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The Carolinas' Divided NFL Loyalties

Noah Veltman

Nationally, the Panthers aren'’t one of the NFL'’s most popular teams. In fact, try 4th least popular, according to an ESPN Sports Poll taken last year--not too surprising, considering the team is only heading into its 18th season of existence.

While the team is called the Carolina Panthers, the Cowboys and Steelers control eastern and western portions of the state, and only four counties in South Carolina are predominantly Panther fans, according to a recent survey by Facebook.

An interactive graphic shows each NFL team's reach, based on the Facebook data.

The social network giant’'s data team tracked which franchise has the most “"likes”" in each county in the U.S. 

The study shows Steelers fans outnumber fans in Asheville and the Research Triangle, while Cowboys fans dominate the state’'s northeastern counties. The study is not intended to be a scientific assessment, particularly in lightly populated counties. The presence of those fans probably comes as no surprise to Charlotteans used to parking next to Cowboys bumper stickers or walking past Steelers bars Uptown.

"I think it’s absolutely the case that you have a lot of transplants to Charlotte from all over the country," says David Swindell, a public policy professor at UNC-Charlotte. "I think you do have a lot of folks from Pittsburgh relocating to Charlotte, and Buffalo is another one of those cities that’s faced some challenges. And so, job opportunities in Charlotte look really appealing, and so we do draw a lot from the Northeast."

The Facebook study also showed Panthers fans are most likely to be “friends” with Cowboys, Steelers, Patriots, and Redskins fans, in that order. Swindell says people who have moved to Charlotte for jobs stick with the teams of their youth. The Panthers are an expansion team, and still relatively new to the league, and thus not a rooting option for a lot of the older fan base. Many of them cheer for the Redskins.

Coyte Cooper, CEO of Elite Sports Marketing in Raleigh, says the best way to convert fans is to win, and win a lot--something the Panthers have struggled to sustain.

"You know it’s entirely possible that, the Panthers, the type of marketing their doing is every bit as creative when it comes to packages and the benefits they’re offering, but when it comes down to it, the loyalty comes from the success these others have had over an extended period of time," Cooper says.

Compare the Panthers to the Tennessee Titans, an even newer team after leaving Houston. The Titans were a perennial playoff team most of last decade, and while ESPN ranks them only one spot above Carolina in popularity, the Facebook poll shows the Titans as the top team in nearly every county in Tennessee.