Eyeballs and expansion

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.

48 Comments

Filed under College Football

48 responses to “Eyeballs and expansion

  1. Mayor of Dawgtown

    What’s downright shocking to me is the raw number of fans for Clemson. If that data is correct then the SEC needs to immediately make moves designed to attract Clemson to the SEC as the 14th team no matter what USCe says.

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    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      The second thing that stands out for me at least is that the ACC also needs to get Rutgers to get its foot into the New York City TV market.

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    • JBJ

      Seems sensible to offer Clemson if those numbers are even close to accurate. If the SEC does expand to 14 teams next year, how long will it take to expand to 16? Who would be 15 and 16?

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    • No One Knows You're a Dawg

      But here’s maybe why not: Clemson won’t attract the interest of “neautral” college football fans. In other words, they have little pull outside their own fanbase. A team such as Virginia Tech or FSU is a more attractive addition because their TV games interest the casual fan (perhaps in Montana).

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  2. Go Dawgs!

    I’m going to go ahead and dispute any metric that claims Clemson has the 10th largest fanbase in the nation. The rest of that list almost… ALMOST … makes sense (Auburn has a bigger fan base than Alabama or Florida? Maybe they’ve got the fullest bandwagon at the moment, but actual fans?) but the Clemson number seems quite counterintuitive to me.

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    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Agreed. Another counterintuitive thing in this report (that appears to be unbelievable really) is that Georgia Tech has more fans than the University of Georgia. Where the hell are they? Certainly not in Bobby Dodd Stadium on gameday. I question the accuracy of this.

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    • garageflowers

      As a lifelong UGA fan/Clemson Graduate ( UGA had no electrical engineering, and screw Tech ) living on Tobacco Road, I see WAY more UGA flags/stickers than Clemson up here. There is no way there are more Clemson fans than Georgia. Hell, I have two degrees from Clemson and still am way more a Dawg than Tiger fan… would be like rooting against family.

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      • Keesr

        I have to agree. If UGA doesn’t crack the top ten in fanbase how in the hell can you explain how we’re what top five? in apparel and merchandising

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      • Hayduke

        I live on Tobacco Road also. I see more G stickers on a daily basis than Dook & Wake combined.

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        • ConnGator

          Gotta disagree with this, and I live three miles from NC State stadium. Here is what I see, in this order:

          NC State
          Carolina
          Duke
          SEC schools of Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina
          Wake Forest

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    • Castleberry

      I know I’m late to the party here, but I have anecdotal info to back this up. I buy Tech season tickets when Georgia plays in Atlanta. The year Auburn played in Atlanta I sold that pair and it nearly covered the entire cost of my season tickets. It’s hard to get much more than face for Clemson tickets. I really question the definition of fan. Doesn’t look like it means people who have made it to some road games.

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  3. Bob

    I agree with MoD. Those Clemson numbers are crazy. I’d prefer them over any other option. Lets override USC, who’s getting a little big for their britches anyway and go Clemson.

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  4. Rick

    Georgia Tech has 70% more fans than Georgia (1.7 million to 1 million)? In what sense? This does not square with my general experience.

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    • Go Dawgs!

      This is a flawed study, that’s all there is to it. Their thinking is: Georgia Tech is in Atlanta. Therefore, Atlanta’s TV sets are all tuned to Georgia Tech. There are many, many more UGA fans in Atlanta than Tech fans. There are also many, MANY more Auburn and Alabama fans there than Tech fans.

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      • David

        I’m sure he put a lot of thought and research into this, but clearly he got something wrong. Ohio State fans do seem to be everywhere, but I doubt there are 3x’s as many of them as Georgia fans across the country. Hell, according to this, there are only twice as many Georgia fans as Central Florida fans at 500K.

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        • Keese

          I lived in southern California and flew out of Orange County airport on the Thursday before the UGA vs ASU game. The plane, the airport (Phoenix) and Tempe was engulfed by UGA fans……you mean to tell me GT has a bigger fan base? Bullshit. This guys research is flawed

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      • FisheriesDawg

        That is supposed to be taken care of by the CommonCensus numbers. Clearly there is a flaw in those numbers where a disproportionate number of Tech fans responded to the census. When I click on a 100-mile radius around the Atlanta area, I saw that there were 276 Georgia Tech fans, 133 Georgia fans, 48 Clemson , 39 Auburn, and everyone else under 20. In reality, Tech probably comes in fifth in that area behind UGA, Auburn, Clemson, and Alabama. My guess is that somebody linked CommonCensus on the Hive and they all filled out a survey.

        He should’ve accounted for Georgia Tech fan numbers the same way he did Arkansas State; the high number of fans in the market relative to their revenues should have raised a red flag. Georgia’s football revenue in 2009 was nearly $71 million. Georgia Tech’s was just under $25 million. It isn’t off by an order of magnitude or anything, but it is off by enough that the conclusions, at least regarding Georgia Tech’s worth as a brand, are probably incorrect.

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    • Stoopnagle

      That was my thought. He doesn’t claim to be scientific, but it’s hard to accept these numbers.

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    • No One Knows You're a Dawg

      This is why people often roll their eyes at stat geeks. Too often they prefer their numbers over common sense.

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    • almightytmc1

      and I have to say the same about Auburn. There is no way in hell that Auburn has 1/2 the fan base of Alabama or Georgia. The way the the second list looks is like Auburn has the biggest fan base in the SEC. They cant even fill up there puny little stadium sometimes. Come on. This study was done by homers or druggies.

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  5. FisheriesDawg

    Interesting premise, and I know he tried to work out some of the bias in the data, but I think there is still a lot of error in there. He estimated that Georgia Tech has 1.7 million fans to Georgia’s 1.1. I don’t think even the most ardent Georgia Tech supporter would try to claim that.

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  6. Fitzdawg

    I’m confused… How could Georgia Tech POSSIBLY have more fans (appreciably more) than Georgia? That just doesn’t track.

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  7. MinnesotaDawg

    Where is West Virginia on this list? Given the rumors, can’t really understand what the attraction is (for the SEC) beyond the football “name.” Can’t really see Morgantown as being much of a roadtrip attraction, besides the fact that Mountaineer fans can be pretty nasty hosts from the few experiences I’ve had. Much rather the SEC make a serious play for VT (which has a much bigger DC fanbase) if we’re looking in that direction.

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    • MinnesotaDawg

      OK, so now I did read it and see WVU. High numbers for the Big East, but I’m not convinced of the SEC fit.

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      • Go Dawgs!

        I personally wish we’d stayed at 12 teams, but I can vouch for Morgantown, WV being an AWESOME road trip. Beautiful country up there, and a great, great college town. It’s a unique mix of a college town dropped in the middle of mining country. I had a blast when I was there. Also, those folks up there like to drink.

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        • Anon

          People keep poopooing the addition of WVU… I think that’d be a great road trip too. It is a beautiful state.

          What is it, like an hour from Pittsburgh? Probably not much different than A&M w/ Houston.

          Pretty cheap to fly in and out I’d think.

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  8. reipar

    Clemson has appx 15.5K undergrads in 2010 and another 4K in post grad program. Rounding that number of and assuming it was steady (which we know if had to be much less 20-30 years ago) that gives them a base of 20K a year in actual students who will turn into alumni. The state of South Carolina is 4.5 million, which puts them at 26th. If you take out the UGA fans, UF fans, So Car fans, and other randoms living in the state and add back in all their alumni for the last 100 years (we will just assume they have incredible life spans) I still do not see how the numbers add up.

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  9. shane#1

    Where has this guy been the past twenty years, the OMB or the GAO? No wonder we are broke. The Atlanta market belongs to Tech, so why can’t they sell out a 55,000 seat stadium in Downtown Atlanta?

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  10. Gravidy

    That article is laughable from start to finish. I don’t even know where to begin mocking it. I’m afraid to start mocking it, because I might leave out some really mock-worthy portions of it, and that wouldn’t be fair. Tech has 50% more fans than UGA? Really? Auburn has more fans than any other team in the SEC? Really??

    I could go on and on. There’s plenty more to mock. But I’ll stop there. What else have we come to expect from the New York Times? Are we surprised that they published something so laughably innacurate? I’d also mock the Times for tackling a subject that is clearly out of their area of expertise, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have an area of expertise.

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    • Scott

      Nate Silver was the founder of Baseball Prospectus, which he later sold. He is a baseball stats guru from Chicago. He later started a political polling blog and sold it to the NYT. I have never seen a previous football article by him. I have seen him on Colbert and Jon Stewart. Silver has clearly never spent time in the South if he believes Auburn fans outnumber Alabama or that GT fans outnumber Georgia. His other stuff is pretty good, but this article is way off.

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  11. MT

    As Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

    I think a better proxy would be to look at average stadium size, instead of whatever black magic causes Tech to have almost 2x as many fans as UGA.

    A school should be able to roughly support a fan base that can fill its stadium. If you average out the SEC stadium size, the average stadium is 78,755. The median would be between AU’s 87,451 and SC’s 80,250.

    Following that logic, from the ACC, Clemson (80,301) and Florida St (82,300) fit the bill (VA Tech only is 66,233). No one in the Big East matches, and out of the Big 12, Oklahoma (82,112), Texas (100,119) and Texas A&M (86,000) match it as well (Missouri follows behind at 71,000).

    The only way I could see picking a school that doesn’t fit into the SEC’s current stadium average/median is if they bring a huge amount of intangibles into the picture. North Carolina (63,000) for instance, has a stadium that would be the 4th smallest in the SEC, but would bring national presence in basketball, a national academic reputation, and visibility in the Charlotte/DC TV markets. VA Tech would also likely pass muster on the TV market argument alone.

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  12. Texas A&M & Clemson are obvious. GT & FSU still work for me.
    How about other teams from Texas? Could Houston or TCU bring anything to the table? WVU & Missouri do not provide any interest at all for me. Meanwhile keep the SEC just as it is until the landscape gets clearer or a definite decision has to be made on TA&M .

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    • Stoopnagle

      TCU is Vandy with better football. Not a lot of attention save for what they’re getting as a “team of the moment.”

      Houston doesn’t bring much that you don’t already have with the Aggies. Just browse the Houston Chronicle and you’ll see what I mean. Baylor would be a better add than UH. Just ask Art Briles.

      I’m pretty sure we would block Clemson and FSU. We don’t need to offer them any help on the recruiting trail. Tech won’t apply. But it would be pretty sweet to block them, too.

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  13. DB

    Interesting analysis but with the obvious Tech vs. UGA flaw it makes you wonder about the rest of the study. I also find it hard to believe Auburn has more fans than Alabama. It does seem like a good starting point from which to try to analyze the fan bases.

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    • Stoopnagle

      Right. I think the point is that “TV markets” in college football aren’t obvious. Omaha > NYC is not normal.

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      • JL

        Tech is definitely overrepresented, but nationally it might not be as huge a difference as everyone seems to think. A much higher proportion of UGA grads stay in state after graduation (21% of students are out of state versus 40% of Tech students). At the same time, UGA has twice as many undergrads (grad students don’t become football fans). To say that Tech is 5th in Atlanta behind a number of other schools is exaggerating, but definitely second to UGA.

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  14. Steve

    UGA is the second most profitable football program in the country but not in the top ten list for largest fanbase?
    http://businessofcollegesports.com/2011/06/20/which-football-and-basketball-programs-produce-the-largest-profits/
    Must be because we’re all so wealthy… just take a look ot our banks!

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  15. Bulldog Joe

    Merchandise sales gives a good indicator of the size of fan bases:

    http://www.clc.com/clcweb/publishing.nsf/Content/rankings.html

    In many libraries these days, you can find the New York Times under “Fiction”.

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  16. Will Trane

    Fan base. I would think the bowls are the best weather vane here.
    New York’s population is dense, but there football fan base, like most of the NE is pro football. And watching a pro game is like watching paint dry. If you dressed every team in the NFl in the same colors they would be the same. I watch those guys once they get to the play offs. The biggest and best fan base is the SEC…why? MONEY walks and talks. Let’s look at the stadium size. West Virginia, Baylor, or Missouri.

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  17. fetch

    The facts are that GT has to search the internet for anything on the Jackets,
    UGA can find information on it’s team anywhere. This article bases how many fans a school has on Google searches. flawed.

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  18. Coondawg

    I can’t get his interactive’s to work. If this guy said Tech has a larger fan base than UGA that not a “FLAW” it’s delusional, a Mental Illness or a flat out lie. A school that can’t even fill up its Large High School sized stadium yet has a fan base larger than Georgia’s……Dude is snortin bath salts.

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  19. mikeinflorida

    Fun read, no question. And, indeed, some of his ‘extrapolations’ of fan bases based on the stats are laughable.

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