We're No. 3: Packers, Red Sox overtake Steelers in fans' loyalty

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Perhaps Steelers fans could buy even more stuff.

Fresh off a huge, but rare win against the New England Patriots, the National Football League team lost on a different national stage yesterday, when a study released by a New Jersey market-research firm showed that the Steelers slipped to third nationally in local fan loyalty, after finishing first last year.

While Steelers fan support stayed nearly the same, interest in the NFL's Green Bay Packers and Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox surged past them, the survey of 12,000 sports fans in 122 sports markets showed.

In better news, Pittsburgh-area hockey interest in the Penguins went from 20th last year among franchises in North America to eighth. Interest in baseball's bumbling Pirates stumbled from 72nd to 90th.

Only one city in the United States has more teams in the top 10 -- again, it is Boston, which can count three recent championships from the Patriots, Red Sox and the National Basketball Association's Celtics.

"The Steelers didn't do anything wrong. When you're No. 1 you have nowhere to go but down," said Lee Perna, president and CEO of Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, which produced the study. "They should be very, very proud of where they fit. There is nothing bad to say about the Steelers whatsoever."

To produce the study, Turnkey surveyed 300 sports fans in the Pittsburgh area on their perception of their hometown teams, asking questions about ticket value, team leadership and 19 other categories. The study also asked about attributes they admire in their teams, and Pittsburgh fans rated "hard-working" most important. Second was "competitive."

The study, which is used by teams and sponsors to help marketing themselves to fans, only surveys brand interest within teams' local markets, not their interest across the United States and Canada. To that end, the study also solicited fans' favorite sponsors. In Pittsburgh, they were Heinz and Giant Eagle.

The surveys were performed in the spring. According to Turnkey, interest in the Packers was surging during questions about Brett Favre's return to football and the team's 13-3 season last year.

"What this is saying is the following the Packers have is more intensely loyal to supporting the Packers than any other team," Mr. Perna said. "What this basically says is that all other things being equal, a sponsor gets more value in sponsoring the Packers than any other team."

At Steelers headquarters, there wasn't much worry about the report.

"Our fans are incredibly loyal. We feel they're the best in all of sports," said spokesman Dave Lockett. "That's seen by the fact that we're probably unparalleled in the number of fans in our colored jerseys in opposing stadiums, as well as in hotels on road trips every week."

The study found the Steelers were in the top 10 across the NFL, National Hockey League, NBA and Major League Baseball in "premium value," meaning fans see their games to be a good value even though they have a high cost.

Those findings will likely be of interest to the ownership group coming together behind Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, as he works to buy team shares from his four brothers by the end of this month.

The report had nothing but more bad news for the Pirates, who suffered through their record-tying 16th straight losing season. Their results were lower in every study category and they were the flip-flop of the Steelers on perceptions of value -- fans did not see their games as a good buy even though they offer relatively cheap prices.

Like the Steelers, fans graded the Penguins (who were on a Stanley Cup run during the survey) to be in the top 10 nationwide (and across Canada) in team popularity, fan loyalty and team ownership.

Only one hockey team was more popular. Unfortunately it was another Pittsburgh nemesis, the Detroit Red Wings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Tim McNulty can be reached at tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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