As NFL players and owners position themselves for a possible lockout next year, we are again reminded how greed between two groups of millionaires tends to disregard the most important component of professional football: their loyalist customers. There’s a reason the fans are called “The 12th Man.” The millions who scream and yell, trudging to fill stadium seats and toast their favorite team from the parking lot no matter the odds or the price.
But which teams have the most dedicated fans?
Gallery: Ranking the NFL’s Fans, Team-by-Team
To rank the pigskin fans across the country according to their dedication and enthusiasm, we looked at who shows up to home games with the greatest consistency (no matter the cost) and comes ready to rally their team (no matter their record). To do this, we started with the following statistics for each team:
• Average annual stadium attendance percentage for 2006-present, according to ESPN, weighed in part by the team’s record over that period.
• Average Fan Cost Index for 2006-2010, according to Team Marketing Report, a leading sports marketing firm. The Fan Cost Index represents the total cost of four average-price tickets, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular-size hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs, and two adult-size adjustable caps. This number was then measured against the average per capita income for each metropolitan area for 2006-2009 (the most recent year available) according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis
• Tailgating rank for each city, according to the National Tailgating Index, compiled by an “alliance of tailgating experts” and commissioned by KVH Industries and DirecTv in 2007
Forty percent of our ranking was derived by factoring in attendance: How many fans showed up at every game for the past five years? Some teams packed in more than capacity for every game, while others had no-shows, even for official sellouts. Understanding that a winning team is more watchable than a losing one, extra points where allotted to bad teams with good turnout, and points were subtracted for winners that still couldn’t sell out. Finally, The Daily Beast measured the effect of new stadium, penalizing fans (such as those of the Arizona Cardinals) that only turned out once a shiny new home, often taxpayer-funded, showed up.
A second 40 percent came from how much each fan spent at the game—compared with the local area’s per-capita income. The higher percentage of salary spent on the team, the higher the rank.
The final 20 percent came from tailgating, the physical manifestation of being an NFL fan. Ties were broken based which team had greater average stadium attendance.
So which team wins the Super Bowl of fandom? Here’s a hint: It sports one of the worst records in the league right now.