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Mapping College vs. Pro Football Fans

Mapping College vs. Pro Football Fans
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

With football season right around the corner, ESPN asks, "Which season are you most looking forward to" — college or pro? It turns out NFL fans lead in the site’s online poll (which had over 100,000 respondents when I wrote this post) with 62 percent of the votes, compared to 38 percent for college football.

Map courtesy of ESPN

What's even better, ESPN mapped the votes by state (above, click here for ESPN’s interactive map). On this map, blue is for pro sports, red for college ball. Darker blue means a higher share of pro sports fans, while darker red means more college fans. On ESPN’s site, you can scroll over the map for the actual percentage breakdown of pro vs. college fans.

Pro fans also dominate the state-by-state breakout — with 33 states tilting pro versus 17 for college. There is a clear geographic divide as well, according to the map.

There are particularly high concentrations in the Northeast — especially New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, namely New York/New Jersey (Giants, Jets) and Massachusetts (Patriots) as well as Connecticut and Rhode Island, and also New Hampshire and Maine (more Pats fan). Delmarva also prefers pro ball — Maryland (Ravens), D.C. (Redskins) and nearby Delaware, while Virginia (lighter blue on the map) has a slight preference for pro over college football.

In the Midwest, Pennsylvania (Steelers and Eagles) also slants heavily pro. The Upper Midwest too has a pro orientation with Illinois (Bears), Indiana (Colts), Wisconsin (Packers), and Minnesota (Vikings), but also nearby South and North Dakota as well as Montana and Wyoming in the Plains.

Much of the West Coast and some of the Rocky Mountain states also favor pro football especially California (Raiders, 49ers, Chargers), and Seattle (Seahawks), and Arizona (Cardinals), Colorado (Broncos) and also New Mexico and Nevada.

A more modest pro football orientation is found in Florida (Dolphins, Jaguars, Buccaneers); Texas (Cowboys, Texans), and North Carolina (Panthers) — all of these states have strong college teams with large fan bases.

College football, conversely, dominates in the South, namely in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Of these only Louisiana (New Orleans Saints), Georgia (Falcons) and Tennessee (Titans) have pro teams. Alabama has the highest percentage of respondents that favor college football — 80 percent. The college game is also favored in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, Idaho, and Oregon — all states without pro football franchises. College ball also takes top billing in the Midwest states of Ohio and Michigan, even though these states have pro teams as well — the Browns and Bengals in Ohio and Lions in Michigan.*

Pro fans are concentrated mainly, but not entirely, where pro teams are and also in states which abut them. Only four states that have NFL teams (out of 21) prefer college sports — Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, and Ohio.* All of these have one or more storied college team — University of Georgia and Georgia Tech; LSU, Michigan and Michigan State; and Ohio State, respectively. Every NFL state that prefers college has a recently ranked college team.

These preferences for college or pro football seems tied to success or anticipation of it. Of the 17 states that prefer college, only four (Utah, Kansas, Iowa, and Mississippi) do not have teams to crack this year's AP Top 25. Of these, only Kansas and Iowa don't have teams that get a vote in the poll.

The map shows the state divide between college and NFL fans. Going forward, we plan to take a look at how fans are divided among metros, using data on football attendance for both pro and college teams across U.S. metros.

Poll: What would you most like to see us measure and report? Total fans by type of team — college or pro? The percentage of fans compared to the metro population? Or the ratio of pro to college fans? Feel free to suggest metrics of your own. Leave your thoughts in the comments, and then stay tuned for a follow-up in the coming weeks.

Top image: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

*Correction: In an earlier version of this article, we incorrectly reported Indiana as a college-leaning state, when it is in fact pro-leaning. This also means that the number of states with professional teams that favor college is four, not five.

Keywords: Polls, ESPN, Sports, Football

Richard Florida is Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities. He's also a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Global Research Professor at New York University. He is a frequent speaker to communities, business and professional organizations, and founder of the Creative Class Group, whose current client list can be found here. All posts »

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