NKU research project examines top MLB rivalries

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (WTVQ) – Students at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) led by Dr. Joe Cobbs, a professor of Sports Business, released their findings from a research project measuring the most intense sports rivalries in baseball. Over 20 students conducted this creative research as part of the Know Rivalry Project.

To determine each team’s “rivalry score,” fans representing their favorite team allocated 100 rivalry points across their team’s opponents. The most heated rivalries were determined by both fanbases giving high rivalry points to each other, with little regard for other teams. At the top of the most intense list is the notorious conflict between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

“Using consumer research methods, we developed a way to understand that tension and anticipation you feel at the ballpark when a certain team comes to town. The project is designed to capture the fans’ perspective of a rivalry narrative,” said Dr. Cobbs.

Lopsided rivalry statistics came from fans who are highly focused in defeating one team, but the opposing fans are not as passionate. Arizona Diamondbacks fans’ views of the Los Angeles Dodgers top the most lopsided rivalry. The Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals rivalry appears five spots later on the lopsided list, with Reds fans allotting three times as many points as Cardinals fans. Meanwhile, fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates ranked Cincinnati as their main rivals.

“Sometimes fans don’t feel the same towards one another. It’s like a little brother versus big brother situation,” said Dr. Cobbs. “Because the sports world reflects group affiliations and conflict in society, misinterpreting rivalry can lead to underestimating tensions and threats that manifest in anti-social behaviors, including violence against others. Conversely, well managed rivalries can increase demand in ticket sales and broadcast ratings.”

Over the last seven years, Dr. Cobbs and his students have collected and analyzed survey data from more than 30,000 fans across the country through his courses in the Haile/US Bank College of Business. The Know Rivalry Project teaches consumer research methods and data management skills to students.

“This project allows me to apply my knowledge of sports in an academic setting,” said Jonah Krebs, a sophomore studying Business Administration at NKU. “I am able to use my strengths through collaboration with a team of dedicated students to answer questions about the rivalry debate.”

Along with MLB, The Know Rivalry Project has published data on the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and NCAA football. Thanks to funding from NKU’s Informatics+ and the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement, Dr. Cobbs has expanded the research across the world. The grants allowed Dr. Cobbs’ team to collect surveys from fans in England, Australia and India. NKU Computer Science faculty members Dr. Marius Truta and Dr. Seth Adjei, along with their students in the College of Informatics, are also aiding with the project by analyzing and cleaning the data.

Dr. Cobbs’ research on the phenomenon of sports rivalries began in graduate school with his project colleague Dr. David Tyler, who also teaches sports management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

To learn more about what sparks a rivalry, the methodology and how each team’s fans responded, visit the project’s website.

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