The most popular sport in America doesn't cater to a niche audience. Florida reports that, "[a] 2010 survey found that roughly two-thirds of Americans watch professional football, compared to just over half for college." And with last Sunday's Cowboys-Redskins broadcast on NBC earning the highest television ratings of the year for any program since the Academy Awards telecast (not including the London Olympics), it's clear that football means big business and big audiences.
To delve into the dynamics of football fandom, Florida and Patrick Adler, a doctoral student in urban planning at UCLA, investigated which teams and cities have the most fanatical fans, and "how pro fans stack up against those who favor the college game on a city by city basis."
For overall average attendance, pro and college combined, the big metros come out on top (New York leads, followed by San Francisco and Dallas). In metros where only college football is played, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, and Columbus top the list. When considering football attendance as a share of a metro's population, "much smaller metros rise to the top. Oxford and Starkville, Mississippi rank first and second. Both have attendance that exceeds 100 percent of their population — a figure that is bolstered by students and out of area commuters."
What accounts for the overwhelming popularity of football in smaller versus larger metros? Says Florida, "It makes sense, actually, that small towns would have a stronger support base for their college teams. Folks in bigger cities and metros have a lot of options for entertainment, but the options in smaller metros and college tons [sic] are more limited — making football the biggest game in town."