by Ben Blatt
This is the final post in a series of three on NFL fandom. The first two can be read here and here.
To the typical male football fan it may be depressing, but certainly not surprising, to learn that there are significantly more male football fans than female football fans. Using Facebook data we can pinpoint this even further and say that 57% of all NFL fans are male. However, it turns out that not all NFL fanbases are created equally. To illustrate this the graph below shows the difference in NFL fanbases from the average sex ratio. For example, 10% means their fanbase has 10% more female fans than the average NFL fanbase (53% instead of 43%) and negative 5% means their fanbase 5% fewer female fans (62% instead of 43%).
It’s pretty easy to see the trend. The teams most popular with girls are those who have recently done very well. Recent Super-Bowl champs like the Saints, Steelers, and Packers are all top-perfomers among women. On the other end of the spectrum, perennially bad teams such as the Bills, Loins, and Rams rank very low with fanbases close to 70% male.
The Cowboys, as if we have seen before, are an outlier here again. Despite no recent triumphs they do very well among women. Even more odd is if we look at the breakdown of Cowboys fans by age. Compared to all NFL teams, the Cowboys do (relatively poorly) among men 13-22. When compared to the fan distribution of other teams, they have 30% less fans in this demographic compared to what you would expect. In contrast, the Cowboys are doing very well among women 13-39 with consistently 20% more fans in these demographics than one would expect. In fact, while 63% of all NFL fans between the ages of 13-17 are males, the Cowboys are the only team who have more female fans between the ages of 13 and 17 than male fans.
While the Cowboys hover at around 50% male over all age groups, the average NFL fanbase looks more like the pattern below.
While football at 57% males sounds troubling, it could be worse. Fifty-nine percent of all fans of NBA teams are male. Baseball and hockey each come in a bit closer to split than football, at 53% and 54% respectively. Football is across the board more popular than the other sports, having more fans in every age range. That being said, not every sports distribution among the ages is identical. For instance, basketball is very popular among younger fans while baseball and hockey are struggling relative to football. When looking at the fanbases as a whole, NBA teams have on average 4% more fans within the 13-22 age demographic while baseball and hockey have about 5% less fans than football in that demographic. On the other side of the coin, baseball and hockey have more of their fanbase located in the 40+ age demographic while basketball does (relative to itself) poorly in that area.
As we saw before, good teams did well among girls and bad teams did poorly. The same can be true for age. For instance, look at this graph of fans of the Buffalo Bills by age. The Bills have been an awful to mediocre team for a long time and have not made the playoffs since 1999. The percentages represent the difference in fandom adjusted for an average NFL team. For instance, -24% between 13-17 means that of all people who are Buffalo Bills fans, there are 24% less fans concentrated in this demographic than would expect based on the total number of Bills fans.
Unsurprisingly, the team’s older fans who have seen some good seasons in the past and have been able to bond with the team remain relatively loyal, while younger fans who may not even be old enough to remember a playoff game remain uncommitted to the team. The same trend is even more pronounced when we look at just female fans of the Bills.
The Buffalo Bills are off the mark by almost 50% in younger female fans. This means that if the Bills had been good in recent years, they would likely have twice as many fans in that demographic.
The same is true for any team with a recent history of bad seasons. The Rams have a startling bad record among young women, as 77% of their fans 13-17 are males. The question is then how hard is it to pick up those potential fans?
Unfortunately, we don’t have any data going back. However, consider the Saints. Before they won the Super Bowl in 2009 they had only made it to the playoffs twice in 15 years. They were a bad team. Although no one knows for sure, it’s safe to assume that there fanbase was skewed heavily towards older men who had been diehard fans their whole life. Given recent success, the Saints have been able to pick up female fans and younger fans quickly to become one of the most popular teams in the NFL.
Ben Blatt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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