Kentucky Basketball: Emory's Study Showing Kentucky 7th In "Fan Equity" Should Not Concern The Big Blue Nation

Jamie Squire

When it comes to the Emory study, we have to remember the old truism: "Garbage in, garbage out."

Comes now news of Emory Sports Marketing ranking the "fan equity" of each school. The controversial part, at least for those of us in the Big Blue Nation, is that Kentucky comes in ranked only 7th, and more notably, the Louisville Cardinals come in ranked first.

I’m not going to spend too much time on this, but before the Big Blue Nation gets all downtrodden and frustrated, let’s just examine what the "fan equity" rankings are all about:

Our rankings are based on a statistical analysis of self-reported revenue data. We create a statistical model of revenue as a function of team quality (winning percentage, NCAA tournament qualification, etc…) and market potential (conference affiliation, median income, area population, number of students, etc…) and then compare the model’s prediction to the self-reported revenues. Yes, we get that this self-reported revenue data can be a bit quirky, but it’s what the schools choose to report.

This right here tells you that these numbers mean … well, almost nothing. Schools report revenue data without regard to any specific accounting principles, and that revenue is highly fungible, which is what Emory is trying to tell us. Essentially, they are saying their rankings are based on unverified data and that they just don’t mean a whole lot, without actually saying it that way. In other words, they all but invite you to apply the "Garbage in, garbage out" principle

Before I go on, I want to point out that I don’t intend to specifically disparage the Cardinals or Emory’s methodology. Louisville has a passionate and large fan base, and that’s a fact. We Kentucky fans may not like that, but we do have to face the reality that there are plenty of people who swear by the Toothy Bird, even though the overwhelming majority of them are located 79 miles west of Lexington. Let’s give credit where credit is deserved.

As for Emory, who can blame them for using the only data available? They can hardly demand that each school modify it’s accounting practices to conform with an objective standard that will make this study more meaningful. They have to use what they can get their hands on, so don’t be mad at them.

We also know that the University of Louisville has a sweetheart deal with the KFC YUM! Center, and that they are reporting most of their revenue out of that relationship. This deal has been the subject of many concerned articles of late, and on paper, looks very much like multiple conflicts of interest. It is this relationship almost exclusively that drives Louisville’s fan metric so high in the Emory study.

"Flawed?" That’s a bit unfair, really. You have to go with the data you have, not the data you wish you had. So while the study is objectively flawed, it’s not flawed because Emory didn’t put any thought into it. They admit right up front that the data they use for revenue is unlikely to reflect reality, but it is what they have.

I also found this humorous:

Our overall top 15 schools are listed in the table below. Louisville repeats last year’s 1st place finish. The rest of the top five are Duke, Arizona, Texas and Xavier. Other notables include Kentucky in 7th, North Carolina in 11th and Indiana in 12th. We fully realize that Kentucky fans will once again be incensed by these rankings.

What does it say when a fan base gets called out by name in a study like this? I find it both amusing and flattering, because out of all these great schools with great traditions, there is only one that complains so loudly the authors are compelled to make an almost apologetic statement up front. That’s something of which we should be justifiably proud, and something that also points to the fact that this study is based on numbers which are not really related to the passion of the fans. Want proof?

So don’t let this prompt you to nasty posts, social media outbursts, or other acts of rhetorical violence and accusations of "flaws" against Emory — these guys are just doing what they do with the numbers they have, and even though a number of people may take issue with their methodology, it’s better if we just expose the facts and relax. Intelligent people will understand that it’s not particularly useful — it’s not as if money were at stake here. I’m pretty sure Emory is happy with the outcome, because it will doubtless draw much more attention to their work than if Kentucky were ranked #2 to, say, North Carolina or Texas, or found itself on top. Some might say that was their intent when designing the model, but I find this conspiracy theory highly unlikely. The fact that they were up front about their study’s limitations strongly suggests benign intent.

In sum, the Big Blue Nation has never let irrelevant things like this define who they are, and you don’t see Louisville fans getting anywhere near the attention Kentucky fans do on social media and in articles throughout the sports world. When it comes to college basketball, there’s Kentucky and then just about everyone else right now fan support-wise, although that, like all things, is subject to change — programs like North Carolina, Indiana, Arizona, Duke, and yes, even the Cardinals are always waiting in the wings to take our place if we stumble.

So let’s just hang another banner and see what they say then, shall we?

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