Josh Allen and the growing Buffalo Bills fandom show how more and more people are supporting players instead of teams

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. Many sports fans are more interested in individual players than teams.

It’s seen in football, the sports industry and even across continents – with Allen and the Bills proving a fascinating example of this growing phenomenon.

Bills have historically not been a team with national appeal. Based in the second-smallest metropolitan area in the United States for a professional soccer team — according to the 2020 U.S. Census, Buffalo had a population of 1.17 million compared to New York’s 20.14 million — their games are rarely shown in national scale.
However, I noticed something while looking at which local TV markets were showing which games this season. All Bills games were not only broadcast in the local Buffalo market, but also in the southeast Wyoming market.

For those without a map, southeast Wyoming is thousands of miles from Buffalo. So why do people there even care?

Well, for starters, Southeast Wyoming is home to the University of Wyoming, where Allen went to college and played for the Cowboys. Plus, the state doesn’t have its own NFL team, so it makes sense that they’d want to keep tabs on a local hero.

Former CBS executive Steve Warner told me that local television stations broadcast Bills games because they knew their viewers were interested in watching Allen play.

We can see how much interest Allen has generated in Bills since his arrival by looking at Google search data.

The Allen Bills are the most searched team over the past year in New York, unsurprisingly, likely due to their back-to-back AFC East Division titles and recent fights by the Jets and New York Giants.

They are also the second most wanted team in Wyoming. To put that into perspective, there is no other state outside of the Northeast where the Bills are even among the top five most searched teams in the past year. The Bills also ranked in the top two in Wyoming from March to August 2021 before the start of the NFL season, so it’s not that people are looking for the Bills in Wyoming just because their games are shown there. .

A review of Google data in 2017 — before Allen arrived at Buffalo — shows things were very different. Although the Bills ranked No. 1 in searches in New York, they did not rank in the top 20 in Wyoming.

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

Allen is no outlier in the NFL when it comes to this phenomenon.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert appears to be having a similar impact on football fans in Eugene, Oregon. Herbert is from Eugene and his alma mater, the University of Oregon, is based there; most Chargers games are broadcast in Eugene; and many people in the area search for the team on Google.

During the 2021-22 season, the Chargers were the most searched team in the Eugene area. Five years ago, the Chargers didn’t even rank among the top 15 most searched teams in the Eugene area.

Justin Herbert is looking to pitch against the Las Vegas Raiders.

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

Quarterback Tom Brady was a mainstay for 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 has a second love with the Buccaneers. The Buccaneers were the second most searched team in every New England state in 2021 except Connecticut.

In 2017, the Buccaneers weren’t even in the top 20 most searched teams in any New England state.

Without a doubt, Brady having over 10 million Instagram followers makes it easier for his fans to follow what he does and root for him no matter where he plays.
This is a trend that can also be found in other sports. Los Angeles Lakers superstar Lebron James, for example, has over 100 million followers on Instagram. That’s more than double the population of California.

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

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

James looks to pass the ball during the second quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The rooting of players rather than teams and the importance of social media seems to be even more the case internationally. As my colleague Aimee Lewis pointed out in 2018, football fans shift their loyalty from team to team depending on who plays for those clubs.
Someone like Cristiano Ronaldo, with his nearly 400 million Instagram followers, can make fans change their allegiance overnight. The clubs that Ronaldo has joined have seen their social media soar.
Of course, when Ronaldo moves, those same clubs can lose a lot of followers. Ask Juventus, the Italian club Ronaldo left before returning to Manchester United last season.
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Ronaldo reacts during the Premier League game between Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In the United States, the importance of social media is not nearly the same, as American players simply have fewer followers at this point.

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

Admittedly, that will never be the case for a fan like me. I love my bills.

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