Who are the best and worst fanbases in college football?

Yahoo Sports
Who’s college football’s top fanbase? (Getty)
Who’s college football’s top fanbase? (Getty)

College football fans, get ready to rumble. Emory University has released its latest ranking of the most passionate fans in college football, and unless you’re wearing some shade of orange, you’re not going to be happy.

Ranking the best fanbases in college football

On one level, trying to rank college fanbases is a fool’s errand. What constitutes a “best” fanbase? Volume in the stands? Total amount of facepaint purchased? Ratio of clever to stupid signs on “College GameDay”? Emory University professor Mike Lewis has tried to flip this equation. “On some level, college [and pro] teams are brands just like Apple or Coca-Cola,” he says. “If we cast the question of fandom in terms of brand strength, then we can turn a bar-room debate into a marketing science-based analysis.”

So let’s get to the rankings now, and the reasons later. The best fanbases, from a strictly brand-centric standpoint, are as follows:

1. Texas
2. Tennessee
3. Notre Dame
4. LSU
5. Oklahoma
6. Georgia
7. Michigan
8. Oregon
9. Auburn
10. Florida

You can just hear the screaming from Tuscaloosa and Columbus already, can’t you?

Lewis knows full well the objections that are coming his way, and offers up some fact-based analysis to break down the rankings. For starters, it’s not just about showing up. “A full stadium for a winning team means less than full stadium for a team that is struggling,” Lewis notes. Hence, Alabama and Ohio State sellouts don’t mean as much as, say, Texas or Tennessee ones.

The Emory study uses three main metrics:

“Revenue premium,” meaning, in the simplest possible terms, how much revenue the college brings in relative to other, similar universities. It’s a measure of the intensity of passion.

“Return on investment,” how well the school’s investment in football pays off on the field and in the stands. It’s a measure of the efficiency of the program.

Straight football revenue, a measure of the size of the program.

Run all these together and you can start to see why Alabama, for instance, ranks No. 12, three spots lower than Auburn — because it’s easier to be a ‘Bama fan than a fan of any other school. Alabama doesn’t demand anything of you as a fan except to sit back and enjoy the winning. But a Texas fan? A Tennessee fan? You stick with them, friend, and you’re hardcore.

“Texas reports the highest revenues, achieves the best ROI and wins the revenue premium competition,” Lewis says. “Even when Texas struggles on the field, the football program delivers amazing economic results.” (Read more about Lewis’s methodology here.)

The non-Power Five schools break down as you might expect:

1. Boise State
2. Central Florida
3. North Texas
4. Wyoming
5. BYU

Who’s at the bottom of the pack?

At the other end of the rankings of the Power Five conferences, you can probably guess some of the names. Counting down to the worst, we have:

5. Miami
4. Virginia
3. Rutgers
2. West Virginia
1. Purdue

“While winning is probably the key to developing a fan base, the factors that result in a less engaged fan base can vary,” Lewis notes. “Too much competition? The weather is too nice? It’s a pro town?”

As for Miami, which would seem to rank a lot higher based on past performance, Lewis has an answer: “Miami is a storied program, but Miami’s reported football revenues are nowhere what would be expected based solely on the team’s history of major bowl games,” he says. “And this is the key. We are not looking at team success. We are focused on marketplace metrics relative to team success and investment.”

Bottom line, you can’t measure passion like you do wins and losses. But you can measure revenue and its impacts, and from that standpoint — and, really, only that standpoint — Alabama doesn’t rule college football.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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