The Dallas Cowboys have easily the largest fan base in the NFL with 9% of surveyed fans picking them as their favorite team. 
The Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, and San Francisco 49ers round out the current top five thanks to their franchise’s long history and/or sustained recent success.
That comes as no surprise to me that my beloved Minnesota Vikings are nowhere near the league’s top 10 fanbases. You can only disappoint people so many times before they find better ways to spend their Sundays. After decades of watching and playing football, I expected the Cowboys to take the top spot. But some of the other entries in the top ten came as a surprise.
So what makes the Cowboys so popular? Can the Patriots keep hold of their position near the top of the league’s fan bases with Brady gone? And how does Montana decide who they’ll root for? We’ll examine all of this and more below.
- The Cowboys have the largest fan base in the NFL by a wide margin.
- Approximately 9% of NFL fans claim the Cowboys as their favorite team.
- In recent years, the Chiefs have risen in popularity thanks to drafting Patrick Mahomes and appearing in multiple Super Bowls.
Largest Fan Bases Overall
The Cowboys have paced the league as the most popular team for quite some time. Turn on ESPN or NFL Network, and odds are you’ll hear the Cowboys mentioned at some point, regardless of how well or poorly they’ve been playing.
All that attention has made them incredibly valuable, with an estimated worth of $6.5 billion according to Forbes, a full $1.5 billion more than the New England Patriots in second place. 
But how did the Cowboys’ become, “America’s Team?”
The Cowboys were always popular thanks to their sustained success in the 70s and 80s including a pair of Super Bowl titles. 
But the franchise was at its nadir when Jerry Jones purchased the team in 1989. He received a bargain price of $140 million just as the NFL brand was exploding to a new level of popularity.
While media right and TV money filled the pockets of every owner, the Cowboys returned to glory in the early 90s winning Super Bowls in 1992, 1993, and 1995. 
Along with the 49ers, the Cowboys were the class of the league and their popularity in the 70s and 80s allowed them to build a brand similar to the Yankees in baseball or Lakers in basketball.
But the Cowboys haven’t returned to the NFC Championship game, much less the Super Bowl since 1995. But as we can see, that hasn’t stopped fans across the world from flocking to the iconic Star logo.
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In a study done by Samford University, the Cowboys remained far and away from the consensus choice. Along with 9% of the surveyed fans selecting the Cowboys as their favorite team, Samford also found Dallas the easy winner in other categories such as merchandise sold.
Changes in Fan Base Sizes in Recent Years
While the Cowboys have had an iron grip on the top spot for years, there’s been plenty of fluctuation among the other most popular teams in the league. In a five-year study from 2017-2021, Samford University measured the favorite teams of thousands of fans, allowing us to get an idea of how success can change a team’s popularity and bring out more “fair-weather fans.” 
With the departure of Tom Brady, the Patriots gave up the number two spot in 2020. I find it interesting that the Bears were as high as they were, despite experiencing little success for more than a decade. It can be attributed to the franchise’s long history which stretches back to the founding of the league and generations of passionate Chicago fans.
Even more interesting is the explosion in popularity for the Kansas City Chiefs who have gone from outside of the top 10 to the number four spot. I’ll give you one guess who they can thank for that.
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Fan Bases By Region
With a sport as popular as football, and with many teams now able to trace their lineages back almost 100 years, it’s interesting to look at the geographic battle lines that define fanbases.
Notice how Green Bay’s sustained success in history has allowed them to infiltrate into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, while the line is clearly drawn between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
It’s interesting to see how the Mountain Time Zone is divided up with fewer teams over a larger geographic area. The Broncos seem to have a strong foothold here, but I wonder if a few more years of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs may take away some of this territory.
Then there are the Raiders, the Chargers, and the Rams. Three teams have recently moved and their fan bases’ presence is now poorly defined. The Raiders and Chargers look homeless aimlessly condemned to small batches of California and Nevada. While the Rams may technically “own” L.A., the influx of visiting fans at their home games proves that not all territory is created equally. 
Which NFL Team Has the Most Female Fans?
Interest in the NFL is much higher for males than females. Around half of U.S. males identified as avid fans of the NFL in 2023 compared to just 24% of females.
With the Cowboys maintaining a strong grasp on the top spot, it’s no surprise that they also have the most female fans. Even by percentages the Cowboys come out ahead, with around 21.5% of the fanbase identifying as female.
The Cowboys have built a brand and popularity that even other historic franchises like the Packers and Bears can’t match. Meanwhile, the Patriots’ prolonged success has rocketed them up the rankings after decades of uninspiring play. But with Brady gone, will their fanbase remain as dedicated if they fall back into a rut of mediocrity?
Do you think that the Chiefs can continue to rise in the rankings and maybe even challenge Dallas for the top spot? Let us know in the comments below.