Emory University professor Michael Lewis enjoys "ranking" NFL fans for summer sport. On its face, the fair weather ritual seems like a bit of harmless fun. However, the growing view that statistics are a true measure of professional football is getting a little spooky. In other words, it appears people are starting to believe that math gods exist.
Coincidentally enough, the Emory academic shares the same full name as the author of Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. What are the odds? And an even weirder connection is that the key figure in Lewis' book, Paul DePodesta, has brought "Moneyball" analytics to the front office of the Cleveland Browns. So, it appears at least one NFL franchise prays at the altar of arithmetic.
It just doesn't work that way!
Football may be the game that players' statistics are most influenced by the efforts of those around them. It's the ultimate team game. A running back averages 4.5 yards per carry because five to seven guys make their blocks.
Lewis (the prof. not the writer) uses two basic factors to figure out which cities love their NFL franchise the most. We could stop right there because Raider Nation is fan base that transcends geographic boundaries. Most of them probably don't even live in California, nevermind Oakland. I don't. As some Silver and Black fans post on social media, it doesn't matter where they play, its all Raider Nation. But let's put aside all that rah rah stuff and take a closer look at Prof. Lewis' homework.
His first measure, Fan Equity, boils down to good old fashioned capitalism. The more a fan base spends indicates how much they care. Basically money equals love.
The second measure has to do with Social Media Equity. Basically, the more you tweet, the better the fan. This year, he made the study really sexy with a "new" method called Dynamic Fan Equity, which just uses features from the first two.
On the data side, Lewis claims to be working with 15 years of game attendance and about four years of social media info. Those numbers fall right into the Patriots' wheelhouse because that's the window that they've been contenders. New England finished first in this year's poll.
Oddly, the Patriots only ranked 17th in home attendance, but topped the Cowboys who finished No. 1. Dallas also topped all franchises in overall attendance, though New England led all 32 teams on the road. Ticket prices also figure into this equation somehow. Oh yeah, loyal fans spend the most money. Frankly, if Dallas came out on top, most people probably wouldn't bat an eye. Well, except for Redskins and Giants fans. But the Patriots . . .Spygate, Deflategate, loss of draft picks, fines, quarterback suspended, really?
I've lived in New England all of my life and don't like to travel. My father was a season ticket holder during the 1970s and 1980s and you could sit anywhere you wanted in the half-empty Foxboro Stadium.
Football aficionados call this current Pats fever "bandwagon chasing." Everyone is a fan when the home team wins. But go 2-14 and they can't remember the quarterback's name, let alone jersey number. In other words, the measure of true fans comes when your team stinks.
Last season, Oakland enjoyed 86.5 percent home attendance and 95.9 on the road. For a franchise that hasn't had a winning campaign in nearly 15 years, that speaks volumes. Watching the games, showing up and feeling all broken up when your team loses or elation when they win equals fan loyalty. You just can't quantify stuff like that in dollars and tweets.
No offense to Lewis, Lewis and DePodesta (sounds like a personal injury law firm), but label me a pantheist, I'm not worshiping at the Church of Ambiguous Statistics. Besides, Oakland looks pretty good this year. And I only bought two tickets. I must be a lousy fan.