, gets a 1950s-era Coca-Cola vending machine. For fans, daily giveaways were awarded through the summer via, including golf trips for two to destinations such as Pinehurst and Pebble Beach.

  Avid   Casual
Tire 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
Bridgestone* 40.0% 33.5% NA   20.0% 20.0% NA
Goodyear 12.0% 17.0% NA   17.5% 11.0% NA
Firestone 7.5% 11.5% NA   6.5% 4.0% NA
Michelin 8.5% 8.5% NA   5.0% 16.5% NA
I’m not sure 25.5% 26.5% NA   49.5% 47.0% NA

In August, Bridgestone announced a four-year extension of its title sponsorship of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, through 2018. The following month, the company re-signed Matt Kuchar as a spokesman. Following the third round of the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational, CBS commentator and Bridgestone representative David Feherty hosted the second annual Bridgestone Feherty Charity Challenge that benefits his Troops First Foundation, with military personnel and Bridgestone-backed golf pros taking part in a golfing competition.

  Avid   Casual
Insurance 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
MetLife* 36.5% NA NA   18.0% NA NA
Aflac* 17.5% 22.5% NA   11.5% 16.5% NA
Travelers* 17.5% 18.0% 18.2%   7.0% 14.0% 12.5%
State Farm 16.0% 22.0% 12.6%   6.0% 9.5% 8.5%
I’m not sure 20.5% 28.0% 25.3%   45.5% 42.0% 39.5%

MetLife, Aflac and Travelers all have official insurance designations for the PGA Tour. Travelers also has a title sponsorship for the tour’s June event in Connecticut. The 2013 season marked MetLife’s first year as an official marketing partner for the tour. Its on-site visibility includes the aerial coverage of events it provides via its Snoopy One and Snoopy Two blimps.

  Avid   Casual
Beer 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
(Michelob Ultra/O’Doul’s)*
32.0% 28.0% 28.3%   21.0% 27.5% 27.5%
Coors 14.0% 8.5% 14.1%   10.0% 10.5% 7.5%
Heineken 5.5% 12.0% 7.6%   6.0% 6.5% 5.0%
Miller 4.0% 9.0% 10.6%   4.5% 5.5% 12.5%
I’m not sure 35.5% 32.0% 26.3%   51.5% 44.0% 40.5%

Anheuser-Busch in November agreed to a multiyear sponsorship renewal that keeps Michelob Ultra as the official beer of the PGA Tour, a position the brand has held since 1994. As part of the deal, O’Doul’s will remain the tour’s official non-alcohol brew. Michelob Ultra in 2013 also signed on as a founding partner of the season-ending Tour Championship event. The Michelob Ultra 19th Hole hospitality space can be found at stops across the tour, as well.

  Avid   Casual
Credit Card 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
MasterCard* 31.0% 29.0% 30.3%   14.5% 24.0% 20.5%
American Express 20.5% 17.0% 20.7%   21.5% 19.0% 30.5%
Visa 17.0% 20.0% 21.7%   15.5% 15.5% 14.0%
I’m not sure 23.5% 26.5% 20.2%   39.5% 36.0% 27.0%

The PGA Tour and Bank of America in March signed a multiyear extension of their sponsorship deal. As part of that renewal, they launched the PGA Tour BankAmericard Cash Rewards MasterCard credit card, which bears the PGA Tour logo. MasterCard also aired a series of commercials throughout the season that illustrated four everyday golfers visualizing themselves as PGA Tour pros Tom Watson, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Brandt Snedeker. The MasterCard Member for a Day Series allows cardholders the opportunity to experience membership for a day at TPC courses across the country on select days of the year, as well.

  Avid   Casual
Airline 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
United* 23.5% 19.0% 17.7%   10.5% 22.0% 15.5%
American 9.5% 13.0% 10.6%   16.0% 14.0% 13.0%
Delta 13.5% 9.5% 9.1%   8.5% 6.0% 6.5%
Southwest 12.5% 9.5% 16.2%   5.5% 8.0% 10.5%
I’m not sure 33.5% 36.5% 31.8%   53.5% 45.0% 43.5%

United Airlines relaunched its “Fly the Friendly Skies” campaign on Sept. 22, with ads airing during telecasts that included the season-ending Tour Championship. One of the spots highlights pros Johnson Wagner, Ben Curtis and Stewart Cink describing their experiences with air travel to events. Among other airlines, Southwest Airlines and Adams Golf created a partnership that put logos of both brands on the hats and golf bags of eight PGA Tour pros.

  Avid   Casual
Investment Firm 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
Charles Schwab* 31.0% 28.5% NA   15.0% 23.5% NA
E-Trade 10.0% 13.5% NA   7.5% 11.0% NA
Fidelity Investments 8.0% 6.5% NA   9.0% 8.0% NA
Scottrade 9.0% 8.5% NA   5.5% 4.0% NA
TD Ameritrade 5.0% 5.0% NA   5.5% 4.5% NA
I’m not sure 32.5% 35.0% NA   56.0% 49.0% NA

Charles Schwab is title sponsor of both the Champions Tour’s seasonlong points challenge and its season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship tournament. Other activations for the company include “The Mentor Project” documentary series, which is showcased on the company’s golf-centered website. It pairs PGA Tour legends with tour newcomers and depicts how the veterans’ advice and guidance affects the younger players. The site also offers lessons from golf instructor Hank Haney and financial investing advice.

  Avid   Casual
Spirits^^ 2013 2012 2011   2013 2012 2011
Grey Goose 16.5% 17.5% NA   8.5% 10.0% NA
Absolut 9.5% 7.5% NA   6.5% 9.0% NA
Smirnoff 6.5% 16.0% NA   9.5% 11.0% NA
Ketel One* 9.0% 14.5% NA   5.5% 15.0% NA
I’m not sure 48.0% 36.0% NA   63.5% 51.0% NA

In its final year as the PGA Tour’s official spirit, a partnership that began in 2005, Ketel One saw a 7.5 percentage-point drop in its score among all respondents in the 2013 survey. The company had featured the Club Ketel One hospitality areas at various tournaments. In November, Grey Goose was added to the tour’s sponsor roster, replacing Ketel One, in a three-year deal that also covers the Champions Tour and Tour. Grey Goose will be featured in all PGA Tour Grill locations. It also has exposure to golf fans as a longtime sponsor of the “Grey Goose 19th Hole” talk show on Golf Channel.

*Official PGA Tour sponsor at the time of the survey. ^ Respondents were allowed to choose multiple responses.
^^Grey Goose in November (after this survey was completed) signed a deal to be the official spirit of the PGA Tour, replacing Ketel One in the category.
NA: Not applicable; this company or category was not measured in this year’s survey.

Before the start of The ESPN Sports Poll on Jan. 4, 1994, it wasn’t possible to say over time how many NFL fans were also fans of the NBA. We could track how game attendance and TV ratings changed from year to year, but really knew very little about the people who attended and watched. The sports business was already a multibillion-dollar enterprise, but there was no industry research.

Today, more than 30 research companies have sports-related products and services and the sports business is beginning to fully embracepredictive analytics — the ability to anticipate demand for products and services based on patterns of behavior.

Intelligence from the first 20 years of The ESPN Sports Poll gets the spotlight today.

The 1994 strike led to a sharp drop in fan support for MLB in September of 1994.
Photo by: AP IMAGES

Had the Sports Poll launched any other year it might not have survived. Four significant events demanded attention from the industry in 1994. Two of the four were really side shows: O.J. Simpson’s murder trial and Nancy Kerrigan and the crowbar at the Olympics. But it was the baseball strike that secured the future of the Sports Poll. At the beginning of the year, baseball was as popular as the NFL. As the strike progressed and the World Series was canceled, the monthly reports (see chart, 1994: Percent of fans by sport) documented

the loss of baseball fans and the ascendance of the NFL as America’s most popular sport. In September 1994, only 32.7 percent of Americans counted themselves fans of Major League Baseball, the only month in 20 years when the NHL had more fans. Baseball recovered most of its fans over the years, but that opening was all the NFL needed to pull away.

The fourth event in 1994 forever changed the face of racing. The split between IRL and CART divided open wheel racing. That alone was not enough to propel NASCAR into dominance, but it certainly helped. By 1998, the NHRA would overtake IndyCar as the second most popular form of racing, and more than half of all racing fans preferred NASCAR over the others.

■ ■ ■

Here are some of the most significant insights from the 20 years of the ESPN Sports Poll.


There are no sports fans. There are only people with varying levels of interest in sports who are also interested and invested in a lot of other things. It was possible before the start of the Sports Poll to imagine sports fans did nothing but follow sports.

8 / 4

Similarly, there are no football, baseball or basketball fans. In the early years, my biggest challenge with sports properties was to get them to realize the typical avid sports fan followed five of the top 12 sports and had avid interest in two. Today, they are fans of eight of the top 12 sports and avid fans of four (see chart, How many sports do avid fans follow?). So, yes, avid interest is spreading even thinner as time passes. No sport owns its fans. At best, 5 percent are fans of their sport and no other.


A better way to describe an avid sports fan is as a person with an active lifestyle because, if they are very interested in sports and follow several different sports, they are also far more likely to go to movies often, participate in sports regularly, and enjoy local fairs and festivals than those who enjoy sports less. And 63.3 percent are very interested in outdoor activities.


The avid sports fan’s broad interests, unfortunately, are not linked to having significantly more free time. From extensive time-use studies, we know 57.1 percent feel they have more free time than others, but not a lot more. So sports are fighting for more attention from people who have no more free time than the next person, but many more interests.

88% / 31%

No free-time activity or interest comes close to the amount of engagement or number of people who are sports fans. And that interest is mostly stable. For 20 years, 85 to 90 percent of Americans have had some interest and 28 to 32 percent have had avid interest in sports. In 2013, 88 percent are fans and 31 percent are avid fans. While the percent of Americans following sports has remained constant, the number of fans has grown along with the overall population from roughly 189 million to 219 million people (ages 12 and older). Avid has a specific meaning: This is the percent of people whose interests and activities are, statistically, significantly higher than the rest of the population for virtually any aspect of sports. The avids are the minority who drive the majority of sports activity.


The only time in 20 years that something outside of sports affected American sports interests was during this most recent recession from 2007-11. One reason the impact was intense but relatively short is because income drives sports interest. Fans in middle-class income households of $50,000-$99,999 had a steady decline in sports interests over the last 20 years while all other income groups remained stable. Technology has changed work life in a way that is demanding more time from the middle class and decreasing the priority given to sports.


Spending on sports is not a life necessity, and a down economy translates into declines in spending money after the bills are paid. Over the last three years, 56.4 percent of Americans said they had less to spend after paying their bills than they did the year before. Non-fans (60 percent) were worse off than fans in general (55 percent), or avid fans (53 percent). But more than half of Americans have had to cut back.


There are significant changes taking place in sports interest, probably none more important than the decline in sports interest by men 12-34 and the growth of interest in men 35 and older. Declining interest by younger men points to a diminished future for the business of sports. There is no doubt that predictive analytics will enable us to maximize profits and efficiency from today’s fans, but it does nothing to help us understand why a person becomes a fan in the first place and continues to grow in interest, rather than fade. Since 1994, the percentage of men who are avid fans has declined 16.8 percent and men 18-34 declined 12.3 percent.


The decline in interest can be easy to miss because, at the same time, male avid fans 35-54 are up 21.8 percent. Not only is the proportion of avid fans increasing over time, but the average fan level per person is increasing while the per-person average declines for men 12-34. People older than 35 are also the ones driving purchases in sports today: 61.8 percent of all people who spend money on sports more than once a month are older than age 35.



Bonus number… in June 1998, that was the percent of Americans saying Michael Jordan was their favorite athlete. No athlete has come within half that number since. The most popular athlete for 2013 got only 4.2 percent of respondents by comparison. The 2013 winner? Michael Jordan
There is stiff competition for free time. Being an avid fan is not a guarantee the fan will have time to devote to sports interests. We regularly measure how big a priority sports fan activity is to see the balance between desire and dedication. Sports is a high priority for 38.7 percent of avid sports fans. By comparison, 1.5 percent of light fans and 6.4 percent of casual fans say sports is a high priority.


The importance of priority doesn’t end with sports for avid fans. The priority of having time with family and friends was 22 percent higher for avid fans than for anyone else. Being a sports fan is rarely a solo event. The average number of tickets purchased to a sporting event is around three. The only true loners in the sports world are gamblers and fantasy players, and there is another number …


Playing fantasy sports well requires every imaginable form of sports fan experience. Fantasy players (and gamblers) are by far and away the avid of the avids. In general, avid fans are not only extremely active in a broad range of social activities in sports and beyond, but the emphasis is on social. The more that is done to feed their relationships within sports, the more a property will be rewarded with their time, attention and investment.


The nature of fan behavior, at its core, is changing. In the 1990s, 70 percent of all fans preferred to attend a game over watching it on TV, all things considered. Today, those numbers are reversing. And in the last year, even avid fans would prefer to watch on TV than attend in person with others. In 2011, 53.7 percent said they would rather attend. In 2013, that number is down to 49.1 percent.


The trend toward TV is not all bad, however. Sixty-seven percent of all fans typically plan to watch their sports and watch with others, making it social viewing. This works well for existing fans, but can we count on kids having a love for sports the way their parents do if it is only enjoyed as a TV show? That puts the NFL in direct competition with “Survivor” and “The X Factor” if we reduce fan behavior to watching games on TV.


In 1995, 1 percent of Americans went online first to get sports results. In 1994, 67 percent of fans went to the newspaper first, now only 15 percent do. Television was the top source at 43 percent from 2000 to 2010, when the Internet took over. It now leads with 55 percent of all sports fans.


Favorite sport is an open-ended question and every month more than 100 sports are mentioned. And football, baseball and basketball account for 62 percent of all mentions. And that number has been fairly constant for 20 years (see chart, Favorite sport by year). Soccer is the real driver here, moving solidly into fifth place while racing has declined from fifth to a tie for sixth with hockey.


Once and for all, the Cowboys are America’s team. They have been the overall favorite team 17 of the 20 years and were second the other three years (see chart, America’s team).


That’s the number of sports fans who don’t have a favorite team. And that may be the key problem going into the future. Being a fan is all about being connected. Avid fans are the most social people. We do so little alone in sports. If you don’t have a team, why bother? Sports that focus on getting kids hooked on a team will go a long way to solving any of the challenges we have seen in the first 20 years of the ESPN Sports Poll.


The number of interviews the ESPN Sports Poll has done since it started on Jan. 4, 1994. That’s 240 consecutive months of fresh national samples, 7,112 days of interviewing, more than 2,000 variables, and a pretty good start.

Rich Luker ( is the founder of Luker on Trends and the ESPN Sports Poll.