America’s Team Is Not in the Superbowl

February 3, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross-posted at Sociological Images

Six years ago, I blogged (here) that the Pittsburgh Steelers had become “America’s Team,” a title once claimed, perhaps legitimately, by the Dallas Cowboys. 

Now Ben Blatt at The Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective concludes that it’s still the Cowboys. (His post is here.)  
Still, based on their huge fan base and ability to remain the most popular team coast-to-coast, I think the Dallas Cowboys have earned the right to use the nickname  ‘America’s Team’.
To get data, Blatt posed as an advertiser and euchred Facebook into giving him some data from 155 million Facebook users, about half of the US population.  Blatt counted the “likes” for each NFL team.

 It’s Superbowls X, XIII, and XXX all over again – Steelers vs. Cowboys.  And the Cowboys have a slight edge.  But does that make them “America’s Team”? It should be easy to get more likes when you play to a metro area like Dallas that has twice as many people as Pittsburgh.  If the question is about “America’s Team,” we’re not interested in local support.  Just the opposite – we want to see how many fans a team has away from the home field. 

Blatt measures nationwide support by seeing which team gets the most likes in each Congressional district.  Unsurprisingly, each local team dominates its area.

The Cowboys are number one in the hearts of a wider area.  In Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Mexico, Idaho, and Utah they crush the non-existent competition.  Curiously, Blatt does not report the number of likes those states contributed. He says only that in those regions there were more likes for the Cowboys than for any other team.  By this measure, the Steelers don’t even win all Pennsylvania, but that’s because, unlike the Cowboys, the Steelers  face other NFL cities close to home.  Their home state and every bordering state except West Virginia has one or even two competing NFL teams – Eagles, Browns, Bengals, Ravens, Bills.   

The map makes the it appear that the 3.6 million Steeler fans are crowded into a small area while the 3.7 million Cowboy fans are widely spread.  But those wide open Western spaces may not contain all that many people.  And it’s fans, not real estate, that root for a team. 

If you want to know who America’s team is, you should find out how many fans it has outside its local area.  Unfortunately, Blatt doesn’t provide that information. So for a rough estimate, I took the number of Facebook likes and subtracted the metro area population.  Most teams came out on the negative side. The Patriots, for example, had 2.5 million likes. but they are in a media market of over 4 million people.  The Cowboys too wound up in the red  3.7 million likes in a metro area of 5.4 million people.

Likes outnumbered population for only five teams.  The clear winner was the Steelers.*

I made one final comparison –Steeler bars and Cowboys bars in Los Angeles  It’s the second largest media market in the country but hasn’t had a home NFL team to support in nearly two decades (how do economists explain this?).   The Cowboys should have an advantage in LA since more Angelenos have roots in Texas than in Pennsylvania.  According to FanLoop, there are 16 Cowboys bars within a 25-mile radius of 90210 (the first Los Angeles zip code that came to mind).  In that same circle, there are 31 Steelers bars.** 

* The Packers also have a legitimate claim to the title.  To get the numbers to come out in favor of the Steelers, I assigned the Pack the Milwaukee metro area as its local support even though Milwaukee is 100 miles from Green Bay.  (Milwaukee  is closer to Chicago, but as the map makes clear, Packer and Bear loyalties split at the state line.)  Subtract the Green Bay population instead of Milwaukee from the Packer likes, and the Packers win the America’s Team trophy by two touchdowns.

** I my own zip code +25 miles, the score is Steelers 45, Cowboys 18.  (See this earlier post about Steeler bars.)

UPDATE:  It turns out that a few days ago, an intern at Facebook, Sean Taylor, published data on this same topic (here). Taylor’s map. by county rather than Congressional district, is a bit clearer than the one above.

But this repeats the shortcoming of the other map.  It shows which team was most popular, but it does not show the level of support for other teams.  Looking at the map, you would never suspect that the Packers get a lot of love (or rather a lot of likes) nationwide, not just in Wisconsin.  But it’s never enough to overcome the home team advantage. (Note also that the Steelers kick ass even in far away places like Alaska and Hawaii.) 


maxliving said...

Unknown said...

i'd also like to point out that the stillers (in the dialect;-) have more female_fans_(not just girlfriends/wives of fans) than other teams...i think this is because the steelers don't have a t&a show...cheerleaders are_so_high school;-)

Jay Livingston said...

Thanks Tom. That’s a pertinent observation that I missed. Terrible tahls, no pom-poms. It goes along with what I was trying to say in that 2006 post. The Cowboys and Steelers represent two contrastring strains of American culture. Besides the individualism, the Cowboys peripheral embellishments – cheerleaders, halftime shows, etc. – combine the themes of militarism, religion, and Playboy-style sex.