Now the question is, what makes the Cub’s fans the best and the Diamondbacks the worst? Before digging in, I’ll admit upfront that my methodology is unscientific at best and highly dubious at worst. For me, social fandom all comes down to the success of a team, in relation to their Facebook fan count:
Let’s start by seeing the teams with the 10 most fans (as of 4/7/2012):
Most of these numbers come as no huge surprise. The New York Yankees have had the most success of any MLB team (27 world Series. The Cardinals have the second most WS wins with 11), plus New York City is the largest metropolitan area in the US by far. by that logic they should have the most fans.
If you’re even vaguely familiar with baseball, you could have guessed that Boston would come in at number 2. The Cubs at number three isn’t quite a shock, but still is pretty curious considering the team has been the loveable losers of baseball for more than a century.
But using Facebook fans as the sole measuring stick in no way indicates who has “the best” Facebook fans in MLB. The act of liking on Facebook is a passive gesture, and doesn’t necessarily mean fandom. Think about the things you like on Facebook- Are you really a “fan” of Raid bug spray, or need status updates from Rubbermaid? Most people “like” a team’s page on a whim, but will never even watch a full game during this, or any season. So I tried ranking MLB teams in terms of “Fans Talking about This”, meaning unique visitors who interact with that Facebook page in some way (note: you don’t have to be a fan to interact with a page). My thought was that active, engaged fans genuinely care about their team and are therefore the best in baseball. Here’s the top teams in terms of active fans:
But in the interest of fairness, a larger FB fan base should presumably have more fans “talking about this”. So I calculated what percentages of each team’s fan bases were active. Here’s the top ten (column to the far right is the percentage):
But, “talking about this”Isn’t a fair measurement of social fandom, either. And as I dug a little deeper into the teams listed above, the spikes in their “talking about this” numbers correlated with a recent event or announcement related to that team. For instance, these numbers were taken on April 10. Here’s the top story of each of the above teams for that date (or around that date).
- The Cincinnati Reds announced a contract extension with pitcher Brandon Phillips on April 10.
- San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito throws a 4 hit, complete game shut out early in the week.
- In addition to celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Dodger Stadium this season, LA came into the season facing bankruptcy, and were recently purchased by an investment group that includes NBA hall of famer Magic Johnson.
- two posts regarding new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen’s favorable comments of Fidel castro got a combined 1000 comments.
- Tampa Bay Rays scored a walk off victory versus rival Yankees on April 9.
Full disclosure- As far as I could tell, there was no correlating story that would explain the surge in the Arizona Diamondback’s “talking about this” number. But the point remains the same. For instance, the Giants “talking about this number” as of May 7 is 53,639, less than half what they had in early April.
So if “talking about this” is not an effective way to measure the commitment of a fan base, it looks like number of fans will be the most essential stat. But that’s not to say that the team with the highest number of fans has the best fans.
Checking back in on the ten teams with the most fans, let’s see what they have in common and see if we can’t identify an outlier.
The most common traits of these teams are:
History: All ten teams have been in their current incarnations for 40 years or more (The Rangers are the youngest, moving from Washington to Texas in 1972).
Recent Success (past ten years): In order to rank each teams’ recent success, I did a simple equation of 1 point for each division or wild card win, 2 points for each league Championship and three points for each World Championship. The top five in terms of recent success are the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Giants and Angels. But all of the ten teams above appear in the top 20 in “success points” (Dodgers and Tigers come in the lowest of the ten teams , tied for 16th with 4 points)
Metropolitan Area: It’s a pretty simple conclusion to draw. If you’re a team from an area with a larger population, you should have more fans. What are the city populations of these ten teams?
1. Yankees (New York City): 8,244,910
2. Red Sox (Boston):617,594
3. Cubs (Chicago): 2,695,598
4. Giants (San Fancisco): 805,235
5. Cardinals (St. Louis): 325,069
6. Rangers (Dallas): 1,197,816
7. Phillies (Philadelphia): 1.526.006
8. Braves (Atlanta): 420,003
9. Dodgers (Los Angeles): 3,792,621
10. Tigers (Detroit): 713,777
To give some perspective, here’s the top 20 most populous cities:
7 of the most popular teams appear above. Boston, Atlanta and St. Louis rank at 22, 40 and 58, respectively.
Quick Note: I realize a more accurate measurement would be to include the home base of the teams, as well as the surrounding areas’ populations (e.g Philadelphia would include the surrounding suburbs and southern New Jersey for the Phillies, Boston would include most of New England for the Red Sox) but this simplistic look is enough to prove my point. Plus having to carve up the territory would complicate things to an extent that would make blogging no longer fun (what areas of NYC belong to the Yankees and which belong to the Mets? I’m still not sure).
World Series wins (all time): Obviously past success is a factor in a team’s popularity. Let’s take a look at the ten teams with the most World Series wins:
7 of the most popular teams (in terms of Facebook fans) are in the top ten for World Series wins. The Cubs and Phillies each have two and the Rangers have zero.
Looking at the team’s with the ten fewest fans only reinforces that success and history are the most important factors in Facebook popularity:
In general the ten teams with the fewest fan have not had a great deal of recent success (The Nationals have been in the cellar up until the season, The Pirates have spent nearly the past two decades below .500) , are in small markets (aside from Phoenix at 1.4 million, and San Diego with 1.3 million), and 4 of the teams have one or zero WS wins (the A’s have the most with 9, but those were mostly won while the team was still in Philly).
So what makes the Arizona Diamonbacks fans the worst on Facebook? Because relative to most of baseball, they’ve been a good team and yet the fans still remain apathetic.
Here’s the thing:
- The Diamondbacks are located in the 6th largest city in the country.
- They’re the 8th most successful MLB team of the past ten years, with three division or wild card wins, 1 league championship and 1 WS championship.
- Sure, the team doesn’t have a ton of history, but that game 7 D-Backs victory in the 2001 World Series (considered by many to be one of the best postseason games ever) should’ve been enough to make every Phoenician a lifelong fan.
The Marlin’s fans are much the same, but I gave D-Backs fans the infamous edge because Phoenix has got more than triple the population of Miami, and slightly more recent success.
Now for the Cubs- how is it that I make the jump from a terrible team with a sizeable fan base to the best baseball fans on Facebook?
I was raised to believe that a person should always root for their hometown team. Being from Philadelphia, and born in the 80s, it was no easy feat, having lived my first 22 years alive through the worst championship drought of any city with four major sports teams. But those are the cards I was dealt. And you may be thinking it’s just a game, and I could easily have changed my allegiance to a more successful team, but that was just never an option. So as a long-suffering Philadelphia sports fan, I have the utmost respect for anyone who sticks by their terrible team through thick and thin (and anyone who is a Dallas Cowboys fan but born and raised in Philly is a terrible human being…but I digress).
In my view, being able to proudly call yourself a Cleveland Browns or Pittsburgh Pirates fan is a badge of honor. Anyone can stand behind a team when they’re successful (Just look at the consecutive home sell outs of the Phillies, or Red Sox Nation), but someone who can come out year after year while your team continues to embarrass themselves on the field has got my respect. The other side of that coin is, I find it insulting that a city can’t rally behind a good team, unless that team is playing baseball in October, that is (I’m looking at you too, Rays fans).
But why do the citizens of Phoenix not care about their relatively successful baseball team? And why do Cubs fans love their terrible squad? A team that hasn’t won a World Series since before World War I (1908). And yet they’ve got the third largest fan base on Facebook. The Cubs are also the only team in the top ten that do not meet at least three of the above criteria. They’ve only been to the post season three times in the past 10 years, only once advancing to the League Championship. In terms of recent success points, they rank 21 out of 31 teams. Plus the Cubs are in a two team city, sharing fans with the White Sox, essentially cutting the city’s population (and each teams’ potential fans) in half.
It’s hard to say why the residents of Phoenix doesn’t stand by their team. Most likely it’s the young age of the Diamondbacks. Plus several American League teams have held Spring Training in Arizona for decades, presumably making lifelong fans along the way. Also, as a weird sidenote- the team doesn’t own the url www.facebook.com/diamondbacks, it’s some BYU student.
Now what makes Cubs fans the best on Facebook?
It’s simple. The Cubs are terrible. They’ve been terrible for a cartoonishly long time. But that can’t be why they’re popular? Can it?
Maybe instead it’s because of Wrigley? The Billy Goat? Harry Caray? Notice, I’m looking at outside sources for the teams popularity, as the work done on the field wouldn’t be selling tickets in most towns. Perhaps they’ve done the impossible, and become so terrible that you’ve gotta love them. It’s cool to say you’re a Cubs fan- Like championing an indie band that your friends have never even heard of before. There’s a cache to it. And people love the underdog.
Or perhaps the North Sider’s fans are preemptively jumping on the band wagon, in hopes of standing superior someday soon, saying “I’ve been a fan since before they were successful.”, again Indie rocker posturing.
And remember how insufferable Red Sox fans were in 2004? When the Cubs win it all, multiply that obnoxiousness by 10 (perhaps in 2015?). ESPN will now begin covering three MLB teams instead of just the Yankees and Red Sox, Bill Murray will swim naked through the Chicago River and Steve Bartman will finally be forgiven.
(Quick side note about Bartman: Moises Alou might not have caught the ball, regardless. And that poor schmuck Bartman’s life was ruined for doing exactly what anyone would have done in that situation).
Not to take anything away from those true Cubs and Diamondbacks fans, as I know those fans are out there and sincerely love their teams. And as established, a Facebook “fan” doesn’t necessarily say anything in terms of true fandom. Anyone with an FB account can click “like”. But while the ease of becoming a Facebook fan of anything diminishes the Cubs social fandom, it further illuminates the indifference of Diamonbacks fans.