Finding the True Border Between Yankee and Red Sox Nation Using Facebook Data

by Ben Blatt

A version of this post can be read in the Wall Street Journal here.

Like all sports rivalries, picking a side in the Red Sox-Yankee rivalry is almost entirely geographic. Everyone knows as you drive through the traffic-filled highways of Connecticut, bumper stickers will slowly fade from those supporting the Sox to those supporting the Yanks. But exactly where is the border between the two fanbases? Although others have tried to answer this before, by using data from the 2.5 million people in New York or New England that ‘like’ either the Red Sox or Yankees I was able to create a more accurate rivalry map than ever before.

To figure out where the true boundaries are I used Facebook’s ‘Create and Ad’ feature. By pretending be buying an advertisement, Facebook will tell you the approximate number of people in an area who ‘like’ something. For instance there are 101,400 people in Boston who like the Red Sox (of which, 280 are also 18-year old males who also ‘like’ Justin Bieber).

I went through towns in New England and New York to determine the percentage of people who like the Red Sox versus the Yankees. Using this data I was able to trace out the borders of the two fanbases. Below is the final map.

Surprisingly (or possibly unsurprisingly) the borders of Massachusetts and Vermont turned out to be the actual borders of the two rivals. I had thought it was possible that Red Sox Nation might extend into northern New York or Yankee territory might extend into Vermont. This turned out not to be the case. Check out the map below of the border between western Massachusetts and New York as an example of how pronounced fanbases change on different sides of a state border (Note: For some of the towns their populations were combined for the graph below because they were too small otherwise to get accurate data).

The true battleground is, of course, Connecticut. Looking at the raw data we see the state is very mixed.

With the exception of a few outliers, towns in the Northeast (and especially those towns which border Massachusetts or Rhode Island) have a high concentration of Sox fans. Towns in the Southwest (especially the towns that border New York) have a high concentration of Yankees fans.

Drawing a border through Connecticut using the map above and the data was not easy. I decided that a border should be contiguous. This made it impossible to group all the Sox-leaning towns on one side and all Yankee-leaning towns in the other. The border I came up with is below. There are several other borders that could have been drawn that would have been similarly accurate. My border tried to maximize the number of towns with more than 50% Sox fans on the Red Sox side and the number of towns with more than 50% Yankee fans on the Yankee side.

If you click to view the map you can see which towns lay on the border. This border differs significantly from the map that John Branch created in his New York Times article ‘Where Do Rivals Draw the Line’ . His map plunges the border of Red Sox Nation much farther into western Connecticut and cedes the major city of Hartford to the Sox. According to the Facebook data I was working off of, Hartford is 57% Yankees fans, a decided advantage. I think my map is able to command accuracy far greater than the Times article (which was based on driving around towns and surveying strangers) or other methods. Facebook provides a survey with an unprecedented sample size.

Just in case you are a big Connecticut geography nut, I have attached the same shaded map as before but with the towns labeled. Also below is a ranking of each town in Connecticut in order of the highest to lowest proportion of Red Sox fans (some towns were left off the list because they were too small and did not have enough data. For the map an average of the surrounding towns was used).

The towns above are highlighted based on whether or not they were grouped into Red Sox or Yankee territory on the map. You can see that many towns had more than 50% of one fanbase but were put in the other’s territory. While you could play around with the borders more, there are many places where it would be impossible to draw a contiguous border and not have any outliers like this.

While I don’t think any of the results above are groundbreaking there was one result that surprised me the most throughout this research: there are 262,500 people who ‘like’ both the Red Sox and the Yankees. If only I had time, I would map out where they live so that every true baseball fan can avoid them.

Ben Blatt can be contacted at bbblatt@gmail.com.

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78 Responses to Finding the True Border Between Yankee and Red Sox Nation Using Facebook Data

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  3. Uncle Mike says:

    I realize that it’s not in dispute between New York City and Boston, and that there are the Mets and the Phillies to contend with (at least, figuratively speaking). But if you’re going to include the entire State of New York (the western edge of which also has Pittsburgh Pirate, Cleveland Indian, and even Toronto Blue Jay fans), then you should also include New Jersey.

    However, based on my own observations, I think your map is pretty accurate, although I would have figured on New Haven being only slightly more Yank than Sox, and Hartford definitely being majority, perhaps supermajority (3/5 to 1/2) Sox. The minor leagues (West Haven Yankees in the ’70s, Norwich Navigators in the ’90s, New Britain Red Sox until the Twins turned them into the Rock Cats) also have something to do with my perception.

    I call the divider the Bristol Line, after the home of ESPN, which would really have to work harder to fill programming without the rivalry.

  4. Rob says:

    It’s easy to see here based on your findings that ethnicity is playing a role in which team is dominant in the border towns. Towns dominated by minorities such as Bloomfield, East Hartford and especially Hartford seem to root for the Yankees based on the fact that NYC is a very diverse and immigrant dominant city and Boston is a traditionally white city. Rocky Hill actually serves as the mid-point based on driving distance however it seems like other factors come into the equation.

    • Henry Wan says:

      Boston being dominate white, not true. That’s just the popular view, Dorchester is very diverse Black Hispanic and Asians, Roxbury and Mattapan is predominate Black, A lot of Asians in Quincy MA, Cambridge is diverse because of the major colleges. You assumption is false.

  5. Andrew farner says:

    This is not true in northeastern ct it says 100% are Red Sox fans when I know that’s not a true statement!!

  6. J. kess says:

    Andrew – look at all the tables, not just the graphic. No towns are 100% Redsox, but towns like Thompson and Pomfret are 85-90% Red Sox fans, which make them look very “red” on the graphic representation. Read the full data table later in the article for a more complete breakdown town-by-town.

  7. Reblogged this on HARDWOOD and commented:
    This is baseball, but its sweet

  8. Dave says:

    Don’t overlook the Italian influence. The Yankees have had many Italian stars such as Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto. Connecticut has a very large Italian population.

  9. Patrick says:

    How do demographic differences (between the Facebook-using&RedSox/Yankees-liking fans, and the fans in those areas that are either not on Facebook or if they are haven’t “liked” either team) influence the results here and is there any indication of how that might affect the placement of the borderline between the fan bases when those other people are factored in? (I imagine there might be a huge number of those people and that they probably aren’t geographically distributed the same way the FB users are and also maybe not symmetrically with regards to each team.)

  10. Thanks for this! As a native of a split-loyalty town in CT, I was interested to see the breakdown.
    A question about your methodology: how did you identify residents of a particular town on Facebook? I ask because parts of Connecticut have a strange system where towns are made up of villages (for example, Storrs is a village of Mansfield, not an independent town) and many people identify with their village instead of their town. For example, I am from Willimantic, CT, which is census-designated place in the town of Windham (about 18k out of the town’s 24k residents live in Willimantic). But I would never consider myself as being from Windham — everyone I know from Willimantic puts “Willimantic” as their hometown on Facebook. But if you were working backwards from a list of CT towns, you might miss Willimantic residents entirely. Perhaps you accounted for this in your original methodology, but if you did not, I just wanted to give you a heads up because the village system would tend to undercount residents of more densely populated, more diverse areas, especially in eastern CT. If there is any validity to a previous commenter’s point about ethnicity accounting for some of the split, leaving Willimantic out of the Windham statistics would skew the results (about 40% of Willimantic residents identify as either black or Hispanic, while the villages of North Windham, South Windham, and Windham Center are more white and rural). Which is a long way of saying that my Facebook friends were surprised to see Windham lean so heavily toward the Red Sox in your analysis.

  11. Ben Eysselinck says:

    Finally, an explanation as to the historic split between Canaan and North Canaan!!!

    • Kyle says:

      Haha congrats cannan on being relevant. Pretty funny Norfolk had 3 people vote (I assume that based on the 66.7 percent, but who knows maybe it was 6) being from Norfolk though is say it’s accurate; more sox fans.

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  18. Ryan says:

    One issue with CT is that there are nearly 60 colleges and universities that might be causing some of the discrepancies. With each averaging around 10,000-20,000 students. it could cause the data in a particular town to change.

  19. maximus929 says:

    What a ridiculous map. I grew up in upstate NY. I didn’t know anybody who liked the Yankees. We despised anything “big city” what with their “we’re better than you hicks attitude. You’ve got to be kidding. Since the O’s/Pirates/A’s/Reds were the best teams in the 60′s/70′s, we mostly followed one of those 4 teams.

    Me? I’m an O’s fan for sure. Yankees suck. Just as much as that cesspool of a city.

    • Dan says:

      Have you ever been to New York? I have never met someone here who thinks they are “better than you hicks ” because my friends from upstate NY are nice people. And NY is the most fun city in the world. Are you as prejudiced against races and religions as you are against cities?

  20. Jacob says:

    And you’re saying you’re not a dumb hick ? Lol !!! Idiot

  21. Jacob says:

    Ima die hard Yankee fan. I lived in the Boston area for 9yrs. I’ve hated the Red Sox since I was a kid but never truly learned to completely despise them until I lived amongst Red Sox fans. I love the city of Boston but Red Sox fans have to be the biggest most arrogant people around. Not all of them though. I won’t label them all assholes but a big majority are. The first game I ever went at Fenway park was you guessed it, Yankees , Red Sox. My fiance was called every name in the book and I had beers dumped on me. The next time around friends and family came up from Brooklyn and Queens. 30 Yankee fans sitting in the bleachers at Fenway. We made our point. I was one of the happiest people in the world when the Sox finally won it all in 2004. No more whining about the curse or anything. But the fact that Boston that night looked like the LA riots after Rodney King proved to the world that most Red Sox fans are ignorant drunken fools. And don’t even get me started on Patriots fans

    • CTSoxGirl says:

      I grew up in the Boston area, was raised a Sox fan, and have only been to one Yankees game at the old stadium. It wasn’t even against the Red Sox (they played the A’s) and I did go with my uncle, who is a die hard Yankees fan. I don’t think I have ever been more afraid in my entire life! So many drunks with rude comments and I was only 13! Gross. I never said a peep about the Red Sox because the fans around me were so belligerent and the Yankees WON that game back in the mid 90′s. Everybody can have a bad experience. It’s difficult not to judge, but it’s also difficult to forget a bad experience. I now live in a divided town in CT and I try to keep baseball out of my friendships with Yankee fans for a reason. Just like with politics, passion is hard to contain and if you don’t agree with that particular passion, it’s difficult to deal with.

      • Jacob says:

        I definitely have to agree with you. Politics and sports are very much alike when it comes to friendship and conversation. I have family members I will absolutely not discuss politics with. Or even religion for thst matter. You make a very good point and I respect that. I have seen many sports fans in general act like complete asses. I had a bad experience at Fenway and you had a bad experience at Yankee Stadium. It happens every where and that’s very unfortunate for people like us who just want to enjoy a game

      • Noreen says:

        Confused here CTSox Girl? Are you saying that your negative experience in Yankee Stadium was becasue you were obviously a Red Sox fan? Or are you saying that the Yankees Staduim experience was simply negative? Been in many stadiums over the years and you can find drunks anywhere and rude ppl everywhere but the only place people threw golf balls at my head was in Fenway, while rooting for the Yankees with friends of many colors (mostly not white). I go to Fenway many times a year but try to make it a day game and stay away from the drunks. In fact, I do my best to stay away from the drunks just about everywhere – but big city girls learn that early.

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  24. snoogles says:

    Interesting. Yankees territory tracks pretty closely with Metro-North service area: http://parkitnyc.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Image_Metro_North_Map.png

  25. velomonkey says:

    Christ people – there is no logic, none, to being a yankee fan if you are North/East of New Haven. And even New Haven should be a solid Sox fan. From New Haven to the North and East you are a New Englander – have some pride. Also, might I ask: why are they the Yankees? They aren’t new englanders and given that New York abstained from voting for the declaration of freakin’ independence they sure aren’t worthy of the name, but I digress.

    • CTSoxGirl says:

      The term Yankee is actually derogatory in origin. I would not want to be associated with the term any more than an African American wants to be associated with the “N” word. It comes from the Dutch word “Janke,” which literally translates to “Little John.” It was a word used to describe a thief or pirate in the 17th and 18th centuries. Maybe the Yankees ARE aptly named…

      • Shane says:

        Ct sox girl, that’s the first time I heard that explanation. They adopted the name the Yankees because all American League teams were called the Americans, They were thought of as lesser compared to the National league. It was easier for the press to call them the Yanks than the Americans. In fact the Red Sawx were known as the Boston Americans at first, then the nickname changed red Sawx after the Cincinnati Red stockings. Go SAWX!

        • CTSoxGirl says:

          Yes, you are correct with how the Yankees got their name, but etymology is quite a different story. It just proves that word meanings get twisted and changed over time. The word has taken on many meanings over the years and has been used to describe anyone from the USA (one evolution of the meaning, as in what you mentioned above), people just from the northeast, or just people from Connecticut, which is where the Dutch come into play; they were the ones settled in New York, who originally called people from Connecticut “Jankes” or Yankees. The Dutch felt that the predominantly British/non-Dutch people of Connecticut were stealing land from them, among other things, hence the derogatory term. The term has evolved quite a bit over time and is now not an insult at all. The history/etymology is quite interesting actually.

      • CTSoxGirl I agree. “Yankee” is a derogatory name! I often wonder why it never comes up in conversation when they are discussing a name change for the “Redskins”?

        • matt w says:

          Because the historical oppression of Native Americans is so much greater than the historical oppression of the white Americans to whom “Yankee” is generally applied? Jeez, get a grip.

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  29. Jeff says:

    I’m curious if you thought of cross referencing the data with television coverage? I am a Yankees fan who grew up in Wallingford in the 70′s. In mid-southern CT, we grew up with 2 of every major network station from both CT and NY. So we watched a ton of NY news. We also had Channel 38 and 56 out of Boston – but it was mostly Bruins and Creature Double Feature – Godzilla vs Mothra. I always felt that that was the big driver of Yankess fans – that fact that we got much of our news and consequently sports news from NYC. I don’t know if its still the same in CT with Southern CT getting NY stations and Northeast CT watching Boston news.

  30. nv says:

    As for the “likes” for both teams: “Liking” something on Facebook is their functionality for subscribing to news about that thing, like a Twitter “Follow.” Those people might actually be really serious baseball fans who are interested in keeping up with news surrounding both teams.

  31. Joseph Kaiser says:

    I live in an upper Hudson Valley county in upstate NY that borders on Mass. Locally, I see as many people wearing Red Sox adornments as Yankee (rarely Mets). Maybe it’s due to Mo Vaughn years ago befriending a local boy and his family who was a cancer victim, or perhaps it’s the nearby NE influence and the easy drive to Boston. In any case, I’d be careful about Facebook being a true proxy for sports loyalties. You may have heard of the Truman-Dewey election eve miscall in 1948 when pollsters only counted votes from people with phones!

    • nutmegz says:

      Actually, that was the ’36 election between FDR and Alf Landon, and only one poll made that mistake, but it was the biggest one. The issue in 48 was that they stopped most polling too early, and Truman had a then-unprecedented late surge.

      • Joseph Kaiser says:

        Thanks for the correction, although I still stand by that parallel. The analysis used a source of data that is questionable as to how representative it is. It’s likely that plenty of older fans either aren’t immersed in Facebook, or don’t express in it their sports team affiliations as part of their core social identity. Also, I may not have expressly specified my affection for a particular team, but the hint of specifying Bill Lee as one of my heroes would probably tip off any serious baseball fan… I happen to know a number of ardent Red Sox fans locally. So you’d have to qualify the conclusions that, as sort of reflected in the title, “if you look just at Facebook users who expressly indicated being fans of particular sports teams, then . . .” and follow with an acknowledgement of the likely limits of the data source in any attempt to use it as a proxy for the general population.

  32. Eric Tanner says:

    I thought this was a fantastic map that gives a true overview of the state. I grew up in Connecticut (in Avon for 5 years and New Canaan for 7) and certainly felt the pull of the Yankees get stronger the closer I got to New York. Lucky for me, in my formative years and in the town of Avon that was fairly evenly divided, I decided to hang my hat with Red Sox Nation over the Evil Empire. One of the best decisions of my life. Go Sox!

  33. I wwould suggest that you see the movie “Fever Ptch “.It is an old movie but one of the best example of what it is to be a Red Sox fan– you can forget all the championship games that the Yankees have won, but that series when the Yankees were up 3 games to nothing for the Sox ,and the Son won four straight from the Yankees was the best moment of my life
    I love every minute of it and the Evil Empire went down to defeat.

  34. Having been born in New Haven (1924) and attended public schools there, believe me we were Yankee fans. No one would dare dispute that. During world series days, we could sit in the “shop” and listen to the broadcasts–but only if NYY were playing.

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  37. Southbound says:

    How can you explain New London? Pretty far east to go Yankees…

  38. matt w says:

    Another thing to look at is the distribution of baseball-themed ice cream flavors. I live in Burlington (northern Vermont) which is solidly Red Sox territory though it has a sizable Yankees contingent (there are a couple of Yankee-themed bars). One way you can tell is that the stores sell “Comeback Caramel” which is the Red Sox flavor.

    It’s not so surprising to me that the Vermont-northern New York border is sharp, because on the northern half (which is where most of the Vermont population is) the two states are separated by Lake Champlain. You can’t just pop over from here to NY State for a drink.

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    Best wishes! Where are your contact details though?

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