by Ben Blatt
It’s no secret with the NFL scheduled to play regular season games in London until at least 2016 that they would like to expand their brand across the pond, but is this feasible? And are they possibly ignoring a gold mine of fans much closer?
A total of 331,000 people on Facebook in the UK like at least one NFL team. While that may be enough to fill up a stadium, it’s unclear if it’s enough to support a team. As a reference remember this is about as many fans that there are for the Buffalo Bills in the United States, the third least popular team.
The most popular team in the UK (perhaps ironically) is the New England Patriots with over 41,000 fans. The Patriots have played games in London, but it’s unclear if this is responsible for their fan base. There are nine teams who before the 2012 season had played games in London: Dolphins, Giants, Chargers, Saints, Patriots, Buccaneers (twice), Broncos, 49ers, and Bears. Of these nine teams, only six are in the top half of the most popular teams in the UK. Of those six teams five are already very popular teams in the US (Patriots, Giants, Bears, 49ers, and Saints). It appears looking at the data that a team’s popularity in the UK matches up similarly to its popularity in the US. While there is no data available, it seems reasonable to assume that a high percentage of the NFL fans are simply ex-pats living in the UK.
So it’s questionable with 331,000 fans that the UK might be able to one day support an NFL team, but what if there was a country with 970,000 NFL fans that is closer than the UK? Well, that country is Canada.
One concern might be that putting a team in Canada could possibly steal fans away from the Bills in Buffalo or possibly even the Seahawks or Vikings. This does not appear to be the case. Despite the fact that Buffalo is located on the Canadian border, they have a measly 25,600 fans in all of Canada. This puts them close to the median team in Canada in terms of popularity. The Vikings and Seahawks both have less then 30,000 fans in all of Canada. The most popular team in Canada is the New England Patriots with almost 120,000 Canadian fans. The Steelers, Packers, Cowboys, and Saints round at the top five most popular teams in Canada proving that, regardless of nationality, all people really care about is winning.
So it seems possible that Canada with 970,000 fans (even spread out over 3.8 million square miles of land) could support an NFL team. But what if there was another country, just as close, that had 2,300,000 fans already? The answer this time is Mexico. Even more surprisingly than that is the popularity of one team: the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Pittsburgh Steelers (Los Pittsburgh Steelers?) have over 500,000 fans in Mexico. That’s more than the St.Louis Rams or Jacksonville Jaugars have in the United States. The Pittsburgh Steelers have never played a game in Mexico and are over 1600 miles away, yet they hold the lead for the most popular team in Mexico by over 170,000 people. Even the Dallas Cowboys, who are a very popular team on their own and happen to be close to Mexico, don’t have as many Mexican fans. The Steelers have recently held football clinics in Mexico but their popularity still seems a bit inexplicable. There are more Steelers fans in Mexico than there are fans of all NFL teams in the UK combined.
Furthermore, only 33% of Mexico is on Facebook. Mexico Facebook usage lags at about 60% compared to the US, UK, or Canada. Adjusting for this discrepancy in Facebook usage (even conservatively), Mexico most likely has at least 3,300,000 football fans. This would mean it has ten times as many NFL fans as the United Kingdom. The fact less of the Mexican population is on Facebook probably also speaks to why there might not be enough support for a team: the population is not as wealthy and therefore not as marketable to advertisers or potential luxury suites owners. Still, with a ten-to-one advantage Mexico has over the UK, its not entirely clear that the NFL couldn’t profit from focusing more of their efforts south of the border.
Ben Blatt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.