What NFL team has the best fans?

Two sports marketing academics have come up with their own list, based on several metrics that go well beyond attendance.

By Bruce Kennedy Aug 20, 2013 3:06PM

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant signs for fans after the Cowboys Blue-White scrimmage on July 28, 2013 (© Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)If pro football is the most popular sport in America, then which National Football League team has the best fans? For a lot of people, that's a very subjective question, depending on a lot of emotional issues. But researchers at Emory University in Atlanta looked at the issue using a series of objective factors -- including regional economics and demographics -- and have come up with their own answers.

Michael Lewis and Manish Tripathi, professors in Emory's sports marketing analytics department, say they've come under a lot of criticism for their rankings, but they insist their findings are based on good science and not just gut commitment to a given team.

In determining which NFL team has the best overall fan base, the researchers said they couldn't look at just attendance figures because those numbers are skewed in favor of the bigger metropolitan areas or toward recent, on-the-field success.

Instead, they examined a team's record in relation to its box-office revenues, as well as overall market population, stadium capacity, median regional income and other figures. After doing so, they created a statistical model. The teams with stronger fan support, they said, had revenue figures that outperformed predicted values.

Got that? So, academics aside, here's their list of teams for Best Fan Support in the NFL:

  1. Dallas Cowboys

  2. New England Patriots

  3. New York Jets

  4. New Orleans Saints

  5. New York Giants

  6. Indianapolis Colts

  7. Chicago Bears

  8. Baltimore Ravens

  9. Pittsburgh Steelers

  10. Tennessee Titans

  11. San Diego Chargers

  12. Denver Broncos

  13. Washington Redskins

  14. Green Bay Packers

  15. Carolina Panthers

  16. Houston Texans

  17. Philadelphia Eagles

  18. Minnesota Vikings

  19. Cincinnati Bengals

  20. Cleveland Browns

  21. Kansas City Chiefs

  22. St. Louis Rams

  23. Seattle Seahawks

  24. Buffalo Bills

  25. Miami Dolphins

  26. San Francisco 49ers

  27. Jacksonville Jaguars

  28. Detroit Lions

  29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  30. Arizona Cardinals

  31. Atlanta Falcons

  32. Oakland Raiders

So, maybe it's true that the Cowboys are indeed "America's Team," at least when it comes to having the top NFL fan base. Key factors, according to the professors, are the Cowboy's "long legacy of success, a football-mad Texas culture and a state of the art stadium." And they note that, despite Dallas' less-than-spectacular results in recent seasons, the Cowboys have had above-capacity attendance at their games.

Regarding the list's No. 2 and 3 teams, the researchers say New England's fan base is "all-around strong," while the Jets are similar to the Cowboys "in that they draw consistently well, regardless of the on-field product."

As for the bottom of the list, the professors underscore that while the Lions are struggling as a team, they're also up against a struggling local economy. Plus, they compete for fans loyal to the college football programs at Michigan and Michigan State. "Similarly," they say, "teams like Atlanta and Tampa Bay may suffer from being located in SEC territory," referring to the extremely popular Southeast Conference, featuring powerhouses like Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

The researchers say their personal biases played no part in their findings.

"Professor Lewis grew up a Steelers fan in the 1970s so this was a bit of a painful result," they note. "Professor Tripathi grew up as a Redskins fan, and is terribly disturbed by the results of the study."

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