The growing fantasy of Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills shows how

But an analysis of recent online search trends indicates that team loyalty, like mine, may not be as widespread in the age of free agency and social media. A lot of sports fans are more interested in individual players than in teams.

It is seen throughout football, the sports industry, and even across continents – Allen and the Bills prove a striking example of this growing phenomenon.

bills have historically No A team with national appeal. Located in the second-smallest metropolitan area in the US for a pro football team – according to the 2020 US Census, Buffalo had a population of 1.17 million compared to New York City’s 20.14 million – their games are rarely shown nationally.
However, I noticed something when reviewing which local television markets were airing which games this season. All Bills games were shown not only at the local Buffalo market, but also at the Southeast Wyoming market.
For those without a map, southeast Wyoming is thousands of miles from Buffalo. So why do the people there even care?

Well, for starters, southeastern Wyoming is home to the University of Wyoming, where Allen went to college and starred for Cowboys. Plus, the state doesn’t have its own NFL team, so it’s understandable they’d want to keep an eye on a local hero.
Allen throws for the Wyoming Cowboys against Boise State on October 21, 2017.

Former CBS executive Steve Warner told me that local television stations broadcast the Bills game because they know their audience is interested in watching Allen play.

We can see how much interest Allen has shown in the bills since their arrival by looking at Google search data.

The Allen’s Bills are the most searched team in New York over the past year, not surprising, possibly due to their consecutive AFC East Division titles and recent clashes with the New York Jets and Giants.

They are also the second most searched team in Wyoming. To put this in perspective, there is no other state outside the Northeast where the Bills are also in the top five most searched teams over the past year. The Bills were ranked in the top two in Wyoming from March to August 2021 before the NFL season began, so it’s not like people are searching for the Bills in Wyoming just because their games are being shown there.

An examination of Google data in 2017 – before Allen moved to Buffalo – shows that things were very different. While the Biles ranked No. 1 in New York searches, they were not in the top 20 in Wyoming.

In other words, the data suggests that Allen is taking an interest in the Bills among a group of people who previously didn’t care much for the Buffalo team.

Allen is not an outsider in the NFL regarding this incident.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is making a similar impact to football fans in Eugene, Oregon. Herbert is from Eugene and his alma mater, the University of Oregon, is located there; Most Chargers games are being shown in Eugene; And lots of people in the area are googling the team.

During the 2021–2022 season, the Chargers were the most searched team in the Eugene region. Five years ago, the Chargers didn’t even rank among the top 15 most searched teams in the Eugene region.

Justin Herbert wants to throw against the Las Vegas Raiders.

But it’s not just about college football fans following individual players. NFL fans do this too.

Quarterback Tom Brady was a mainstay of the New England Patriots for two decades – until 2020, when he signed a multi-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

New England still loves its Patriots, but now it has a second love in the Buccaneers. The Buccaneers were the second most searched team in every New England state in 2021, except Connecticut.

Back in 2017, the Buccaneers were not even in the top 20 most searched teams in any New England state.

There’s no doubt that Brady has over 10 million Instagram followers, making it easy for his fans to root for what he’s doing and no matter where he plays.
This is a trend we see in other sports as well. For example, Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James has more than 100 million followers on Instagram. This is more than twice the population of California.

Obviously, the basketball superstar has fans in markets across the country and around the world.

In Ohio, where James is from, the Cleveland Cavaliers are always the most searched team on Google. But each time James left—for the Miami Heat in 2010 and the LA Lakers in 2018—his new team became the second most-searched team.

James looks to pass the ball during the second quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Roots for players on teams and the importance of social media seem to matter even more internationally. As my colleague Amy Lewis pointed out in 2018, football fans are shifting their loyalty from team to team, playing for those clubs.
Someone like Cristiano Ronaldo, with his nearly 400 million Instagram followers, can convert fans allegiance overnight. The clubs Ronaldo has joined have seen their social media skyrocket.
Of course, when Ronaldo moves to cities, the same club can lose a lot of followers. Italian club Ronaldo asked Juventus before returning to Manchester United last season.
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Ronaldo's reaction during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In the US, the importance of social media is not nearly as much, as American players have fewer followers at the moment.

But as fans increasingly engage with social media and traditional media becomes less important, we shouldn’t be surprised to see players become more important than teams.

Admittedly, this would never happen for a fan like me. I like my bills.

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