A Sports Column: NFL popularity poll questionable

Osceola County Sheriff Bob Hansell examines riffles that were collected during the Gas for Guns event at Osceola Heritage Park in 2014.

With the NFL preseason now open for business, it’s time to take a glance at the annual Emory University study by Professor Mike Lewis that ranks the league’s 32 fan bases.

The study, as it did  last year, plants New England and Dallas atop the list.

New England, No. 2 last year, took over the No. 1 spot from the Cowboys for 2016.

The rest of the top 10 has Super Bowl champ Denver third followed by San Francisco, Philadelphia, the NY Giants, Chicago, New Orleans, Baltimore and Carolina.

Florida’s NFL triumvirate of Tampa (No. 24), Miami (No. 27) and Jacksonville (No. 32) again populate the dungeon, as they have for the past few years.

Last year, Miami was at ground zero, No. 32, so the trend for the state’s teams doesn’t appear to be pointing up.

On the other hand, this study has been controversial because it’s primarily driven by factors such as fan spending and analytics, not passion.

That’s why Oakland’s ferocious Black Hole fan base is ranked No. 31 despite the fact that the Raiders fans make Halloween Horror Nights seem like an afternoon tea at the Queen’s place.

Prof. Lewis reviewed each team’s ticket prices and the percentage of stadium capacity that is sold to produce his rankings. This year he also added a social media component.

Frankly, whatever it is that the good professor is doing doesn’t seem to be an accurate indication of the attention most teams are receiving from their fan bases.

The fervent supporters in Green Bay (No. 11), Seattle (No. 13) and Pittsburgh (No. 18) did not crack the top 10.

OK.

So, try to buy a ticket to their games.

Just for the heck of it, I checked what it would cost to see the Steelers at Miami on Oct. 16. The cheapest ticket available, somewhere in the nosebleeds, was $206. On the other hand, if you want to see the 49ers (No. 4 in the Emory study) at Miami on Nov. 27, there is a ticket available for – wait for it – $33. That’s about what a dinner for four costs at Mickey D’s.

But, we’re just having some fun with this study, and that’s the way it should be approached.

These things get rolled out over the summer because there isn’t a whole lot else going on. That’s why the NFL Network took two months to produce its Top 100 players of 2016, which had Cam Newton beating out Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger as the league’s best quarterback. By the way, that is a total of seven Super Bowl championship rings for the losers and zero for the winner.

See, you just can’t take this stuff too seriously.

It’s a given that Dallas always is going to be one of the two or three most popular teams in the league, and the Patriots have been so good for so long that they are going to be a top five franchise in fan popularity for many, many years.

You can’t fault the study for its assessment about Tampa Bay, Miami and Jacksonville. The state’s franchises have been dormant for so long that it’s getting hard to remember when they were good. It’s been a decade since the Bucs have been good, and a decade and a half since Tom Coughlin’s Jaguars reached the AFC championship game (Jags fans still are in therapy about the Music City Miracle).

As for the Dolphins, they reached the playoffs in 2008, the last time any team from Florida got there. But, you need to climb aboard the time machine to find the Dolphins’ last period of sustained excellence under Don Shula, from 1971-75. The Dan Marino years had flashes of brilliance (1984 Super Bowl) but they were generally disappointing.

Let’s hope that before next year’s Emory study is completed that at least one of the three Florida NFL teams turns its momentum around.

In other words, to paraphrase the late Raiders owner, Al Davis: Win, baby, win.