To say that professional sports garner emotional bonds with their fan base is an understatement. But for one major NBA basketball team, those drivers had yet to be fully unturned until a partnership with Gongos, Inc. set out to prove the efficacy of its GEM (Gongos Emotional Measurement) method. While this proprietary approach had existed for over a decade, changes in technology and consumer behavior presented an opportune time to revamp the methodology to link the emotional drivers of consumers—and in this case fans—to brand perception, purchase and loyalty.

The research would prove vital to the Detroit Pistons, especially given that the new experience economy is taking over across most industries. And the sports industry is no different. Newly resurrected arenas, rock-star named cafes, and fashion-forward merchandise have all undergone facelifts in the professional sports industry; all in the name of guest experiences…and supplementary sales. But is that what fans are drawn to most?

Both partners acknowledge that humans struggle to articulate their feelings and emotions towards brands. When overtly asked within research surveys, they tend to provide rational responses. But consumer emotions are inextricably interwoven and largely drive their decisions and actions.

Leveraging the GEM method, a custom-crafted quantitative survey of individuals familiar with at least one of the four major sports teams in Detroit measured both the conscious and non-conscious perceptions using implicit and choice-based exercises. From there, multi-level advanced modeling and machine learning algorithms enabled a deep analysis of drivers of emotion—and to what they were attributed to—e.g., brand, franchise, guest experience, players.

The findings were a slam dunk. Gongos uncovered emotional motivators and inherent fan perceptions for the four major sports teams, enabling the Detroit Pistons to capitalize on what Detroit fandom truly means and how to differentiate within the sports and entertainment community.

“The data confirms research we’ve conducted and hypotheses we’ve had,” said Shelly Bouren, Research Manager for the Detroit Pistons, “It also provides us with new understanding about the depths of our fandom and the emotional ties they have to the team.”

The insights will serve as a guidepost for multiple tactics across operations, marketing, and ticket sales–particularly in how they connect with fans across demographic groups—and further legitimizes insight-derived strategies for growth.

While NBA teams utilize industry-leading insights and analytics, Bouren confirms that this method is a new approach to gaining understanding of emotional motivators sought by Pistons fans.

Quantitively, taking a broader look at the efficacy and usage of this research, corporate decision makers can leverage GEM to assess the impact of emotion on purchase likelihood and customer satisfaction; prioritize the relative importance of various emotions; and identify white space in the market.

“Given that up to 95 percent of decisions are subconscious,” adds Lisa Speck, Gongos’ Senior Analytics Translator, “leveraging sophisticated survey tools and rigorous analysis like the GEM method is a sure way for brands to unlock the ties that bind.”