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Bengals fans rank No. 24 in the NFL?

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How does one rank a team's entire fanbase? Does one need to go broke, starve at the dinner table or have their heat turned off to prove themselves? And do we really need to prove anything?

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

How does one measure fandom?

Is it paid attendance? Logically this demands: Why would we use a financial indicator in regions seemingly poorer from a fiscal and population perspective? New York teams clearly absorb significantly higher population zones with a pool of fans proudly sitting on significantly fatter wallets than smaller markets like Cincinnati. Teams like the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots, while not quite New York, enjoys more national exposure. What about television ratings? Most Bengals games dominate the ratings in Cincinnati's market when those games are played -- it's usually never close. Merchandise? Number of blogs?

Finding the best teams in the NFL is a difficult, if not impossible, task to quantify. It's also a subject that Emory Sports Marketing Analytics attempted to tackle. They explain:

By hard data we mean data on actual fan behavior. In particular, we are focused on market outcomes like attendance, prices or revenues. A lot of marketing research focused on branding issues relies on things like consumer surveys. This is fine in some ways, but opinion surveys are also problematic. It’s one thing to just say you are a fan of a local team, and quite another to be willing to pay several thousand dollars to purchase a season ticket.

To truly understand fan engagement, it’s important to statistically control for temporary changes in the environment. This is a huge issue in sports because fans almost always chase a winner. The real quality of the sports brand is revealed when fans support a team through the tough times. The Packers or Steelers will sell-out the year after they go 6-10, not so much for the Jaguars. The other thing that separates sports brands from consumer brands is the cities themselves. The support a New York team gets in terms of attendance and pricing is always going to be tough to achieve for the team in Charlotte.

According to their research/data, Bengals fans ranked 24th in the NFL; while the top five teams were located in several of America's biggest cities. Despite the acknowledgement that fiscal hardships shouldn't be recognized, attendance is seemingly an approach with significant weight.