The Real Score: Think You “Know Rivalry?” UMass research lab takes fans’ opinion to heart

  • Dr. B. David Tyler


Published: 9/14/2023 2:35:52 PM

When you think about sport rivalry, what comes to mind? Many of us in the northeast think about Red Sox versus Yankees, Celtics versus Lakers, or Bruins versus Canadiens. It turns out that this is not just East Coast bias — these are the most intense rivalries in each of their respective leagues.

The rivalry intensity measure comes from the Know Rivalry Research Project, a research lab that I co-founded with colleague Joe Cobbs, a UMass McCormack alum now at Northern Kentucky University. Headquartered in the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management here at UMass Amherst, our objective for the Know Rivalry Project is to learn about fans and the interactions among rival fan communities. More specifically, researchers seek to understand how sports organizations and their media and sponsorship partners can promote rivalries in a socially responsible way — maximizing the benefits in consumer demand while minimizing antisocial hostility toward rivals.

To identify how fans viewed rivalry, we gave sport fans 100 “rivalry points” to allocate to opponents of their favorite team. They could give all 100 to one team, or distribute them across multiple teams (most fans identified 3-4 rivals per team). By adding up the points allocated from each team in a rivalry, we can get a measure of rivalry intensity, or at least, the degree to which fans focus on each specific rival team. The Sox-Yankees rivalry scored 162 (out of 200), with Sox fans allocating 85 of their points to the Yankees — Yankees fans returned 77 points toward the Sox.

What about the Patriots?

The Patriots-Jets rivalry cracks the top 5, but just barely. Unlike with the Celtics, where fans focus most points on the Lakers, Patriots fans distribute their rivalry points across several teams. However, the Patriots are the most frequently mentioned team for other fans when listing their rivals. This means that other teams see the Patriots as a rival, even though Patriots fans do not reciprocate those rivalrous feelings.

The top rivalry in the NFL is between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, where both sides allocate over 65 of their 100 points toward the other team. The rivalry between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers is second, with Bears fans allocating 74 points to the Packers. Packers fans see the Bears as the top rival, but with only 50 points; they also distribute points to the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions.

What does the rivalry research tell us about football at UMass?

We’re still working on the data for UMass, but so far it appears that Minutemen fans see UConn as the top rival, with Boston College in second place. Those feelings are not fully reciprocated, however, as UConn fans most frequently identify the Syracuse Orange as the top rival, and BC fans turn their attention to Notre Dame.

For a team to be perceived as a rival, there must be a narrative of competition in which the rival team poses some level of threat and/or enhancement to one’s favorite team. Thus, for UConn to see UMass as an equally significant rival, two things need to happen.

First, there must be regular competition between UConn and UMass. That creates opportunities for other “ingredients in the rivalry recipe” to flourish, such as notable moments from around the games and star performances by athletes and coaches.

Second, it must become easier to make favorable comparisons between UMass football and UConn football. Such a change often comes through winning – e.g., if UMass beats UConn consistently, UMass’s status as a rival will likely increase. Even without on-field victories, UMass can also elevate its place as a rival by emphasizing other areas of distinction, such as geographic advantages and/or cultural differences between the programs.

Want to weigh in and add your own perspective on rivalries? You can take the survey, or just take a deeper dive into the Know Rivalry research database, by visiting

B. David Tyler is an associate professor of sport management who has been at UMass since 2020. He can be reached at


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