I don't think the original post was asking people to rate the bands against each other rather than explain why the response to the two groups was so different. There were rival camps between fans of the two groups. The Fairport fans I knew in seventies England were studenty types who tended to be slightly condescending towards both Steeleye and their fans. Fairport were esoteric and underground - often "appreciated" more than enjoyed . Steeleye was played on the radio - so it was folk-pop versus Fairport's folk-rock. I doubt if any of this fan rivalry came from the musicians.
I don't think I could listen to Fairport much these days , and you never hear them played anywhere, do you? I heard All Round My Hat on the radio two weeks ago and it sounded very fresh .