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We know college football’s biggest programs bring in fans from all over the country, but all schools like to argue about which one has the best fan base, or the biggest fan base, or the most loyal fan base. Here, using data from Vivid Seats — a Chicago-based ticket marketplace — is a sampling of where college stadiums get their fans. The map below shows 3,000 counties and county equivalents with tickets purchased between 2012 and 2018 on Vivid Seats, and the top three college football programs by share of tickets sold to those programs’ home games in each area. Select a team to find how widespread its fan base is.
Among Vivid Seats’ buyers, the nationwide fan base that Notre Dame loves to promote holds up. The Fighting Irish are the most popular ticket in 171 of these counties, by far the most in college football, leading Georgia’s 142. After Notre Dame, the next four teams are all large state schools that, for the most part (apologies to Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt), have a stronghold on the state’s football fans: Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri and Nebraska.
Notre Dame also leads the country with at least some ticket buyers in 1,614 different counties, from Penobscot County in Maine to the Kenai Peninsula Borough in Alaska. The college football bluebloods all have a wide presence here: Notre Dame is followed by Alabama, Tennessee, Michigan and Ohio State.
A few major areas with no college football power are split between fan bases. Notre Dame sells the most tickets on Vivid Seats in New York County (16 percent), followed by Michigan (7.9 percent) and Penn State (5.5). Northwestern, which advertises itself as “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” but often welcomes hordes of opposing fans into Ryan Field, is the top seller in Illinois’s Cook County, followed by Notre Dame and Michigan. USC outdraws UCLA in Los Angeles County, 30.4 percent to 19.6 percent.
The dominant local fan bases are also clear: West Virginia leads in every county in its state, and Wisconsin is the top seller in every Wisconsin county in which anyone bought a Vivid Seats ticket.
The Iron Bowl, one of the strongest rivalries in college football, indeed splits the state of Alabama almost right down the middle. The Crimson Tide tends to dominate in the west, while the Tigers take the east. In Tuscaloosa County, 55.2 percent of Vivid Seats sales are for Alabama home games, and in Auburn’s Lee County, 62.2 percent of sales are for Auburn. A side note: As of publication, the cheapest Iron Bowl ticket on Vivid Seats goes for $197.
Auburn, which is about 35 miles from the Georgia border, also has a sizable fan base in western Georgia. But Alabama is more prominent throughout the South, leading in places such as Warren County, Georgia, and Greene County, Mississippi. In Alabama’s most populous county, Jefferson, the Crimson Tide holds a slight edge, capturing 34.6 percent of sales compared to 29.1 percent for Auburn.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has said, “When you grow up in this state, you’re usually blue or you’re green from the onset.” There’s plenty of both in this map, but Michigan holds a slight advantage in the most populous areas, with Michigan State — located about 65 miles northwest of Ann Arbor — more in control in the northern half. In all, the Wolverines are the top seller in 39 Michigan counties, and the Spartans are the leader in 38.
Michigan sells 59.3 percent of the tickets in its home of Washtenaw County. East Lansing is split between two counties, but the Spartans own both of them. Michigan has a stronger base throughout the Midwest, trailing only Northwestern and Notre Dame in Chicago’s Cook County and Ohio State and Notre Dame in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County.
In football-crazed Texas, the Red Raiders of Texas Tech can stake a claim to most of the rural northwest part of the state, and even chunks of New Mexico. But the more populous areas belong to the state’s two more historically successful programs: Texas and Texas A&M. Texas owns the all-time series, 69-36-4, but the schools haven’t played since A&M left the Big 12 in 2012.
A&M actually has more Vivid Seats buyers in both Dallas County (13.6 percent to Texas’s 12.7 percent) and Houston’s Harris County (24.7 percent to 14.8 percent). In Travis County, which holds the majority of Austin, host Texas dominates with 48.4 percent of tickets.