Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The F Stands For Fairweather Fans

Any of you who run a website will know that there's much pleasure amd grief to be had by following your own statistics on Google Analytics. The site tracks readers as numbers, by minutes on the site, pages read and location. It's a fun insight and a source of encouragement when numbers trend upwards. By the same token, it shows dips in readers and leads one to question what has changed. Like a 6-0 victory against the Rangers, one can't take Google Analytics to heart.

Earlier this year I was having a bit of fun with my Google Analytics data and trying to do some retrospective analysis of reader numbers as they relate to Canadiens winning and losing. Winning means more readers and losing means less.

Being that this is the Olympic break and we're in the midst of a Canadiens losing streak in a middling season, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that anyone reading this particular piece is in the hardcore. If there's one thing hardcore fans lie to do, it's complain about the softcore – those who wear a Bruins shirt under their Habs sweater – you know, just in case.

For you then, hardcore fans, I wanted share my examination of the Canadiens bandwagon, how big it is, how it reacts to wins, losses and stretches with little change

Bandwagon size

I start my assessment of the bandwagon with an assumption. The assumption is that anyone reading a relatively obscure hockey blog during a losing streak is a big fan – not a fan hopping on and off depending on the latest result. As such, I use reader numbers during a losing stretch as the non-bandwagon baseline.

From that point, I can control for number of days after wins, days of the week, exciting events (like trades) and such and come to estimates as to how many extra people follow the team closely when it's fashionable to do so. These are the numbers I see on this site:

Day after game: Loss (1.0); Win (1.30)
Two days after game: Loss (1.0); Win (1.45)
Three days after game: Loss (1.0); Win (0.97)

Here you can see that people flock to read about the team after a win (30% more readers), with peak bandwagon happening on Day 2 (45% more readers). The dip at Day 3 may be real, but it is hard to assess as there have been so few 3 day breaks in between games this year – usually Day 3 after a win is Day 1 after a W or a L.

To look a bit deeper, I compared what happens in a streak. So the day after the first win in a winning streak is W1. If on Day 3, the team wins again that would be W3, and W4 the next day and so on. One might speculate that the bandwagon would grow over time as excitement about the team winning increases. Maybe that happens at more mainstream sites, but here's how it goes down at LIW:

Day 1 of streak: L1 (1.0); W1 (1.19)
Day 2 of streak: L1 (1.0); W1 (1.30)
Day 3 of streak: L1 (1.0); W1 (1.29)
Day 4 of streak: L1 (1.0); W1 (1.16)
Day 5 of streak: L1 (1.0); W1 (1.33)

Again, the winning leads to a bump, but rather than accumulating over time, as one might expect, there seems to be a leveling off followed by what I might call streak fatigue from Day 4, with a more marked drop at Day 6 of a streak

It seems that not only are the fairweather fans in our midst quick to become scarce at the earliest sign that they might be supporting a losing team, but they also suffer from attention deficit, such that winning for too long isn't very interesting.

So what?

Good question. Well, as I said, it doesn't really matter. I was only sharing this because I did it for a bit of fun and thought one or two of you might get a laugh out of it.

But might it matter to the team as well?

I'd say that some of the people in the marketing and sales departments might be quite interested in this information. Filling the building is one of the concerns, of course. If there are 60,000 fans trying to get tickets to each game, then something like this wouldn't matter. But let's say there are only 25,000 fans wanting to see the Phoenix Coyotes in November, even in a winning run. Well, if the bandwagon drops out by 25% (1.0/1.3), then the team is suddenly looking at having to get creative to fill 3,000 or so seats.

I might also think that too big a bandwagon gets a bit unwieldy. I've always thought the pressure of the playoffs, for example, where everyone to the man or woman in the city is talking about the team and attaching themselves in some way to the team might be a lot to handle.

What of the total bandwagon?

This little snapshot only shows how our blog fluctuates in winning and losing. If you think about the profile of people who read a blog written by fans then I think you'd agree it's not your typical bandwagon. It's not the guy at the office who suddenly starts wearing Habs gear everyday in April as the Habs turn up on the verge of eliminating the Bruins. If anything, I'd say the real bandwagon is much much bigger in percentage terms. And, I'd guess that it fluctuates even more dramatically.

I also think that bandwagon fans can be the most demanding of all, and the most unreasonable. Coming in as they do with their craving for instant gratification, they sometimes don't understand what has come before, why things are being done a certain way. The fans that buy a ticket for a single game at the end of a winning streak to see a win are the ones who boo Halak loudest for letting in 5 goals after 3 months of excellence, the ones who scream shoot 10 seconds into every PP, the ones who rant about firing the coach every losing streak, and firing the GM every January.

In short, I don't relate to them that well. Still, as a subject of study and observation, the bandwagoneer is a fascinating animal.

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