Emory study ranks NFL fan bases, with Falcons No. 18

Atlanta Falcons fans react during the second half of the team's 30-20 loss to the Saints on Jan. 9 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

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Atlanta Falcons fans react during the second half of the team's 30-20 loss to the Saints on Jan. 9 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The Falcons’ fan base ranks 18th in the NFL, slightly below average in the 32-team league, according to a new Emory University study.

Emory marketing professor Mike Lewis’ ninth annual NFL fandom rankings, released Wednesday, quantify fan passion and loyalty across the league based on a wide range of data.

His 2022 findings: The Green Bay Packers’ fan base tops the ratings, while the Washington Commanders’ fans rank last.

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The Falcons fans’ No. 18 ranking, down from No. 14 in the same study in 2020, comes after the team’s fourth consecutive losing season and amid low expectations for the 2022 season. (The rankings weren’t updated last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewis said.) The Falcons ranked 31st – next to last – in Emory’s first such study in 2013.

Lewis, faculty director of the Emory Marketing Analytics Center at the Goizueta Business School, suggested the Falcons’ current ranking should be viewed in the context of the overall massive popularity of the NFL.

“To say they are an average NFL fan base might hurt some feelings, but … being an average NFL fan base means you are one of the top fan bases across all American sports,” he said.

Lewis said the rankings, part of his Fanalytics Research Program, encompass three components in this order of weighting: fan equity (“fans’ willingness to attend and spend, which is the best overall metric”); social-media following; and talent equity (“how teams perform based on what they have invested into payroll over time, the theory being that players may be attracted to better brands with better fan bases and more marketing appeal.”)

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Lewis said the Falcons scored higher in social media than in the other categories.

“Atlanta is a relatively young city,” he said, “and I think younger fans are more likely to express themselves on the social-media side than on the season-tickets side. If anything, that’s sort of an upward trend for the Falcons.”

Behind the No. 1 Packers, other teams with top-five fan bases, according to the study, are the New England Patriots at No. 2, the Dallas Cowboys at No. 3, the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 4 and the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 5.

As for the other end of the spectrum: “Two decades of losing, poor talent acquisition and a long-term name controversy have pushed (Washington) to the bottom of the list,” the study found. The Tennessee Titans’ fan base ranked next-to-last.