Our First-Ever Fan Experience Index Ball Park Rankings

Our first ever analysis/rankings of the MLB ball parks with the best fan experience has been released and we’re looking for thoughts on how to make the next one, even better. Let the debate begin.

Here we are at the All-Star Break. The pennant races are taking shape and with the other major team sports on hiatus, hopefully, American sports fans are thinking about taking in a ball game in the coming months. Faithful readers of this post know that I recently completed my bucket list item to visit all 30 current MLB ball parks, and with that achievement, I felt compelled to “grade them” on an admittedly subjective basis of my overall experience. But being the data-oriented sports marketing researcher that I am, it wasn’t enough to simply let my own opinions address the larger issue of overall fan experience.

As any sports marketer knows, properties view the fan experience as sacred, and our professional teams and leagues spend significant dollars and effort to optimize that experience. So, towards a similar benevolent goal, my colleagues and I began to develop a means through which we could quantify and evaluate the overall fan experience at each major league ball park. Admittedly, any such ranking contains a fair level of subjectivity, in how we select, compute and weight each of the factors that went into the overall index. Over time, I’m sure that we will refine this process, and I welcome your comments and feedback both on the initial methodology and our first rankings. Here’s what we came up with:

Methodology and Selection Criteria:

We identified five major factors to incorporate into the rankings, normalized each on a 10-point scale and then weighted each based on perceived importance (admittedly a somewhat subjective weighting assigned by our research team, described below… In the future, we will plan to utilize fan driven importance ratings to place appropriate weighting on each factor). Three of the five factors were empirical and based on readily available objective information. The remaining two are driven by subjective perceptions, that will ultimately be determined by a survey of a representative sample of fans, though in this initial “trial run,” that sample was a non-representative group of researchers/baseball fans.  Whether you agree with these or not, I share each criterion, at a minimum, to encourage debate and consideration of those factors that contribute to the overall fan experience:

1. Fan Cost Index:This is readily available from Team Marketing Report on the “typical” cost for a family of four to attend a game at each ball park. It factors in price of tickets, souvenirs and refreshments. We calculated each team’s 10-point score as a percentage/function of the highest priced team. We then made a slight weighting adjustment downward so as not to overly penalize teams in higher cost of living markets.

2. Team Winning Percentage: There was healthy internal debate over the inclusion of this. But it was determined that a winning team is a more interesting team, so we normalized each team’s winning percentage as of July 5 to assign a 10-point score. In the overall ranking and calculation, this criteria was weighted down slightly, so as not to penalize teams that may still have “buzz worthy” players without an accompanying winning record.

3. Each team’s current home attendance as a percentage of capacity:A full ball park is more likely to be a spirited ball park. This factor was not weighted up or down.

4. Stadium Aesthetics: This subjective criterion was a numerical grade (on a 100-point scale) for each ball park, driven by perceptions of comfort, location/setting, architectural design/beauty of the park and surroundings, unique amenities, food variety, cultural significance and quality. This criterion was weighted up slightly. Yet, interestingly enough, the stadium that scored highest on this factor, finished out of the overall top 10.

5. Accessibility: Also a subjective criterion expressed as a numerical grade (on a 100-point scale), this was driven by parking availability/cost, traffic patterns, entrance and exit times and convenience of available public transportation. These normalized scores were not weighted.

Let the Debate Begin

When we crunched all the numbers, some of the results were surprising. After all, my own subjective opinions yielded a personal list of favorites that was in many ways different from these rankings. We can all argue about the true impact of cost, team performance and fullness of the stadium on overall experience … and those are the objective criteria! Comments and thoughts are welcome. Here’s what the computer spit out as the top five:

1. AT&T Park, San Francisco

2. PNC Park, Pittsburgh

3.Rangers BallPark in Arlington, Texas

4. Miller Park, Milwaukee

5. Busch Stadium, St. Louis