- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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It is generally accepted that Kentucky has the biggest and best group of fans in the country. How many other groups of fans camp out so far in advance for a seat at a glorified pep rally? How many treat the sport like a year-round obsession? How many flood message boards and comment fields and writers' inboxes with so much intensity, passion and endearing insanity?
In most places, save maybe the recognized geographic territories of North Carolina and Indiana, college basketball is allowed to breathe. In Kentucky, college basketball is oxygen itself.
It's safe to say, then, that the results of a study designed to figure out which college hoops team has the "best" fan base will likely make Kentucky fans angry. Because Kentucky isn't No. 1. Louisville is.
You can see the rest of the top 10 in a chart here. It goes like this: No. 2 Arizona, No. 3 Duke, No. 4 Arkansas, No. 5 North Carolina, No. 6 Texas, No. 7 Kentucky, No. 8 Syracuse, No. 9 Marquette, No. 10 Oklahoma State.
Before everyone freaks out -- and I admit it may be too late for that now -- this should be rage-inducing only up to the point that you don't understand the methodology Dr. Michael Lewis and Dr. Manish Tripathi used to calculate their findings. The two professors at Emory University's Goizueta Business School built a regression model "that predicts team revenues as a function of the team’s performance, as measured by winning rates and postseason success" to calculate "fan base quality [as] reflected in a school’s men’s basketball revenue relative to the team’s performance." The result is what Lewis and Tripathi call "Revenue Premium Brand Based Equity Rankings." In less business-speak terms, the two are basically comparing the durability of a program's revenue against the success it has had over the years.
That's why Louisville is No. 1. The Cardinals have huge revenues -- more than $40 million a year -- with projected profits between $23 million and $28 million. Louisville has hardly been a bottom-feeder over the years, but relative to their success -- even before the 2013 national title -- Cardinals fans keep their favorite program steadily flush with cash.
It's also why Arkansas is No. 4, three spots ahead of the Wildcats. We already know Arkansas has a great, dedicated, loyal fan base; relative to the (complete lack of) success the Razorbacks have had in recent years, that fan base looks like one of the most forgiving groups in the country. Lewis and Tripathi mention this dynamic in their post:
One possible point of controversy is that Arkansas rates higher than Kentucky. The key is that while both Arkansas and Kentucky receive outstanding support, Arkansas’ support occurs despite less on-court success. The other possible interpretation is that Kentucky tends to underprice and may collect less revenues than possible.
See, Kentucky fans? It's not that you aren't passionate. It's that your team is too good. And it's possible you've been getting the best value in college sports all along.
Outside of an academic context, in terms of sheer raw largesse (and in terms of presence in my all but abandoned inbox), Big Blue Nation is probably always going to be No. 1. It's hard to argue otherwise. But within a comparative revenue-based regression, things really do look different. Either way, I'm guessing UK fans will be happy to weigh in with their thoughts.