Iowa is one of the 28 states without an NFL team. So what do you do if you’re still an NFL fan

Words by Daniel White
Graphic by Kayla Parker

The Super Bowl may be over, but for NFL fans, football season is year-round. Yet many football fans live in states that don’t have an NFL team to call their own. Twenty-eight states don’t have a big enough market for a team, including Iowa. However, NFL fans can still live smack-dab in the middle of Iowa, and each settles on a team to support for different reasons.

A study done by Sean Taylor, a member of Facebook’s data science team, found that 35 million Facebook users have officially liked a page for one of the 32 NFL teams in the league. With this info, Facebook can determine where users live in relation to the team they follow.

NFL fans from the Hawkeye state know that the four teams with the biggest fan bases in Iowa are the Minnesota Vikings, the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Minnesota is the closest NFL market to most Iowans, so many of them naturally root for the Vikings.

The Vikings’ territory includes about a third of Iowa’s area, covering 36 counties in the north, while the Bears are second with 25 counties. The Packers are scattered around the state, taking over 21 counties, and the Chiefs total 13 counties in the southeast. And once every now and again, a casual observer might come across a Dallas Cowboys or Denver Broncos fan sporting their favorite jersey on game day.

The map below gives a better understanding of Iowa’s NFL fan layout in Iowa’s 99 counties.

Source: Facebook

Finding out where NFL fans reside is easy with the help of data analytics. But figuring out why these fans choose the teams they do requires moving beyond the computer screen, and into the minds of NFL fans.

For some sports fans, the decision to pick a team can be all about the visual aesthetics. Something as simple as the colors of a jersey can be the reason for a new fan.

“My dad and I watch football together,” said Annie Brown, an employee for Zombie Burger + Drink Lab in Des Moines. “He really isn’t for a team, but I used to like the 49ers for the colors when I was 7. Then my boyfriend got me into the Broncos.”  

Many NFL fans living in Iowa go through a process of elimination, knocking out teams that either aren’t located close enough or that they just flat out don’t like. Iowans who don’t have as much of a passion for football usually go with the teams their family members or friends follow because it’s easier.

For sports fans like Brown, relationships have power in deciding which team they follow. Brown mentioned that her boyfriend, Colton, is the reason her new favorite NFL team is the Denver Broncos. He’s originally from Orange City in western Iowa, and that’s Broncos territory. That could be why Colton has always followed the Broncos, and, in turn, why Annie has become a Denver Broncos fan herself.

Then there are the more passionate NFL fans who absolutely need to pick a team to watch on game day and call their own. For some, the decision may require a lot more thinking and comparing, but for others, it may simply depend on the side of Iowa they’re from.

The cheeseheads of Iowa make Packers fans the third-largest fan base in the state. Patrick Wood, brand manager for the ESPN 1350 station at the Des Moines Radio Group, was born and raised in Martensdale, Iowa, about 30 minutes south of Des Moines. As shown in the above infographic, Iowa has several counties scattered all over the state that are primarily home to Packers fans. Along with influence from his central Iowa roots, Wood’s devotion to the Packers comes from his grandpa.

NFL fans in Iowa also care about where the players started. “I know a lot of people who follow Iowa or Iowa State football players to whatever team they get drafted by in the NFL,” Wood said. By following players from the start, passionate Iowa NFL fans find a way to stay connected to the football culture, and even pick what team to root for based on who played on their favorite college team.

Wood also touched on the minor league teams that come to Iowa with a professional sports team as their affiliate. “Having farm teams in other sports like the Iowa Cubs and the Iowa Wild allows for people to have an affiliation with the MLB and NBA,” he said.

There are a lot of different ways to be an NFL fan in Iowa. Just talking with any Iowan can give you insight on how big of a football fan they really are, or if they even follow the NFL. Iowans have a lot of choices when it comes to football, leading to the ultimate question: Who do you got, Iowa?