Who is UK’s Team? Or more importantly, who is Mexico’s Team?

by Ben Blatt

This is post number two in a series of three posts on NFL fandom. The other two can be read here or here.

It’s no secret with the NFL scheduled to play regular season games in London until at least 2016 that they would like to expand their brand across the pond, but is this feasible? And are they possibly ignoring a gold mine of fans much closer?

A total of 331,000 people on Facebook in the UK like at least one NFL team. While that may be enough to fill up a stadium, it’s unclear if it’s enough to support a team. As a reference remember this is about as many fans that there are for the Buffalo Bills in the United States, the third least popular team.

The most popular team in the UK (perhaps ironically) is the New England Patriots with over 41,000 fans. The Patriots have played games in London, but it’s unclear if this is responsible for their fan base.  There are nine teams who before the 2012 season had played games in London: Dolphins, Giants, Chargers, Saints, Patriots, Buccaneers (twice), Broncos, 49ers, and Bears. Of these nine teams, only six are in the top half of the most popular teams in the UK. Of those six teams five are already very popular teams in the US (Patriots, Giants, Bears, 49ers, and Saints). It appears looking at the data that a team’s popularity in the UK matches up similarly to its popularity in the US. While there is no data available, it seems reasonable to assume that a high percentage of the NFL fans are simply ex-pats living in the UK.

So it’s questionable with 331,000 fans that the UK might be able to one day support an NFL team, but what if there was a country with 970,000 NFL fans that is closer than the UK? Well, that country is Canada.

One concern might be that putting a team in Canada could possibly steal fans away from the Bills in Buffalo or possibly even the Seahawks or Vikings.  This does not appear to be the case. Despite the fact that Buffalo is located on the Canadian border,  they have a measly 25,600 fans in all of Canada. This puts them close to the median team in Canada in terms of popularity. The Vikings and Seahawks both have less then 30,000 fans in all of Canada. The most popular team in Canada is the New England Patriots with almost 120,000 Canadian fans. The Steelers, Packers, Cowboys, and Saints round at the top five most popular teams in Canada proving that, regardless of nationality, all people really care about  is winning.

So it seems possible that Canada with 970,000 fans (even spread out over 3.8 million square miles of land) could support an NFL team. But what if there was another country, just as close, that had  2,300,000 fans already?  The answer this time is Mexico. Even more surprisingly than that is the popularity of one team: the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Pittsburgh Steelers (Los Pittsburgh Steelers?) have over 500,000 fans in Mexico. That’s more than the St.Louis Rams or Jacksonville Jaugars have in the United States. The Pittsburgh Steelers have never played a game in Mexico and are over 1600 miles away, yet they hold the lead for the most popular team in Mexico by over 170,000 people. Even the Dallas Cowboys, who are a very popular team on their own and happen to be close to Mexico, don’t have as many Mexican fans. The Steelers have recently held football clinics in Mexico but their popularity still seems a bit inexplicable. There are more Steelers fans in Mexico than there are fans of all NFL teams in the UK combined.

Furthermore, only 33% of Mexico is on Facebook. Mexico Facebook usage lags at about 60% compared to the US, UK, or Canada. Adjusting for this discrepancy in Facebook usage (even conservatively), Mexico most likely has at least 3,300,000 football fans. This would mean it has ten times as many NFL fans as the United Kingdom. The fact less of the Mexican population is on Facebook probably also speaks to why there might not be  enough support for a team: the population is not as wealthy  and therefore not as marketable to advertisers or potential luxury suites owners. Still, with a ten-to-one advantage Mexico has over the UK, its not entirely clear that the NFL couldn’t profit from focusing more of their efforts south of the border.

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

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14 Responses to Who is UK’s Team? Or more importantly, who is Mexico’s Team?

  1. Pingback: Who is Really America’s Team? | The Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective

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  3. Adrian says:

    I don’t think this accounts for their popularity in Mexico but the Steelers actually have played a preseason game in Mexico, playing the Colts at the Estadio Azteca in 2000.

    You can find the schedule here:

    At some point I read the Steelers’ popularity in Mexico stems from the fact that NFL broadcasts started or became popular in Mexico in the ’70s, when the Steelers were a pretty dominant team.

  4. nickyrannoch says:

    interesting article but you are completely off the mark with the assumption at uk nfl fans are expats. if you contact nfluk.com you will be able to get stats on where their users are from and they habe done extensive research on who supports which team. at the moment it is the pats but with big followings for steelers dolphons giants and 49ers.

    uk certainly has the market to support a franchise but the issue is will people already supporting a franchise switch to a london team? the uk is pretty regionalised and have no love for london.

  5. nickyrannoch says:

    * many people have no love for london

  6. To add, there was a regular season game played in Mexico City (the first ever played outside the US) between the 49ers and the Cardinals in 2005 at the Azteca. The attendance? 103,467 people. It’s not a metter of lack of number of fans, but indeed, to the average a fan is whiling to spend to see a game. Also, there is no real “modern” stadium that would guarantee a first world enviroment that comes with the price on an NFL ticket. Still, I do agree it could be a very profitable market for the NFL (and is in my opinion).

    To the point of team popularity, there is an explanation. Networks sell times of games, instead of games per se to the mexican broadcasters (even private ones, such as ESPN LATAM). For instance, I get an NBA game on Wednesday’s 7ET and Friday’s 9ET through ESPN and a 7ET on Thursday’s through Space (a small network that belongs to TNT) regardless of who it is that is playing. The same happened with the NFL (and still does) back then, but there were very few games. So the network would try to focus on a sole team. The typical sports fan that was born in the 60’s, for example, is a Dodger fan (Fernandomania, obviously) and a Cowboy fan. So people followed the ‘dynasties’: The Montana 49ers, the Steel Curtain, the Marino Dolphins (though dynasty is in clear overuse), Staubauch’s Cowboys. Those are the 4 big fan bases.
    If you go down the line (I was born in the 90’s, so I grew up with this decade of NFL) the new breed of fans are mostly Patriots, though I myself and some other counted friends are Colts fans.

    There is a huge potential market for sports in general here, but if you ask me, the one with the biggest potential, is the UFC. Mexico has and will continue to be a country with a boxing tradition. With all that has happened in boxing lately, the average fan has look to expand his viewing towards another fighting sport such as MMA. and with the heavyweight champion being mexican, I think it is only a matter of time. There was actually such a quorum of people on a recent autograph signing in a Mexico City mall, that it got cancelled after only a couple of minutes because security fell that Cain was unsafe.

  7. Tim says:

    It looks like the NFL gets a lot of “glory-hunting” fans abroad, just following winners… So, maybe it’s not only the 13-year-old female fans after all! https://harvardsportsanalysis.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/profile-of-an-nfl-fanbase-are-all-13-year-old-girls-bandwagon-fans/

  8. Juan González says:

    The Steelers are called “Los Acereros” (same meaning) in Mexico. All football teams have names in spanish in Mexico, even player positions have spanish names: Quarterback is “Mariscal de campo” (Field Marshall). And, football season is broadcasted in open TV every sunday. We even have two college football leagues. The Tigres of Nuevo León Autonomus University, a soccer team, own their name to the now Auténticos Tigres (Authentic Tigers); the football team was founded before the soccer one. The same happened in Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the most prestigious univesity of the country, the football Pumas are older than the soccer Pumas. So, yes, football is a big deal here.

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