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As If We Needed Proof: Dallas Cowboys Are NFL's Most Popular Team

If you're a Dallas Cowboys fan, you're about to be hit by a blinding flash of the obvious: According to an ESPN Sports Poll, 8.8% of those polled listed the Cowboys as the team they root for each week, good for No. 1 among the 32 NFL teams. The ESPN Poll conducts 1,500 monthly telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of Americans age 12 and older to arrive at the rankings.

2012 Fan Favorites: Teams
Rank Team Pct.
1 Cowboys 8.8
3 Giants 7.1
9 Eagles 3.9
13 Redskins 2.4

Dallas is ranked ahead of a bunch of recent Super Bowl winners, including the Packers at No. 2 (7.2), the Giants and Steelers tied at No. 3 (7.1) and the Patriots at No. 5 (6.8).

The poll results are a powerful reminder of the allure of the Dallas Cowboys' Star: The Cowboys are the most popular team despite not having won a Super Bowl since 1995, the longest such drought among the top ten most popular teams outside of the Bears (1985) and the Super-Bowl-Disabled Eagles.

Just two weeks ago I wrote a post titled NFC East: Why My Division Is Better Than Your Puny Divisions, which showcased some of the reasons why the NFC East remains the best division in the NFL. Dan Graziano, ESPN's man for the NFC East, observes that the poll results show that three out of the top nine most popular teams hail from the NFC East, making it easily the most popular division in professional football with a cumulative 22.2 percent of the total vote.

More details after the break.

2012 Fan Favorites: Teams
Rank Team Pct.
1 Cowboys 8.8
2 Packers 7.2
3 Giants 7.1
4 Steelers 7.1
5 Patriots 6.8
6 Bears 4.2
7 Saints 4.1
8 49ers 4.0
9 Eagles 3.9
10 Broncos 3.8
11 Colts 2.8
12 Raiders 2.5
13 Redskins 2.4
14 Vikings 2.2
15 Lions 2.2
16 Dolphins 1.9
17 Chiefs 1.6
18 Seahawks 1.6
19 Jets 1.5
20 Chargers 1.5
21 Browns 1.4
22 Bills 1.4
23 Ravens 1.3
24 Texans 1.2
25 Buccaneers 1.2
26 Falcons 1.2
27 Titans 1.1
28 Panthers 1.0
29 Cardinals 0.8
30 Bengals 0.8
31 Rams 0.7
32 Jaguars 0.4

At first glance, the 8.8 percent may not appear like all that much, but consider that Dallas earned more votes than the entire NFC South (7.5), NFC West (7.1) and AFC South (5.5).

If you're one of those old geezers whose memory dates back to the time before cell phones were available, you may remember a time when the Washington Redskins were still a relevant team in the NFL. The Redskins are still more popular than almost two thirds of the remaining teams in the league, but compared to their peers in the East, they cannot be happy with the poll results.

Dan Graziano summarizes the Redskins' situation as follows:

It might be a hopeful time for Redskins fans, but sheesh, look at the damage done by the Daniel Snyder era. There's no way, if you took this poll in the mid-1990s, that they wouldn't have been among the top teams in it.

There are no fans anywhere as loyal and passionate as Redskins fans, but the mediocrity of the past decade and a half has really robbed them of their national following.

Overall, it seems like most of the top teams owe their popularity in large part to recent Super Bowl wins. The Packers, Giants, Steelers, Patriots and Saints have all won the Super Bowl in the last decade. This makes the Cowboys' rank all the more remarkable, but is also indicative of the strength of the fan base of the Bears, 49ers and Eagles fan bases.

And if you need a reminder of the fickle nature of loyalties among a large part of the NFL fans, look no further than the 2002, 2000 and 1999 Super Bowl winners. The Buccaneers, Ravens and the team that brought you the Greatest Show On Turf are all ranked close to the bottom of the list.

At the bottom of the table, Mike Sando from ESPN's NFC West blog observes that seven of the 10 least popular teams (BAL, HOU, TEN, CAR, ARI, STL, JAC) are relatively new to their cities, either through relocation or expansion.

You'll also notice that the bottom half of the table is populated largely by small-market teams, and while many will point to the Packers as a small-market team that did well, the Packers have a storied history to fall back on, and that history can't be replicated at will.

A team's history (in marketing terms, we call that Brand Equity) is an often overlooked part of the equation as the NFL continues expanding in the search of ever more revenue. Of the top ten most popular teams today, eight were pre-merger members of the NFL (NE and DEN weren't) and all eight of these teams derive a significant part of their identity from their storied history.

As the likes of the Jaguars and Rams ponder a move to a large market like Los Angeles, they would do well to think about how they want to compensate for the obvious lack of any team history that can translate into the new market.

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