The black & gold blues: Steelers fans take losses the hardest in the NFL

A study shows Steelers fans take losses harder than any other fan base in the National Football League

A recent study proves what most in this city have long known: Steelers fans hate to lose.

Pittsburgh football fans are the saddest fans in the NFL after a loss, according to Michael Lewis and Manish Tripathi, two marketing professors from Emory University who published a study on the subject of fan emotions.

The duo analyzed messages posted using the social media tool Twitter after every game of the 2012 National Football League season, using an algorithm to categorize tweets as positive or negative. In the two-day window that followed Steelers losses last season, 33.1 percent of tweets from the Pittsburgh area about the team were positive, the lowest percentage of any NFL team.

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"That makes total sense to me," said Mr. Lewis, who grew up with an understanding of Steelers fans because his mother is from Western Pennsylvania.

If anything, the percentage might seem high to anybody who has turned on talk radio or sat in a barber shop after a Steelers loss.

The Detroit Lions -- no strangers to losing themselves -- had the second-lowest positive percentage at 37.1 percent.

Taken by itself, that number might be worth paying attention to just as fair warning for anyone visiting the area. But the region's emotional connection to its NFL team may also play out in terms of dollars spent at local businesses and even productivity in workplaces -- which is particularly bad news in this season of bad performances by the Steelers.

"We have a lot of Steelers fans that if they lose, they'll call off work the next day," said Jim Coen, owner and founder of Yinzers in the Burgh, a sports apparel store headquartered in the Strip District. "They're very passionate about their team."

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He's seeing the agony of defeat in his sales results: Steelers merchandise sales are down 40 percent this year at Yinzers.

Ben Gunter, a front-of-house manager at Jerome Bettis Grille 36 on the North Shore, said the "Steelers Hangover" is pretty obvious after the team loses.

"People tend to go into hibernation after they lose," Mr. Gunter said. "Definitely after a loss, home or away, we'll see Steeler fans go home and hibernate before the other fans do."

This year's underwhelming season has had only a slight effect on the restaurant's business. That's because the restaurant attracts out-of-town fans, being that it is so close to Heinz Field.

The Steelers boast a sellout streak that dates to the 1970s; the secondary ticket market, however, has taken a hit this year., a San Francisco-based online ticket market, has observed a steep decline in resale prices for home Steelers games since 2011 -- the team's most recent winning season.

The median resale price for Steelers home games on this year is $127, down from $179 in 2012 and $180 in 2011.

The Emory study also concluded that Steelers fans are the second most "unstable" fans in the NFL, behind only the Oakland Raiders, a measure of the difference in their Twitter sentiment after wins and after losses. That means fans are happier than most when their teams win and sadder than most when their teams lose.

Following Steelers wins in 2012, tweets about the team from the Pittsburgh area were 79.6 percent positive -- an increase of 46.5 percent. The gap between the Raiders' highs and lows was 47 percent.

Fans of the Dallas Cowboys (4.8 percent) and Indianapolis Colts (5.7 percent) have much smaller gaps, leading Mr. Lewis and Mr. Tripathi to call them the most "stable" fan bases in the NFL.

The "happiest" fans in the NFL live in New Orleans, where 92.1 percent of all tweets following a Saints win are positive in nature, according to the study.

The researchers used Topsy, a San Francisco-based company that analyzes topics, terms and hashtags on Twitter. In posting their study to the Emory Sports Marketing Analysis blog in September, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Tripathi indicated there were a few caveats to the study: It did not take into account fans' tweets from outside a team's specific market and it measured only those who use Twitter, a group that tends to be younger. In addition, it measured only one year.

But that year helped illustrate just how blue Steelers fans can get when the black and gold lose. While, for the most part, that doesn't put businesses in the red, it has introduced new patterns in spending connected to the team.

At the Residence Inn Pittsburgh North Shore, owned and operated by Kratsa Properties in Harmar, business has been steady this year but different than in previous years. While Steelers weekends typically sell out, the reservations have shown a lot more fluctuation, said general manager Connie Breen.

Since the hotel opened in 2010, reservations for Steelers weekends had been booked early and rarely canceled. This year, early bookings are being canceled with much more frequency.

"We still have two more games to play, and one being right after Christmas," Ms. Breen said. "We still have strong numbers for those days. It will be interesting."

The hotel did not sell out last Sunday when the Steelers lost to the Miami Dolphins, Ms. Breen said, but the nasty weather on game day was probably more to blame than the ugly play on the field.

Providing an unexpected assist from right field, it turns out the Pirates' baseball playoff run has been a help for many businesses weathering the gloomy Steelers season.

Mr. Coen of Yinzers said sales of Pirates apparel were up 90 percent over last year. Because of that boost, he said his overall sales entering December were even compared with last year. "It helped that much, where we had such a bad Steeler year that the Pirates picked it up enough that my overall business hasn't dropped," he said.

He has also taken advantage of sales woes at some of the big box stores, which are looking to unload Steelers merchandise in closeout sales. Some of that apparel will become next year's inexpensive inventory.

The football team's 2014 season will be better.

At least that's what Mr. Coen and many business owners who rely on Steelers fans for business hope.

"Steelers fans will forgive the organization for rebuilding," he said. "The city will give them a couple passes."

But if there is another lackluster season...

"People will start questioning things more," he said.

Michael Sanserino:, 412-263-1969 or on Twitter @msanserino.

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