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National Football League franchises gather fans by the thousands. However, they also can lose fans fast, especially when the team fails to win. Have you ever wondered which NFL team has the fewest fans in recent years?
According to several reports, the Jacksonville Jaguars have the least fans, among all 32 NFL teams.
A recent report on NFL fans by college student Keegan Sullivan, released in August 2022 by Samford University, gathered research from the past 5 NFL seasons and concluded that the Jaguars have the fewest fans, with an estimated 2,422,750 fans.
Using the same study parameters, the Dallas Cowboys topped the list, with 55,895,450 fans.
These figures were determined by surveys of people known to associate with the NFL (e.g. television viewers, merchandise buyers), along with hard data gathered over several years.
While the Jags seem to have the fewest fans, this determination is not definitive in terms of which team has the best fans, or the most fanatical of fans.
Let’s explore some of the factors involved with trying to figure out the size and passion level of fans for NFL clubs.
Examining the number of attendees at both home and road games for NFL teams in 2021, the club with the fewest attendees was the Detroit Lions, with a little over 1 million attendees. Jacksonville placed 28th.
Rounding out the bottom of this list were the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (30), and Las Vegas Raiders (29).
Nos. 1 and 2 in the total number of game attendees belongs to the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos, which both had the most attendees total, and attendees at their home stadium in 2021.
However, these numbers might be skewed because not all NFL stadiums hold the same number of seats for attendees. With each team hosting 8 home games a season, this can reduce the total number of attendees for a particular team by the thousands ~ if their stadium has a small capacity.
Only counting NFL game attendance numbers is also rather unfair because of how many more people live in the big cities with gigantic populations, like New York and Los Angeles. Millions more people help keep stadium stands full.
For instance, check out these population disparities:
New York City 8.468 million
Los Angeles 3.849 million
Green Bay, Wisc. 300,000
Buffalo, N.Y. 612,780
The population of Green Bay, Wisconsin, home of the Green Bay Packers, is only 107,015. Add in the population of the nearby communities like Appleton (about 75,000) and Eau Claire (about 70,000), and the Lambeau Field (which has 84,441 seats) is in close proximity to only about 300,000 people.
Next smallest would be the market for the Buffalo Bills, estimated to be 612,780 (with a stadium capacity of only 71,600). Do the math and you can see many NFL clubs are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to using game attendance figures to weight popularity.
Jacksonville, Fla., by the way has 954,614 residents.
This factor also has problems, because the number of “followers” or “likes” is greatly influenced by how much each team spends on marketing social media channels. It also is impacted by the fact that few people consistently “unfollow” teams, or take away their “likes.” In other words, these numbers grow perpetually.
Still, it is interesting because nowadays not all fans of NFL teams live in that city or its surrounding region.
Using these metrics to judge NFL team popularity by social media following places Jacksonville last and the Cowboys first.
How about Twitter? Jacksonville has the fewest followers, with fewer than 780,000 followers, and the Cowboys are 2nd on the list with 4.2 million followers on social media channels, still quite behind the 4.6 million of the New England Patriots.
If popularity is based on how much money each team pulls in, then it’s the Detroit Lions, not the Jaguars (No. 28), at the bottom of the 32-team list. Sitting high atop it are, of course, the Cowboys, this time followed by the San Francisco 49ers in terms of sales of NFL souvenirs bearing the team name and/or logo.
The first study mentioned here, by the college student and published by Samford U, includes among its parameters the sales of team merchandise. This, the study asserts, is an indication of how popular a team may be.
People buy merchandise to either support their favorite team, or as gifts to others who favor that team. We’re talking about jerseys (a huge seller for NFL teams), shirts, hats, flags, towels, or anything else with team logos and colors. So the more sold by a team, the more popular the team is, right?
Perhaps, but similar trouble arises as with the other factors: teams in the largest cities almost always naturally fare best due to sheer size of the population. Additionally, teams that have been around the longest have the most “legacy” fans, that is people who have rooted for the team for decades and probably will influence their children’s choices.
Nonetheless, who sells the most NFL team merch? The Cowboys once again sit on top. For 2021, the Cowboys topped the list, followed in order by the San Francisco 49ers, Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Kansas City Chiefs.
It is important to delineate between the number of fans that can be estimated using a variety of measurement points, versus what is called the “fan base.”
Fan base, in football terms, is a group of fans for a particular team. While stand-alone “fans” counts people, “fan base” describes a social group with a single commonality (love for that team).
Studies of the popularity of NFL teams can skip counting fans in favor of trying to determine which has the best fan base. To determine this, they consider various influencing factors, much like those described above ~ plus some substantial new factors like city population size.
Marketing and Brand Equity for NFL Clubs
Other studies of NFL team fans focus not necessarily on the total number of fans, but the broad brand of the club as a business entity. These professional football clubs are, after all, businesses. Their name and logo ~ and even other things like stances and positions on issues ~ can continuously attract larger audiences if done right.
A report by the website Fanalytics introduced a “Fandom Ranking” of NFL teams according to having the “best fans.”
This report concluded that the Washington Commanders rank last in the “Fandom Rankings.” The Jacksonville Jaguars still fared poorly (28th of 32 teams). Rounding out the bottom 5 are the Arizona Cardinals (No. 29), Cincinnati Bengals (30), and Tennessee Titans (31).
Why does brand strength even matter for pro football teams? Well, teams that generate a lot of interest across the nation, and even around the world, will have more eyes watching their games. Therefore, those teams can command higher sponsorship or advertising rates.
Team sponsorships by corporations is big business for any of the major team sports, and perhaps it’s even bigger for NFL teams, which can garner millions of dollars by putting a company name on a stadium, for instance.
At stadiums, everything from beer to the club’s travel is sponsored somehow. Clubs that have carefully crafted and built their brand ~ and the Dallas Cowboys are an excellent example, with their popular cheerleaders and “America’s Team” slogan ~ will make more money and therefore can more afford to pay the better players.
Something quite important regarding the popularity of NFL teams is the level of passion of its fans for the team. That is, how emotionally connected they are.
For instance, while Green Bay may have just a population of around 300,000, no one can question the dedication for the team, indicated by the sight of Cheesehead hats on fans at stadiums other than that of the Packers.
Packers fans will brave zero-degree temperatures at the stadium to root on their team.
In this sense, it makes the total number of fans per team irrelevant. Being a fan of an NFL team contributes to the social identity of a person. With that, the person, a huge fan of Team A, also will have a connection with thousands (maybe millions!) of Team A fanatics around the world.
In this day of smaller world due to technology, that can be huge.
Some NFL teams have been established in a city for decades ~ some approaching a century! ~ so this lasting branding among the population ingrains the team name into the minds of the nearby populace.
These are fans who will root for their team regardless whether they are atop the standings, or at the bottom, are called “diehard fans.” They stick with their team no matter what.
Fans that start rooting for teams only after they start winning are called “bandwagon” fans, as in, the big popular bandwagon is rolling by so they jump on board like everyone else. They also are known as “fair weather” fans, meaning once a team’s future looks stormy they abandon the team.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (with Tom Brady) and Los Angeles Rams (with Matthew Stafford) have attained significant success in recent years and as such received a lot of publicity and television time. They are great examples of how NFL franchises can jump up in the popularity contest among NFL teams.
Question: How do NFL teams increase their number of fans?
Answer: Mainly by the team winning. Success can propel a team seemingly in perpetual decline to the very top. Ask fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. Prior to Patrick Mahomes arrival, the Chiefs had decent success in the past but still had not ever won a Super Bowl. That changed dramatically with Mahomes and all the winning, and now the club usually lands near the top of any NFL popularity study.
Q.: Why do some NFL teams always seem to suck?
A.: Always is a pretty broad adverb. The Detroit Lions have been in the NFL since 1930 (they were the Portsmouth Spartans through 1933) and not long after won an NFL championship, in 1935. The Lions also were quite dominant in the 1950s, beating the Cleveland Browns 3 times (1952, 1953, and 1957) for the title. Then again, since 1930, the franchise has won only 7 playoff games, the last coming all the way back in 1991 when the team topped the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Playoff round. Success by NFL teams can be very cyclical, but none of them suck every single season.