Congratulations, Dallas Cowboys fans: you’re exactly as good as you think you are.
Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business has released its latest NFL Fandom Report, ranking the relative fan strengths of the 32 NFL franchises, and once again, the Cowboys lead the pack. Right behind them: the Patriots, Eagles, Giants and Steelers.
Down at the bottom of the list: the Bengals, the Jaguars, the Titans, the Chiefs (hang on, Chiefs fans, you’ll get your chance) and the Rams.
We’re going to assume that 90 percent of you check out the full list and then come back and vent your rage (or gloat, if you’re a Dallas fan), but on the off chance you want to know how Emory professor Mike Lewis conducted and compiled the study, let’s dig in.
The best fans, by the numbers
The goal of the study is to use statistical analysis to determine the NFL’s “best” fans, judged on the entirety of the fanbase. In other words: every team has its core of religiously devoted, ride-or-die fans; the teams at the top of the list simply have many, many more.
Dr. Lewis judges fan bases on three criteria: Fan Equity, Social Equity and Road Equity. Here’s how those break down.
Fan Equity is a matter of judging how well fans support their team by backing up their words with dollars — i.e., how much they spend on everything from season tickets to jerseys. If a team fills its stadium but there’s not much demand past that, their Fan Equity score is lower.
Social Equity is based on a team’s social media reach — i.e., how many followers the team has across various social media channels. A team that’s not able to draw many followers on social isn’t a team with a deep degree of Social Equity.
Road Equity involves measuring how well a team draws on the road, adjusting for team performance. People show up to watch when the Cowboys or Steelers come to town. People don’t show up to watch when, say, the Bengals or Titans do. (Sorry, Cincy and Tennessee, but you know it’s true.)
See which teams ranked where in this full breakdown:
The results — which, at the top, are unchanged from last season — skew heavily toward legacy teams. You’ll note that teams like the Giants, Broncos and 49ers remain strong even without a recent winning history.
Plus, you can tease out some interesting results: yes, the Patriots fans are exactly as loud as you think they are online. And there’s a reason you see so many NFC East games every year: when all of your teams rank in the top 11 in fan base enthusiasm, that’s a key to strong ratings.
How these rankings could change year to year
The Kansas City Chiefs are the most notable question mark in these rankings. How can a team which could have won the Super Bowl last year, a team with the reigning NFL MVP, be ranked second-to-last? Chiefs fans haven’t even read this far before typing out their rage.
Two factors: first, the effects of last year’s triumph haven’t fully manifested yet. Second: by the numbers, Chiefs fans — while loud in volume — are small in number, at least as of last season. But here’s where we could start to see some real change. If Mahomes remains the game-changer he seems to be, if he becomes the Stephen Curry of the NFL, the Chiefs — like the Warriors in the NBA — could go from afterthought to trendy bandwagon team, and that would increase KC’s equity across all three criteria.
Look for a similar potential jump with Cleveland now that a young, star-laden base is in place. Will a Super Bowl appearance help the Los Angeles Rams strengthen their standing in their new home? Perhaps.
Bottom line, though: this is a study about fan bases, not individual fans. If you enjoy your team, keep on enjoying them. It doesn’t matter how many fans you have, whether they’re enough to fill a stadium or enough to fill half a booth at a sports bar. If you like your crew, that’s all that matters.
(Disclosure: The writer is a past Visiting Executive In Residence at Emory University, but had no input on the Fandom Report. For an Emory podcast involving the discussion of the ratings, tap here.)
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