With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, there's no shortage of football-related stories bouncing around. Most of them are utter nonsense, but thanks to Deadspin and the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective, we've actually got one pretty fun study to dive into. Yes, this is more sports nerdness, so jump on board.
Using data culled from Facebook, those good folks were able to put together (and then study) a map showing which NFL teams were the most popular (or most "liked") in each county throughout the nation. That enabled us to see, once and for all, what each team's "fan base" really looked like, geographically speaking. Courtesy of Deadspin, here is that map:
While there aren't too many big surprises there (although Alaska is downright bizarre, including a strange patch of Bills fans in the middle of the state), one thing did jump out at me pretty immediately—where the hell are the Jets fans? Oh, there they are... no, not that big green blob that includes southern New Jersey and Delaware—that's Eagles territory. No, it's that little sliver right on the western end of Long Island, comprising basically one county.
Of course, that doesn't mean that the Jets don't have any fans—it just means there isn't any one area in which they're the dominant team, since they're overwhelmed by Giants fans throughout the New York metropolitan area. In fact, the Jets still check in with the 14th-largest fan base according to the study, despite having no real sphere of dominance. Thanks to the HCSAC people, we have the full breakdown for you as well:
Looking closer at this list, it's pretty clear that winning matters, which shouldn't surprise us. The top 3 teams in terms of fan base also happen to be the top 3 teams in terms of historical Super Bowl appearances—the Cowboys and Steelers have 8, the Patriots have 7. And of the top 12 teams on that list, 9 of them have won multiple Super Bowl titles (only the Saints, Bears, and Eagles have not).
Finally, as the HCSAC folks point out, each team that has won a Super Bowl in the last 9 years currently has more than 1.5 million fans, placing them in the top quarter of the league—since both the 49ers and Ravens currently sit on the outside of that top quartile, it'll be interesting to see what kind of fan base jump they may get by winning this weekend.
All in all, the fan base map jives pretty well with our intuitions—the "New England" Patriots moniker is apt, since all of New England minus a small corner of Connecticut leans toward the Pats (they're also big in Canada, and in the U.K.); the Cowboys dominate a huge portion of the country; and Los Angeles, lacking a team, still seems largely to pull for the Raiders, perhaps pining for the olden days. And despite a brief period of dominance at the turn of the century, the Rams can't seem to secure a fan base, nor can the ever-stumbling Jacksonville Jaguars.
Also, the league's fan base continues to skew toward the northern and eastern parts of the country—I ran the numbers to figure out the total numbers of fans by division, and came up with the following:
The East and North divisions make up the top four, combining for more than 65% of the total Facebook fans. Granted, that's aided in large part by the geographical oddity of the Cowboys being in the "East" division, but even if you were to swap the Cowboys with, say, the Rams, you'd still be looking at a 56.2% edge in favor of the North and East versus the South and West. I think it's interesting that the breakdown is in many ways the opposite of what you might expect to see in college football, where the SEC dominates everything—it's possible, if not likely, that the NCAA is pulling share away from the NFL (and the poor Jaguars) in that region.
As one final note, there are some teams who are simply dominant (in terms of fan support) within their divisions—the Steelers boast 64.8% of the total AFC North fans, followed by the Saints with 60.7% of the NFC South, the Colts with 56.8% of the AFC South, and the Patriots with 52.9% of the AFC East. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Bills (6.9% of AFC East), Jaguars (9.0% of AFC South), Bengals (9.4% of AFC North), and Redskins (10% of NFC East).
But getting back to this weekend, in case you were wondering what the "fan base" breakdown looks like if you consider only the Super Bowl participants, we've got that for you, too. Once again from Deadspin:
Clearly, the nation is leaning heavily toward the 49ers, which is unsurprising given that they've got almost 30% more total Facebook fans than do the Ravens. I apparently should have split allegiances, given that my hometown of Boston is red and my current home state of Virginia is painted purple. Good prediction, in fact—I literally do not care who wins this weekend. Good talk. Enjoy the game.
[Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective]