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College football in the Northeast

I was reading Matt Yglesias's blog earlier, and came across this post from New Republic editor Jon Chait breaking down a new Marist University poll about interest in college and professional football broken down across geographic regions. As Chait notes, college football is significantly less popular in the Northeast than in other areas of the country - to the tune of about ten percentage points. These results should not come as a surprise to anyone. New Brunswick hosted the first ever college football game was between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, and matchups like Army-Notre Dame were once a huge draw in New York City.

I won't presume to speak for other outposts in the BosWash corridor, but there are probably a few issues in play when it comes the the NYC metropolitan area. This region does not really have a historical attachment to public higher education ("ol' State U",) with Rutgers only becoming a public university after the second World War. The twin titans of Penn State and Notre Dame mining most of the area's top talent didn't exactly leave a lot of room for other programs to breathe, and Rutgers wasn't even trying to compete on a high level anyway until the early eighties.


It'd be interesting to see the poll's detailed crosstabs. There's really a generation gap here now, with the younger (sub-30) crowd showing far more interest in Rutgers football. RU's athletics department is clearly waging a long-term demographic strategy, hoping that the climate becomes increasingly more favorable over time. Still, it's important to acknowledge that any process like that will not happen overnight, and can only be so successful in a market where there are countless options for one's entertainment dollar.

It's important not to draw too strong conclusions from this survey without some important context. Even taking into account the regional enthusiasm disparity, the Northeast still has a higher population density than the rest of the country, and also happens to be far more wealthy. Any continued national interest in a "bad" N.Y.C. television market is just an example of Worthington's law in effect.

I like to use the NHL as an analogy for this. Buffalo or Pittsburgh may be far more popular in those relatively smaller markets, but New York City supports three franchises. The media mostly ignores hockey with baseball and the NFL being far more popular, but that ends up being a disservice to the thousands of hockey fans here. Those hardcore small markets may sell out every night, but adding up the attendance for the Devils, Rangers, and Islanders sums up to more than twice as many fans (I'm not aware of a better method of measuring team interest in a market). N.Y.C. metro has more hockey fans than anywhere else. They just happen to a blip when compared to the twenty million people who live here.