A poll conducted by the Sports Innovation Institute at IUPUI shortly before the 2017 NFL season showed just how strong a brand the NFL and Indianapolis Colts have in this market.
Recent player protests during the performance of the national anthem at NFL games have likely put a dent in those brands, said the professor who conducted the poll of 500 residents in central Indiana. But the controversy isn't likely to topple them from their lofty perches.
“What stood out about this poll is the extent to which this is a Colts town and the support by local residents of the league [the Colts] play in,” David Pierce, an associate professor in the Indiana University School of Physical Education and Tourism Management at IUPUI, told IBJ.
The study asked its subjects to choose one favorite hometown team. Of the 500 respondents, 221 picked the Colts, four times more than any other team. And 159 of the 500 said the NFL was their favorite league.
The survey was conducted across a wide range of fans over 18 years of age, with an average age of 47, Pierce said.
“Every way you can look at the NFL and the Colts, they share the strongest brand image and position in the local market,” Pierce said.
The second-favorite league/entity after the NFL was college basketball. IU men's basketball was the second choice for favorite hometown team (when respondents were asked to name just one) behind the Colts, with 54 of the 500 respondents choosing the Hoosiers.
Respondents were asked to rank their overall feelings about sports leagues on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being highest. The NFL scored a 4.47, even higher than “sports in general” at 4.26.
The Colts scored a 4.36 among respondents asked for their overall feelings on a scale of 1 to 5 about hometown teams and major events. Nothing else scored above 4. Following the Colts were Butler men's basketball at 3.97, the Indianapolis 500 at 3.95, and then a tie between the Indiana Pacers and the Indianapolis Indians at 3.94. IU men's basketball scored 3.73 in that category, followed by Notre Dame football at 3.64.
“The Indians' score is pretty competitive for something that’s at the minor-league level of competition,” Pierce said. “That speaks to the team’s game experience.”
A question of “hometown fandom” allowed respondents to choose more than one favorite team/major event, and 77.2 percent named the Colts in their list of favorite teams. They were followed by the Pacers, at 49.8 percent, the Indianapolis 500, at 44.2 percent, IU men’s basketball, at 38 percent, and Butler men's basketball, at 36.2 percent.
Given the league-wide protests across the NFL on Sunday in which many players either knelt during the national anthem or locked arms in an apparent sign of solidarity after the league was criticized by President Donald Trump for unpatriotic behavior, Pierce said, “I’m dying to do the poll again.”
While there are no immediate plans to conduct another poll, Pierce said he hopes to conduct one regularly for trend analysis.
“I would be shocked if the recent [NFL] protests didn’t have an impact in the downward direction,” Pierce said. “The question is, will it just be a short-term impact, or will it have a longer lasting effect.”
While Pierce doesn’t think the impact of the protests will be greater in central Indiana than in other markets, there could be one indication in his poll that might counter that.
The Olympics—which is largely about national pride—ranked very high among central Indiana residents in Pierce’s poll.
The Summer Olympics ranked second among poll respondents in the favorite league category behind only the NFL and was third in the overall feelings about sports leagues category behind the NFL and sports in general.
Of course, that could also be connected to Indianapolis’ longtime reputation as an amateur sports mecca and the fact that the city is the home to several U.S. Olympic sports national governing bodies.
Click here to see entire poll results.