By Ross Benes
When it comes to rooting for a Super Bowl 50 team, most people go by their gut rather than geography.
Do you feel compelled by Peyton Manning's likely swan song? Go with the Broncos.
Are you more into the dabbin' energy of Cam Newton? Go with the Panthers.
Still bitter that your team got eliminated? Watch the commercials.
Despite all that, you might be interested to see where the general public lies on the loyalty landscape. While there aren't too many scientific polls that determine exactly how much of the population roots for one team over another, social media provides us at least a broad picture.
A lot more people list the Broncos as an "interest" on their Facebook page than list the Panthers. Nearly 8 million Americans mention the Broncos among their interests, while about 3.5 million mention the Panthers as an interest. This makes sense given that the Broncos have a much deeper history, which has allowed them to develop a sizeable fanbase over time. Another thing driving the Broncos fan surplus is that the Broncos are more familiar with deep postseason runs and will be appearing in their eighth Super Bowl, while the Panthers will be making just their second trip to the championship game.
After categorizing the Facebook data by state we found that only two states, the Carolinas, clearly have more Panthers fans than Broncos fans. This wasn't terribly surprising given that Broncos fans make up about 70 percent of total Broncos and Panthers fans.
The interactive map below is based off each state's total amount of Broncos and Panthers fans. It shows what percentage of fans each state has devoted to each team. States where the Broncos hold more than 80 percent of the fans are shaded dark orange, states where the Broncos make up 60-80 percent of fans are shaded in a lighter orange, states where Broncos fans make up 40-60 percent (meaning there isn't a very clear cut majority one way or the other) are hardly shaded at all, and states where Broncos fans make up less than 40 percent (in other words, where the Panthers are clearly favorited) are shaded blue.
Map going just by Facebook Likes
This map just shows us that in most states there are more people interested in the Broncos than the Panthers. But it tells us nothing of how each team's fans are distributed. To do that, we looked at what percentage of fans each state holds for both teams. For example, in Indiana the Broncos have about 160,000 fans and the Panthers have about 66,000 fans (via Facebook). While the Broncos have a very clear majority based off raw amounts, the percentage of Broncos fans that reside in Indiana is barely any different than the percentage of Panthers fans in that state. The 160,000 Broncos fans in Indiana make up 2.01 percent of the total amount of Broncos fans in America, and the 66,000 Panthers fans in Indiana make up 1.9 percent of the total amount of Panthers fans in America.
The interactive map below show what percentage of Broncos and Panthers fans each state holds. It also shows each state's difference between the teams in percentage-change terms.
Map adjusted for percentage of Facebook fans
The distribution shows heavy geographic bias. Even on a percentage basis, Broncos fans dominate every state west of Arkansas. But east of Arkansas, nearly every state is titled in favor of the Panthers. Aside from Florida, the Southeast is Panthers country.
While raw data and percentage distributions give us a good idea of where fans for both teams reside, they still don't really tell us who each state will root for in the Super Bowl. Many people who show interest in an organization on Facebook are merely casual fans. And casual fans can often be easily swayed.
Sure, there might be a significantly greater number of Broncos "fans" in Michigan than there are Panthers fans. But many of these are probably also Detroit Lions fans. And if the Lions aren't playing, their favoritism toward any other NFL team is very slight. When it comes to the Super Bowl, and the context is either root for the Broncos or root for the Panthers, it isn't unreasonable to think that many in Michigan will root for University of Michigan alum and Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess to catch a game-winning touchdown. (Conversely, you could also argue that they will root for the Broncos because former Wolverine Michael Schofield plays for Denver, but casual fans usually don't even know the names of offensive lineman.)
Based off arbitrary judgment and emotional reasoning, we've created a map that shows how we think each state would -- or should -- root. Reasons for each state's alleged fandom range from proximity to media bias to holding the birthplace of each team's superstars. Feel free to click around and tell us in the comments whether you agree or disagree with our choice for each state.
Map adjusted for emotional ties
When going off raw data devoid of any context, we expect only two to five states to root for the Panthers. But since showing "interest" on Facebook isn't nearly the same as being a diehard fan, we expect many of these Broncos "fans" will cheer for the Panthers.
Our last map, based on our opinionated judgment, shows 23 states for the Panthers and 27 for the Broncos. If we translate those results in presidential electoral votes, the Broncos would win 277-261. Which means that although we still think that most people will be rooting for the Broncos, the Panthers are within a major swing state of closing the gap.
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