A new favorite time waster for baseball fans on the internet came out this week thanks to the New York Times. Four researchers went through all the Facebook data to find out everyone's favorite baseball team and where they lived. What makes this fascinating is that they then made an interactive map where you can see the percentages of fans for the top three teams, down not only to the county level, but to individual zip codes.
Clearly there are some limitations to this data. For one, it only counts fans who are on Facebook and only counts fans who take the time to "like" their favorite team. There may be some selection bias going on here: Cubs fans might not want to admit to their Facebook friends that they are Cubs fans right about now.
Baseball fandom is also more fluid than most of us would like to admit. While almost everyone here is a pretty hardcore Cubs fan who would never think of cheering for another team against the Cubs, but there is a wide swatch of casual fans who jump from team to team based on how well the team is doing. This "bandwagon effect" is not a bad thing, despite what some White Sox fans would have you believe. It's often not just cheering for whomever is winning. It's picking between a few teams, usually local but not always, and riding the one that is hot right now. There is no doubt that a lot of casual fans in Southern Illinois switch between the Cubs and the Cardinals, or casual fans in Texas who have abandoned the Astros in recent years for the Rangers, but whom will be right back cheering for the Astros when they start trying to win. Again, we're not talking about the hardcore fans who are MLB's best customers. We're talking about the casual fans who mostly tune in for Opening Day and the playoffs.
With all those caveats, lets look at the map and Cubs Country. The Cubs are the favorite team of a large swath of the Midwest, stretching from far western Ohio to western Nebraska. The Cubs are the favorite team of most of northern and central Indiana, including the city of Indianapolis. They're also the number one team for the southwest corner of Michigan. The Cubs influence goes from the Wisconsin border down to central Illinois. The cities of Peoria and Bloomington are Cubs Country, but go any farther south and you'll be seeing Cardinals red.
Although MLB determines Iowa to be shared broadcasting territory between six teams, all but a narrow northern and southern strip of the state belongs to Cubs fans. That influence stretches into Nebraska, although there they start to run into resistance not from the Royals, as you might expect, but from the Yankees and Red Sox. More on that later.
Indianapolis is interesting to me, as MLB considers that to be at least shared territory between the Cubs/White Sox and the Reds. But in fact, Marion County is Cubs territory and the Reds can't even crack the top three behind the Red Sox and Yankees. There are a few zip codes in the areas that show Reds support, so it's not like they're invisible there. But the Reds are clearly a small minority choice in central Indiana.
The strength of the Cubs in Nebraska is a point to consider when talking about the Ricketts family. Rather than outsiders, they come from the large empire of Cubs territory throughout the Midwest. Just like many of us around here.
The Cubs also have a significant minority fanbase that stretches even further. Most of Wisconsin has a significant Cubs minority fanbase, and I know we have a lot of Wisconsin Cubs fans on this website. I'm one of them. Western Michigan as well as the Upper Peninsula have a good minority Cubs fan base. The Cubs are clearly the second team throughout Southern Illinois, Western Kentucky, as well as into St. Louis itself, although the number of Cubs fans so dwarfed by Cardinal Red that it's hardly worth mentioning. (82% of the "likes" in St. Louis City and St. Louis County were for the Cardinals. The Cubs were second with 3% in both locations)
So there is this wide swatch of Cubsland across the center of the country. You know there is a "but" coming here. That "but" is the South Side of Chicago, where the White Sox rule. The White Sox territory stretches into the border areas of Indiana and south in Illinois down to Manteno, before Bourbonnais and Kankakee become Cubs territories again. Aurora and Joliet to the west are White Sox territory, although the numbers are so close there that they're hardly worth fighting over. It's divided land. To no one's surprise, the farther you get away from Chicago, the faster support for the White Sox drops and support for the Cubs grows. The Cubs are obviously the second-most popular team throughout White Sox territory, as are the White Sox being the number two team throughout the Cubs' Chicagoland territory.
You can check out the individual map of the city of Chicago. The Harrelson Curtain seems to be the Eisenhower Expressway.
But give the White Sox some credit. At least they have a territory. Two teams on this map aren't even the most popular team in their own zip code, or anywhere else. Both the Mets and the Athletics have lost all territory to the Yankees and Giants respectively. (The other second two-market team, the Angels, own Orange County and parts of the Inland Empire, much as the White Sox own the South Side and its environs.)
When you look at the map, the Athletics' situation becomes even more dire. The Mets may be the minority team everywhere in New York, but New York is a big place. Additionally, you can find a significant population of Mets fans throughout all of New York state, New Jersey and Western Connecticut. But the A's can't even claim that. In the zip code that encompasses the Oakland Coliseum, only 18% of Facebook fans "liked" the Athletics. That support drops rapidly as you leave the East Bay. Santa Clara County, where San Jose is located, is only 9% Athletics fans. By the time you get to South Monterey County, the A's aren't even the second-most popular team, ceding that title to the Dodgers. And in Fresno and Madera Counties, where every Athletics game is available on basic cable, the A's can't even claim to be the third-most popular team.
Now fandom in California isn't quite as either/or as it is in other parts of the country and many (but not all) Giants fans will admit to cheering for the A's on the side. And they certainly pull for Oakland over either Los Angeles team. But no matter how you slice it, this is a sad map for the Athletics.
Canada is not on this map, so the Blue Jays are not represented. They don't appear as even the number three team anywhere on the map. I have a hard time believing the Jays don't have some support in upstate New York and Vermont, so maybe the researchers just excluded the Blue Jays. Or maybe I'm wrong and support for the Blue Jays doesn't cross the St. Lawrence Seaway. Either way, the article doesn't say.
This brings us to another truth that's everywhere on the map. Once you get far enough from the geographic base of the other teams, fandom defaults to the Yankees or the Red Sox. When I say the Athletics can't manage to be the third-most popular team in Central California, that's because the Yankees sneak in there. In fact, that's true in a lot of places. You'd think Utah, Montana and Idaho would have a lot of Rockies and Mariners fans, but instead, the Yankees and Red Sox fight it out for supremacy in those areas. Surprisingly, neither the Nationals nor the Braves are the most popular team throughout Virginia and North Carolina. Instead, it's the Yankees. (Although in most of those zip codes, the Braves or Nats check in at a reasonably-close second.) The same is also true of most of Louisiana, where the Yankees edge the Braves and no one is willing to admit to supporting the Astros.
The Astros do have a fanbase, however, as the area around Houston says they're sticking with the 'Stros. And while people blame the lack of attendance for the Rays on the idea that Florida baseball fans are all Northeastern transplants that cheer for the Yankees, the actual Tampa Bay area is solidly Rays-land. Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties strongly support the Rays over the Yankees, and it's not even particularly close. Once you get to Orlando, however, the Facebook fanbase defaults back to the Yankees.
The Marlins also have a fanbase, winning Miami-Dade County and Broward Counties over the Yankees. But it's really close. These numbers indicate to me that the Rays would draw if they had a stadium in a better location. The Marlins are going to have trouble for a long time until they can build a long, sustained tradition of winning.
I could explore this map for hours. And I have. Take a look at both the main article with the smaller, borderline maps and the general interactive map that you can take down to the zip code level. And then come back before your whole weekend is over.