5 Cities Where NFL Fans Feel Most at Home

BOSTON (MainStreet) — Move to Denver or Seattle and you'll find plenty of Broncos and Seahawks fans right now, but two Emory University experts say neither one of this year's Super Bowl cities comes close to having football's most loyal fans.

Sports-marketing professors Michael Lewis and Manish Tripathi of Emory's Goizueta School of Business rank Denver 12th and Seattle just 23rd in an analysis of long-term fan loyalty among the NFL's 32 teams.

"There are a lot of johnny-come-lately fans that cheer for the Seahawks, while Denver was struggling before Peyton Manning showed up," Tripathi says.

The Emory professors, who hold doctorates in marketing, estimated NFL cities' long-term fan loyalty by estimating teams' ticket revenues between 2002 and 2012 and adjusting for such variables as win/loss records and local population levels.

Tripathi says teams with the most-loyal fans over the long haul don't necessarily have the best records today, but usually had dynastic periods at some point in the past that continue to attract nostalgic fans.

For instance, he theorizes that the New York Jets still benefit from the team's Joe Namath era, while the Dallas Cowboys continue to draw crowds thanks in part to their 1970s glory days.

"I think you can make the argument that the Cowboys are still living off of the brand equity they built up in the 1970s when they were 'America's Team,'" Tripathi says, although the D.C. native admits he's a "Cowboys hater" who roots for longtime Dallas rival the Washington Redskins.

Teams that place well on Lewis and Tripathi's rankings also tend to have newer stadiums that justify higher ticket prices, as the study looked at total ticket revenues rather than number of tickets each franchise sells.

But Tripathi says only franchises with strong fan bases can get spectators to pony up big bucks for seats, so he considers his and his partner's measure of fan loyalty valid.

And even though you'll probably face high ticket prices if you move to a city at the top of the professors' list, Tripathi says diehard football fans should enjoy the atmosphere they find there.

"If you really like to get behind your team, these might be good cities to live in," he says.

Click below to check out the cities and teams atop Lewis and Tripathi's rankings of franchises with the most-loyal fan bases, as well as market tracker Zillow.com's latest median-home-price data and property listings for each metro area.

The professors compiled their rundown by projecting how much ticket revenue each franchise should have seen the 2002-12 period and comparing that with estimated actual sales (which teams don't generally disclose). Teams with the most revenues above expected levels top of the list.

To control for differences between markets, Lewis and Tripathi factored in each team's stadium capacity, average ticket price and win/loss records during the period, and also looked at local population and income levels.

No. 6 best city for loyal NFL fans: Indianapolis

Perhaps it's not surprising Indy has a loyal NFL fan base, given that the Colts had superstars Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck as quarterback during the period Lewis and Tripathi studied.

Tripathi says the franchise's ticket revenues have also benefited from Lucas Oil Stadium's 2008 opening, as well as from the fact the Colts are just about the only pro-sports game in town. Indianapolis doesn't have a pro baseball or hockey team, just the Colts and the Indiana Pacers NBA franchise.

Put it all together and Tripathi says fans "still packed the stadium" even when the Colts posted an embarrassing 2-14 record in 2011.

Would-be Colts fans can expect to pay around $117,600 to buy an Indianapolis home. Click here for a look at some 9,500 local properties that Zillow lists for sale.

No. 5 (and No. 3) best city for loyal NFL fans: New York

The New York Giants and Jets play at 4-year-old MetLife Stadium (home to Super Bowl XLVIII), and both attract tons of fans to their games.

Giants supporters rank No. 5 on Lewis and Tripathi's list of loyal fans, while the Jets come in third.

"The Giants and Jets have two separate stories when it comes to fan loyalty, but what they both have in common is that when MetLife Stadium opened (in 2010), ticket prices went up but people still came to watch the teams play," Tripathi says.

The expert says the Giants built up enough good will with 2008 and 2012 Super Bowl wins to keep fans loyal (and average some 80,000 attendees per home game in 2012 and '13) despite lackluster seasons since.

As for the Jets, Tripathi says the team has maintained a strong fan base thanks to a combination of the Namath-era legacy and success at making the playoffs in five of the 11 seasons the Emory professors studied.

"A lot of older fans remember the glory days, and the Jets have played just well enough in recent years to keep the fans loyal," Tripathi says.

Whether you're interested in rooting for the Jets or the Giants, you can check out some 39,000 New York-area property listings here. Zillow estimates you'll spend around $367,500 for a place there.

No. 4 best city for loyal NFL fans: New Orleans

When the Saints go marching in to New Orleans' Superdome, there's usually a full or mostly full house of loyal fans on hand to cheer them on.

Tripathi says that's partly because Louisiana sports fans are historically "really loyal to their teams -- whether it's college sports or the pros. They're passionate fans, and they're willing to pay to watch their teams."

He says the Saints also benefit from the fact that New Orleans has only one other major professional sports team, the lackluster New Orleans Pelicans basketball franchise.

But he says the Saints really won fan loyalty after Hurricane Katrina all but destroyed New Orleans in 2005 and the team became a symbol of the city's resilience. The Saints made it all the way to the NFC Conference Championship after the 2006 season and won Super Bowl XLIV in early 2010.

"New Orleans rallied around the Saints after Katrina and identified them with the rebirth of the city," Tripathi says.

Interested in becoming a Saints fan? Zillow predicts buying a Big Easy residence will set you back some $183,000. The site lists some 2,800 New Orleans-area homes as up for sale.

No. 2 best city for loyal NFL fans: Boston

It's not surprising that a city whose NFL team has won two Super Bowls and advanced deep into the playoffs in most years over the past decade has some of America's most-loyal football fans.

Tripathi says high ticket prices at the Patriots' relatively new Gillette Stadium have also helped the team make it almost to the top of the Emory professors' fan-loyalty rankings.

"Patriots fans face some of the higher ticket prices in the NFL, but they're willing to pay up even during years when the team's performance has been slightly down," he says.

The expert even expects the Pats to retain a strong fan base after 36-year-old star quarterback Tom Brady and legendary 61-year-old head coach Bill Belichick retire.

"They've done a good job of building up brand equity," Tripathi says. "I wouldn't be surprised if we do this study 10 or 15 years from now and the Patriots are still near the top."

NFL fans interested in moving to the Boston area have some 1,000 available properties to choose from, according to Zillow. Expect to pay about $350,800 for a typical place there.

Best city for loyal NFL fans: Dallas

Their team hasn't made the playoffs in four seasons or won a Super Bowl in nearly 20 years, but Dallas residents still have Texas-sized love in their hearts for the Cowboys.

"Even though they haven't won anything in a long time, the Cowboys still seem to be relevant to fans," Tripathi says. "People seem happy to come and watch a team that's frankly been mediocre."

The professor attributes Cowboy fans' loyalty to memories of the team's 1970s and '80s heyday, coupled with Texans' legendary passion for high-school, college and pro football.

Tripathi says the fact that the team also plays in a 5-year-old stadium has allowed the franchise to charge big bucks for seats but still fill the stands.

"[Cowboys owner] Jerry Jones has done a good job at building a new stadium and charging high prices," he says.

If you're ready to become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, click here to check out the roughly 4,600 area properties advertised for sale on Zillow.com. The site puts the Big D's median home value at $143,600.

— By Jerry Kronenberg

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