The National Basketball Association 2013 Playoffs begin next Saturday, April 20th, so we figured that this was a good time to release the loyalty rankings for NBA teams from our 21st annual Brand Keys Sports Fan Loyalty Index.

Those of you who have loyally followed the Brand Keys Sports Fan Loyalty Index will remember that it was designed to help professional sports team management identify what drives fan loyalty in their home and national markets, with insights that enable league and team management to identify areas, particularly the emotional ones, that need strategic brand coaching.

While only 16 of the 30 NBA teams will make the playoffs – eight from each conference – Brand Keys assesses all teams by interviewing fans from the teams’ own DMAs, which provides an apples-to-apples comparison of the intensity with which fans (within a team’s DMA) support the home team versus corresponding loyalty values for fans of other teams or other leagues in that market. Currently the 2013 NBA top-5 and bottom-5 brand standings are as follows:

Top-5- 2013 2012

1. Miami Heat (#6)
2. San Antonio Spurs (#1)
3. New York Knicks (#10)
4. Boston Celtics (#2)
5. Oklahoma City Thunder/

Brooklyn Nets (#5 and #14)

Bottom-5 2013 2012

30. Charlotte Bobcats (#30)
29. Sacramento Kings (#29)
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (#27)
27. Washington Wizards (#26)
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (#22)

Win-loss ratios may be the only thing when it comes to a conference or playoff championship, but when it comes to loyalty it’s not the only thing. There are three other emotionally-based factors that must be taken into account.” The four emotional drivers of fan loyalty, and their overall contribution are:

Pure Entertainment:

How well a team does, sure. But even more importantly than a win-loss ratio, how exciting is their play?

How well they play as a team.

Fan Bonding:
Are there players who are particularly respected and admired?

History and Tradition:
Is the game and the team part of fans’ and community rituals, institutions and beliefs?

The NBA currently ranks 3rd of the four Major League Sports that Brand Keys tracks. The National Football League is currently 1st followed by Major League Baseball. Perhaps not surprisingly, the National Hockey League comes in last this year. Overall team rankings – no matter which league – correlate with viewership and licensed merchandise sales, and since rankings can be influenced depending upon how loyalty drivers are managed, it’s critical that team marketers act as strategically off the court as the coaches do on the court.

It was NBA great, Phil Jackson, who noted, “Not only is there more to life than basketball, there’s a lot more to basketball than basketball.” The “lot more” he was referring to are what drive teams and what drives real fan loyalty too. For teams with emotional team measures it’s always a win-win.”

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