Facebook Data Science Team Slices Open The Pigskin, Analyzes NFL Fans

By David Cohen 

With Super Bowl XLVII set to kick off Sunday, the Facebook Data Science Team put National Football League fans on the social network under the microscope, finding that one in 10 U.S. Facebook users have declared their allegiances to NFL teams.

The Facebook Data Science Team looked at the number of likes gained by NFL teams on game days and found that wins brought more new likes than losses, adding that those numbers skyrocketed for playoff games, with winning teams still acquiring more likes, but even losing teams blowing away the average number of likes for regular-season victories.

The Facebook Data Science Team also created maps showing the NFL teams with the most likes in every county in the U.S., and then whittled down the results as the number of teams still playing was pared down by the playoffs. When looking at all of the teams, they wrote:

In some cases, whole states and even entire regions of the country uniformly support a single team. For instance, the Minnesota Vikings are easily the only game in town in Minnesota, while New England (minus New York) appears to be comprised of entirely New England Patriots fans except for a small portion of Connecticut.

There are some states that are divided into regions by teams. Florida has three teams — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, and Jacksonville Jaguars — and Facebook users there seem fractured in their support, with some counties even defecting to teams from the north. Ohio is another interesting story, with the Cleveland Browns in the north, Cincinnati Bengals in the south, and Pittsburgh Steelers fans occupying the middle of the state.

Some teams, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, and Green Bay Packers, seem to transcend geography, with pockets of fans all over the country. On the other end of the spectrum, the New York Jets have to share New York with the New York Giants and are only the most popular team for a single stronghold county in Long Island.

Finally, the social network’s number crunchers looked at the top five NFL teams that fans of each team were most likely to be friends with, obviously excluding their own teams. They wrote:

No matter which team you root for, it’s pretty likely you’ll have a friend who is a Dallas Cowboys or Pittsburgh Steelers fan, which is maybe unsurprising given their countrywide support. Other friendships appear to be driven by geographical proximity, such as with the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders, while other friendships bridge division rivalries, such as the large number of friendships between Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers fans. Some teams seem to be isolated in the friend graph; neither the St. Louis Rams nor the Kansas City Chiefs crack the top five friendships for any other team’s fans. However, overall, NFL fans appear to be a very social group who enjoy the game with like-minded sports fans, regardless of their particular allegiances.

Readers: Did any of the Facebook Data Science Team’s NFL findings surprise you?