One of the larger arguments that fans of the NFL have with each other is not only which team is better (currently or historically) but which fan-base is “better”. Finally, someone attempted to answer that question …with math! Dr. Mike Lewis of Emory’s Goizueta Business School created a study based on multiple variables in an attempt to answer that age-old (bar) question. His equation, essentially analyzes social engagement, home and road attendance, gear purchase and so on, to determine which fanbases are the most active. Essentially, these metrics serve to demonstrate which fan-bases are the “Best” and which are the “Worst”.
His process analyzes the following:
- Fan Equity measures fans’ willingness to support a given team while adjusting for factors such as market size and win-loss record. The Cowboys, Patriots and — surprisingly — the 49ers rank high here, with fans willing to pay a premium for tickets and merchandise to support these teams.
- Social Equity measures fans’ willingness to stand up for a team online, following and liking them across multiple social networks. The Patriots, Cowboys, and Broncos head the pack here. Social Equity is often a more reliable barometer of national awareness than Fan Equity since anyone anywhere can follow a team online without having to purchase tickets.
- Road Equity documents how well a team draws fans on the road. In the NBA, you can always count on a LeBron or Golden State bounce; the correlating teams in the NFL are the Cowboys, Eagles, and Raiders, with the Patriots (5) not far behind. Sometimes these teams have fans that travel (Steelers, 6) and sometimes the bandwagons have set up shop around the country (hello, Cowboys fans in Los Angeles). Either way, the result is the same: a strong road presence.
So, essentially, the goal was to attempt to (as best as possible) cancel out things like the size of the market and whether or not the team has been successful recently in an attempt to analyze how active each fanbase is and has been, pretty much in a vacuum. The problem here though is that the win-loss record has a direct impact on the enthusiasm a market may have. That enthusiasm translates to the very things that they were attempting to measure. If a team wins a Super Bowl, for example, they’re going to sell a ton of merchandise that off-season that celebrates that very Super Bowl win. If a team loses, they may invest in other things like rope and a stool. So, like most things analytical when it comes to football, it’s essentially impossible to create a level playing field. Despite that, this does come about as close as you can get. So, let’s take a look at which teams Dr. Lewis says has the best fanbase in all of professional football.
Really, no one is going to be surprised by this list, outside of (perhaps) the Philadelphia Eagles being present. Sure, they have a rabid (and scary) fan base comprised mostly of middle-aged men with facial scars, but the Eagles have had a pretty terrible record when it comes to winning big games. Outside of that, the rest of the teams here are all either historical or recent winners (or in the case of the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New York Giants… Both) and are also pretty much the biggest markets in the country (This covers most of the Eastern Seaboard). The Dallas Cowboys have long (and annoyingly) been called “America’s Team” and so it’s no surprise that the team that dominated the early 90’s, thanks in part to the Minnesota Vikings and their love for running back Herschel Walker. The New York Giants have won two Super Bowls this century and are also located in a city and state called New York (Well, they play in New Jersey but you get the idea). The New England Patriots represent a region and are probably the biggest dynasty in NFL history (or would be, for sure, if not for those pesky Giants). These teams all have many, many websites that write about them and thus their social media presence is huge. On top of that, a lot of people that aren’t really even fans end up buying jerseys from winning teams, especially winning teams that have amazingly talented players. For example, the Steelers have wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back La’Veon Bell. Their jerseys are big sellers, and they had a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who used to sell a lot of jerseys as well until he decided to pull a Bill Cosby, twice (Perhaps he should play for the Eagles?).
Now, let’s take a look at the bottom five teams.
These teams represent the bottom of the barrel and while some may not come as a surprise (we’re looking at you, Jacksonville), others do. You’d think that a team like the Los Angeles Rams would have a huge following considering the fact that they just recently moved to the second biggest market in the NFL but if you think about it, beyond that, it makes sense that they’re at the bottom. Moving a team ends up angering the current fans of the team and it also takes awhile for a new market to acclimate to a team that they haven’t otherwise followed. Considering the fact that the people in Los Angeles have either followed the San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders or USC Trojans, you’re asking a lot for them to suddenly embrace a team that a lot of fans aren’t old enough to remember as their own (and those fans are the ones who would be the most active on social media). The Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs are a big surprise as they’re both teams that have had decent teams (especially the Bengals, but then again the stadium that the Chiefs play in, Arrowhead, is considered the loudest in the NFL so you’d think that’d translate into other things), but considering their geographical location, perhaps they’re not the most tech-savvy people on the planet.
If you want to see where your team ranks, here’s the entire list. Keep in mind that like all things analytical these days, there’s a fair amount of subjectivity involved in which variables to consider. So, this isn’t the end all when it comes to which team is better than another, but it is fun to use to taunt your friend who is a fan of a rival team… If you happen to be the friend on the tail end of that taunting, keep in mind that this list came from Emory, as well. Considering the fact that they’re a school that is best known for this list, I really wouldn’t take this to heart. Especially as a Vikings fan.