Is There a Market for College Football in New York City ~ And If So, Which Teams are People Watching?

by Deb Seymour

New York City and its general metropolitan area is a professional sports hive. It has two major league baseball teams, two national football league teams, three national hockey league teams, two national basketball association teams, two major league soccer teams, a women’s national basketball association team, as well as being home to the US tennis open. There are professional golf tournaments played in the region, and the Belmont Stakes is held in the metro area. But as someone who grew up in New York City, I never really identified it as a college football town.

Perhaps this is because there are relatively few college football teams that play within the confines of the city itself. There is a caveat to this, however, and it’s that the five boroughs and the general metropolitan area are home to some college football teams, among them the Fordham University Rams, the Long Island University Sharks, and the Stony Brook University Seawolves, as well as the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights, the Princeton University Tigers, and the University of Connecticut Huskies. How you define the “general metropolitan area” also defines how many and which college teams play within its borders — but without splitting hairs, the idea here is although the New York City metro is home to a very large cluster of universities and colleges, it is not home to a large number of college football teams.

This may help to explain why most of the college football fans I met growing up had gone to college away from the New York City metro area. If you attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, it’s not surprising that you became a Wisconsin Badgers fan. And the same for anyone from the New York City area who attended college at any of the other non-New York City area colleges that play NCAA football — and then moved back to the metropolitan area in which they grew up.

And yet, I somehow have always had the feeling that there are more college football fans in the New York City metropolitan area than just the people who attended college away from home. So I decided to do a little research to see if any data is available on the topic.

According to a Knoji report (“10 Most Popular College Football Teams in New York City”), an online survey called the CommonConsensus Sports Map Project polled college football fans to find out how many fans of each college football team there are in different regions. Last updated in 2018, it was determined that there were roughly three million college football fans living in the New York City area. The top 10 college football teams followed by people in the New York City metropolitan area, according to the poll results, are as follows:

  • Rutgers University (over 600,000 fans)
  • Notre Dame University (over 300,000 fans)
  • Penn State University (over 185,000 fans)
  • University of Connecticut (over 150,000 fans)
  • University of Michigan (over 140,000 fans)
  • University of Syracuse (over 130,000 fans)
  • University of Miami (over 75,000 fans)
  • Army (West Point) (over 75,000 fans)
  • The Ohio State University (over 60,000 fans)
  • Boston College (over 60,000 fans)

Given that according to this poll, and likely other NCAA-internal research, Rutgers University has more college football fans in the New York City metro than any other college team, it’s not that surprising that they entered the NCAA Big Ten conference in 2014. My guess is that the NCAA was hoping to grow New York interest in NCAA football via this move, and perhaps it has. Not coincidentally, Rutgers is one of the closest in proximity of the universities on this list to New York City — and one would imagine that has to be a factor in its level of interest found in the region. It’s also not surprising to find UConn, Penn State, Syracuse, or Army on the list, given each of their relative proximities to the city (though I would not consider Penn State nor Syracuse to be within the New York City metropolitan area). And, regarding Army, allegiances to its team may also stem from reasons other than proximity, having to do with service — or family member service — in the US Army over the years. One point to note, however, is that Navy (Annapolis) did not make the list — but it also happens to be further away from New York City than is West Point.

One has to wonder if the numbers of people watching college football in New York City and its general metropolitan area wouldn’t be higher if there were fewer professional sports choices to follow that are actually housed in the city and its immediate surroundings. That’s always been my go-to explanation for the percentage of people (or lack thereof) showing interest in college football in New York City. Hence, in play has to be overabundance of choices of sports to follow; and there is a veritable plethora of active professional sports at any one time in the immediate region. But given the above numbers and my anecdotal experience, college football remains lower on the list not just by default (having to do with all the pro sports in New York), but due to the lack of significant college teams playing in the immediate area. Which brings me back to my original point: many college football fans in New York City most likely went to college away from their hometown. If true, that’s going to automatically limit the market for college football in New York City.

We’ve got a beautiful, crisp, 70-degree day right now in the Northeast, and we’ve entered the first week of the 2021 NFL season. After an exciting kickoff game last night between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys, anticipation for the NFL season is running high. If you aren’t much of a college football fan and you’re reading this piece, you’re probably at least somewhat of an NFL fan. It’s time to enjoy fall and the joys and sorrows that football brings, whether you follow college football or the NFL, or both. So, with all my heart, best of luck to your teams — and, as always, may the best team win.

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