This post from Nate Silver which explores the size of the fan bases for every D-1 college football program is fascinating. For example, have a look at his list of the top ten television markets for the sport:
… New York, because of its very large population, is still the largest market in the country for college football. But only barely: Atlanta has nearly as many college football fans, for instance, based on an extrapolation from the Google data, while Dallas (and even Birmingham) aren’t far behind.
The Atlanta number is impressive, but the Birmingham number is insane.
Second list to note:
That’s right – upon admission to the SEC, Texas A&M will have the largest fan base of any school in the conference.
As you follow the conference realignment follies, keep this bit of wisdom in mind:
… The S.E.C.’s interest in Texas A&M becomes easier to understand once you recognize that the Aggies have among the largest fan bases in the country. The fact that Notre Dame’s fans are dispersed throughout the country explains why they’ve been loathe to join a conference. And that the West Coast is less enthusiastic about football than other parts of the country, making the Pacific-12 a harder sale to the television networks, explains why the conference is going to great lengths to expand into football-crazy states like Texas.
Silver’s last point is a good one. If the Big Ten and SEC seem to be approaching expansion more conservatively than their peers are, it’s because they can afford to.
… Of course, the question that an analysis cannot address is whether through expansion a conference can become more than the sum of its parts — or if it instead risks becoming less.
The only two conferences that can feel completely secure right now are the Big Ten and the S.E.C..
They’re the two that have taken the most conservative attitude toward expansion over the past decade or two, waiting for programs of the caliber of Penn State, Nebraska and Texas A&M to become interested before increasing their ranks. They’ve been rewarded with extreme loyalty among their fan bases. In a sport where rooting interests are so highly localized, that goes a long way toward explaining their success.
It should go without saying, but you need to read the whole thing.