Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Welcome to ... Steelers Country?

The Triangle has always been an interesting place to live, particularly when it comes to the various sports allegiances. Thirty years ago, the only game in town was Atlantic Coast Conference basketball (and football, to a degree). The proximity of the three area schools (four, had Wake Forest not sold out to Big Tobacco!!) has resulted to this day in an area that has divided loyalties.  Throw in the immigration of graduates of Virginia Tech, Michigan, Florida, UVa and Ohio State*, to name a few, and you have a veritable Sports Melting Pot called "Raleigh-Durham." (Of course, no one really calls it that, now do they?)

The Carolina Hurricanes have given Triangle rooting interests a team that everybody can seemingly get behind. Even UNC and Duke fans seem to get past the idea that the Canes share an arena (and colors) with State. Heck, with the exception of last weekend's State-Carolina game, the loudest moments in the ESA/RBC Center/PNC Arena's life have been during Hurricanes games.

The Canes have also managed to make some converts from transplanted Pens, Flyers and Devils fans. (But I doubt any of those dastardly Sabres fans have seen the light.) Of course, this is pure speculation.

The same cannot be said, however, for the Carolina Panthers, who play a few hours away in Charlotte. According to this map, which looks at Facebook data, a great chunk of NFL fans in central North Carolina are Steelers fans. Yes, Steelers fans. (This also holds true for most of South Carolina.)

You could jokingly blame this on the fact that former Coach Bill Cowher played at NC State and has tremendous Raleigh ties. But it's more likely because the Steelers, like the Packers, represent a throwback to "old school" football and blue collar ways. That's why you'll see Pittsburgh rated as the most popular team in many spots across the nation, including parts of Nevada, Oregon and Mississippi. It probably also has a WHOLE lot to do with transplants from Pennsylvania to North Carolina.

As for the Panthers? Carolina does seem to be the most popular team in the state, but New England is not far behind Carolina and Pittsburgh. Interestingly enough, the Washington Redskins barely register on the map; Carolina was, in theory, 'Skins country for many, many, many moons.

So what does this say about our area? Probably not much; the Triangle is not that different from other fast-growing areas in that there are varied loyalties. (Good Lord! Look at Florida!) If there's any takeaway, to me, it's that the Panthers would be well-served to try to expand their footprint in the state -- but especially into South Carolina. Oh, and any store that sells Terrible Towels could make a killing around these parts.

Sports and Geography
But this discussion about the map also brings up another discussion: how important is geography and proximity to the success of a team ... or a sport?

I had this conversation on Twitter recently involving Major League Soccer. MLS currently does not have a team in the southeastern United States+, despite the demographic changes and the success of college soccer. For those of us in North Carolina, DC United is logically the team to support, but lack of success in recent years and a reportedly abysmal stadium experience doesn't exactly call for an explosion of interest.  After #DCU, there is not really a close team to follow^. But does that matter?

Here is some of the discussion from Twitter, where I asked which MLS team should I follow, considering there's not one close by. And should proximity even matter?:

@thejohnpollock: But there can be more reasons to support a team than region. 

... A favorite player, style of play, coach, supporters group, vacation spot, heck colors or mascot.

MLS needs to get to the point where it is ok/normal for someone in FLA to support the Timbers.

@RyanDickey: I'd just enjoy the whole league until the SE gets a team (Miami? Raleigh?) then invest in your scarf

Fandom correlates to geography in every other sports league I can think of. SE needs a team

most people who root for a team outside of their geo were raised to like them or once lived close

@JMadfour: Matt, I've been struggling with this as well. I live in WV, right in the middle of  and #crew96

@CandayCakes:  so hard to justify driving 9 hours to the nearest team.

@jasonadams76: I live in Mississippi and have adopted FC Dallas because it's the closest.

Only followed MLS the last year and 1/2. One FCD game so far, Labor Day. 6 hrs one way is rough.

As the map referenced at the top shows, you don't necessarily have to live in an area to follow that team. TV certainly helps; MLS has A LOT of games on TV these days; however, the ratings are pretty poor.

I'm not sure where to go from here. Do I pick an MLS team to follow? I like the atmospheres in Portland and Seattle and KC. I like the play in L.A. I like the cool Latin slogan on the kits in Philly. (I'm a history buff; so sue me.) Maybe I should just support the entire league, as @RyanDickey suggested.

I could always use the method I used for picking my favorite English Premier League team: which team more closely resembles my absolute favorite team, N.C. State? So by that logic, I have become a Liverpool fan. The fact that I've never set foot on English soil (if you don't count Gibraltar!) has not stopped me from following the Reds -- so maybe I've answered my own question.

*Is there a larger sports diaspora than Buckeye fans? My buddy Doug -- admittedly a Michigan guy -- says they spread like roaches. A coworker of mine, an Ohio native and tOSU fan, tends to agree: "We are smart enough to move the heck out of Ohio" being her rationale. Oddly enough, this same person said about Steelers fans what my Michigan buddy said about Buckeyes --with a slight change: "They spread like the plague."

+South Florida had a shot with a couple of MLS franchises which, like many S. Fla. sports franchises, failed miserably.

^We are lucky in that we have the Carolina RailHawks as a second division team, based in Cary. Not only are the RailHawks good, but the organization appears committed to growing soccer in the area. If MLS was ever to offer the Triangle a team, Carolina could easily make the jump -- especially with the seemingly ever-expanding WakeMed Soccer Park, which has been called one of the best parks in America.


RonB said...

When the MLS formed, I followed the NY/NJ Metrostars (#NYRB) because they had former NC State great Tab Ramos.... and little else. They had Clint Dempsey who moved on the the Premeirship, and now they have Henry, who can still make his teammates look great and his opponents look like they're stuck in the mud.

The Sounders were the first club to have a large, appreciative fan base -- started the whole scarves thing on this side of the pond -- and Portland stepped up their game as well. And there is Toronto FC if you need some old-school hooligan supporters at the pitch.

I fear some Mickey Mouse place like Orlando might get the SE team, since Tampa and Miami already tried and failed, though the league was different back then. Or Atlanta if they want to relocate the team somewhere else a few years later.

M. Lail said...

I'm kinda with you. I followed the MeteoStars bc of Tab, but then DC United bc of proximity. But they've been left behind. I like Red bulls and Henry, but I fear they too will be passed by - particularly if another NYC team is created. Sounders and Portland have great things going, and I hope Philly succeeds.

But the fact of the matter is the next franchise has gotta be someone with deep pockets who can withstand some lean years paging Dr. Goodnight?

Chuck said...

During the 1970's and 80's the AFC game of the week in North Carolina almost always had the Steelers playing and so that is one of the main reasons why there are so many fans here.