Many things can define an NFL team—star players, wins (or lack thereof), hometown or even a mascot. But there’s no denying the weight that fans play in shaping a team’s identity—or its roster. Ever hear of the “12th Man”? Whether cheering at the game, screaming at their television or radio, buying player gear and wearing it proudly or trash talking on social media, fans are the everyday mouthpiece for their teams.
To set the record straight about NFL fandom, a recent Nielsen study ranked each of the 32 NFL teams by “fans,”—the share of adults in the respective markets who have watched, attended or listened to a team’s game in the last 12 months.
Key flags among the ranking include:
Holding: For the fourth consecutive year, the Green Bay Packers are the top NFL team among fans, with 84% of the market’s adults following the team. The Packers have held the top spot every year since 2006 except 2010, when they came in behind the New Orleans Saints, who had just won Super Bowl XLIV.
12 Men on the Field: Seattle Seahawks fans are indeed the 12th Man, bringing more volume to each game than a jet taking off! And winning the Super Bowl last season, the Seahawks grew their fan base by 27% from the previous year, moving from 24th to 6th, the largest jump of any team.
(No) Pass Interference: Four of the top five teams in Nielsen’s study also boast a quarterback who ranked among the top 10 NFL quarterbacks in terms of passing yardage during the 2014 regular season. Those teams are the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos. Additionally, the Packers, Saints and Steelers have been the top three teams ranked by fans every year since 2009. The Broncos have ranked in the top five for three straight years.
NFL TEAMS RANKED BY FAN* BASE
|Fall 2014 Rank||NFL Team||% of Adult Fans*||Fall 2013 Rank|
|1||Green Bay Packers||84%||1|
|2||New Orleans Saints||78%||2|
|7||Kansas City Chiefs||71%||5|
|10||New England Patriots||65%||10|
|20||San Diego Chargers||55%||13|
|23||San Francisco 49ers||51%||25|
|26||St. Louis Rams||48%||27|
|28||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||42%||29|
|30||New York Giants||38%||30|
|31||New York Jets||31%||31|
|*”Fan” is defined as percentage of adults (aged 18+) in the market who have watched, attended or listened to the team’s games in the past 12 months.
Note: Top five NFL fan bases by estimated number of adults: 1. New York Giants (6.3 million P18+), 2. New York Jets (5.1 million), 3. Chicago Bears (4.4 million), 4. Philadelphia Eagles (3.5 million), 5. New England Patriots (3.3 million).
Nielsen Scarborough USA+ National Insights Study: Annual survey of approximately 205,000 U.S. adults (available in English and Spanish) that provides a robust snapshot of consumer trends on a local and national level. The first phase is a phone interview where respondents provide their demographic and media consumption habits in their local market. In the second phase, respondents are provided a local market booklet via mail or Web where they answer a series of questions related to the local market, including all sports-related measures.