Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

How'd Those Fans Get There? A Deeper Dive Into The Facebook NFL Fandom Map

After weeks of us awkwardly guessing who wanted to watch which NFL games, Facebook finally used its terrifying trove of user data and made the map that no one else could. In our original post, we pointed out some of the more surprising fan pockets, but the data deserve a deeper dive.


Cowboys in the South

Although you'd never guess it from the name, the Washington Redskins have something of a racist history. The NFL integrated in 1946, before Major League Baseball. By 1953, every team in the league—aside from the Redskins, that is—had black players. It took nine years for the Redskins to cave on integration. And that was only because the president of the United States made them.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of Southern African-Americans turned on the team. Since the Falcons (1966), Saints (1967), and Dolphins (1970) weren't in the NFL yet, that left just one Southern team to root for: the Dallas Cowboys.


Vikings in Washington and Pasquotank Counties, N.C.


The mascot of Plymouth High School, one of the two high schools in Washington County, is the Vikings. They even use a mirror image of Minnesota's logo. We called the school system and the local paper, but were were informed that anyone who might have known how this came to be has long since retired.

Steelers in western North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio


Appalachia, running across 420 counties from southwestern New York to northeastern Mississippi, has a culture that bleeds over and supersedes state borders. Pittsburgh and its 305,704 inhabitants represent the largest city and unofficial capital of the mountainous, rural region.

Steelers in Hawaii


23.3 percent of Hawaiians are at least partially of Pacific Islander descent, by far the highest percentage in the U.S. The Steelers have Troy Polamalu, the NFL's most prominent Pacific Islander, and arguably the second-most prominent Pacific Islander, period, behind Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Steelers in Eastern North Carolina, South Carolina, and scattered throughout the nation


Shit, sure are a lot of Steeler fans out there. This is because the team may have had the optimal situation for spreading its fanbase across the nation:

  1. Massive success: Four Super Bowls in six years from 1974-1979.
  2. Immediate economic downturn: Collapse of U.S. Steel led to 17 percent unemployment in the city by 1982.
  3. Loss of population: The city went from 520,000 inhabitants in 1970 to 370,000 in 1990, a 29 percent decline.

These rabid Steelers fans had to end up somewhere. While it's difficult to find county-level internal migration data from before 1990, it's possible that a lot of Steelers fans ended up in North and South Carolina due to African-American reverse migration to the South. Many Northern cities have seen this in the past decade.

Bears in Alpine County, Calif., and McCreary County, Ky.


Alpine County is almost all U.S. National Forest land and has no incorporated towns. McCreary County too overlaps National Forest land and also has no incorporated towns. While I can't prove it, I believe that both of these counties are primarily occupied by bears, and these bears have access to Facebook.

Packers in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Alaska


The NFL really has only three northern teams: the Seahawks, the Vikings, and the Packers (the next closest, the Bills, play 120 miles south of Lambeau). But what makes the Seahawks all that northern? On average, Seattle gets just two days a year with a high below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The Vikings play in a dome. That leaves the Packers as the unofficial team of the frozen North.

Packers in Dixie County, Fla.


Cross City, population 1,800, is the seat of Dixie County. Former Packer and three-time all-pro safety Nick Collins grew up there, and moved back after retirement. They threw him a parade. They love this guy.

Giants/Patriots in Polk Osceola, Charlotte, and Flagler counties, Fla.


For years and years, Florida's been where the old Jews of New York go to die. Since 2000, 20 percent of all people moving out of New York City ended up in Florida. What's overlooked is that New England is also very cold and also sends tons of retirees to the Sunshine State (including Boston sports legend Doug Flutie.) Old people are pretty set in their football-rooting ways, and they're increasingly getting in on Facebook.

Lions in Polk County, Neb.


Polk County is just about 70 miles northwest of University of Nebraska, alma mater of Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the second overall draft pick in 2010. I'm actually a bit surprised that more of Nebraska didn't break Lions, but the rural parts of the state seem to prefer the famously small-town Packers. Larry the Cable Guy, Nebraska native, is a fan.

Some unanswered questions:

  1. Why does Haywood County, N.C. root for the Packers? We called a local sports bar. They had no idea.
  2. Why does Pawnee County, Neb., root for the Browns? Do they hate themselves? They did not have a sports bar we could call.
  3. Why so many Packers fans in Nebraska?
  4. How many people will mention small sample sizes in the comments? Lots?

Earlier: Facebook Data Provide The Most Accurate NFL Fandom Map Ever Created


Share This Story