Thursday, February 15, 2007

Which NFL teams are the most “Literary”?

From time to time during the broadcast of an NFL game you will hear the announcer describe one of the teams as a “storied franchise.” The dictionary tells us the word “storied” means “celebrated or famous in history or story.” In the case of a football team, how would we measure this? Which franchises are the truly “storied” ones?

One reflection of a team having attained “storied” status might be the number of books published on the subject of that team. To get some answers, I visited and did a simple search of their online bookstore, typing in the name of (each NFL team) + football. Using this method, the top-ten most written about, the most “storied,” the most literary NFL teams (out of a total of 32 teams in the league) turn out to be:

1. Dallas Cowboys
New York Giants
Green Bay Packers
Chicago Bears
Washington Redskins
Cleveland Browns
Miami Dolphins
New York Jets
New England Patriots
Detroit Lions

There was a wide disparity between the top of the ranking and the bottom. The top four teams were each cited more than 400 times in the search, the lowest ranking team, only 45 times. The average for all the teams was 185.

Why are some teams written about so much more than others?

Experience Counts
The Giants, Packers, Bears, Redskins and Browns are all teams that began in the early days of the National Football League. They have the most accumulated history, so it makes sense there would be more good material for writers to draw from. Younger teams, sometimes referred to as “expansion” teams, were far down the rankings. The Carolina Panthers were #28, the Jacksonville Jaguars were in position #30, the Houston Texans #32.

Winning is Everything
The teams that have won the most NFL Championships are the Green Bay Packers (12-time champions), Chicago Bears (9 times) and the New York Giants (6 times). These three teams are all in the top four. The top team in our ranking, Dallas, has won the league championship 5 times. Americans are fascinated by success, and love to read stories about winners, champions, heroes—whether to vicariously participate in that success or re-live a well-remembered championship game where their team came out on top. The Steelers and 49ers, two other teams with a rich tradition of winning championships, also finished high in my literature search rankings, 11th and 13th respectively.

‘Cuz The Publishing Industry is Centered in New York City
The two teams near the New York metro area, the Giants and the Jets, both made the top ten. This is partially due to the fact that both these franchises have enormous fan bases in this hugely populated area, and therefore there is a large market for reading material about the teams. But we should also take into account that the editors of the New York based publishing houses would obviously be familiar with the Giants and the Jets, perhaps even be fans of these teams themselves. Aspiring authors are often advised to “write about what you know,” but more seasoned writers know that it also helps to “write about something your editor understands.”

The Most Well-Read Football Fans Are Located In…
The National Football League is divided into two conferences, National (NFC) and American (AFC). About 60% of the books cited were about NFC teams. Each conference has four divisions of four teams each, designated East, North, South and West, roughly based on geographic location of the teams. The NFC East division, the NFC North and the AFC East each had three of their four teams in the top 10 of the rankings. The fourth ranked division in terms of numbers of books was the AFC North. Interestingly, two-thirds of the books were about teams in the East or North divisions in each conference. This doesn’t necessarily mean that football fans in colder climates read more than those in warmer climes. Remember, the Miami Dolphins are in the AFC East division and the Dallas Cowboys are in the NFC East.

The Power of Numbers
Each year the Harris polling organization does an online survey, released in late September, asking people to name their two favorite pro football teams. In 2005, the results were as follows:

Green Bay Packers 16%
Dallas Cowboys 14%
New England Patriots 13%
Pittsburgh Steelers 13%
Philadelphia Eagles 10%
San Francisco 49ers 10%

The Cowboys, Packers and Patriots, who finished 1-2-3 in the Harris poll, all finished in the top ten of our literature search on To a significant degree, large fan bases translate into strong demand for books about that team. The “most popular team” designation fluctuates from year to year, though. A team that was successful the previous season will attract some “bandwagon effect” fans and their popularity will rise, while a poor year on the field means that a certain number of fans will hop off the bandwagon. These days, with so much parity of talent in the NFL, teams’ fortunes can rise and fall quickly.

Given the long lead times in book publishing, a writer could plan a book about a team that appears near the top of the Harris poll one year, only to find that by the time the book comes out, the popularity of that team has significantly ebbed.

Some teams do retain a large “core” fan base no matter how well they do on the field. It is a good bet that a well-written book with a fresh perspective on one of these teams would find a ready audience.

One thing is certain: Fans of each and every NFL team are eager consumers of literature about their heroes. Hopefully, my research may help break down some of the unfortunate tribal stereotypes that arise between bitter rivals in the NFL. For instance, Giants fans have always assumed that Cowboys fans get most of their information from video games and daytime TV. Not so. Cowboys fans are the most well-read of all. And it may come as a shock to Chicago Bears fans that Green Bay Packers fans actually know how to read, when in fact the cheese wedges they wear on their heads were actually designed to be a handy way to store and carry books.

Millions of NFL football fans around the globe have found that reading about their favorite team’s history, lore and accomplishments is a great way to spend a crisp autumn afternoon. This is particularly true during times when the current edition of their beloved team is having a losing season. Books help keep the memories of past championship glory alive forever.

Are you ready for some READING?


Coby DuBose said...

That's interesting research. I'd be interested to know how many books have been written about the Carolina Panthers. I'd bet there could be a really popular picture book written about their cheerleaders.

Mike said...

Nice find you have here, whenever I am at a bookstore for whatever reason it is I will usually come across a book related to the Packers, seems like I see one about them more than any other, there is quite a lot of history at Lambeau.

Casey said...

I've never actually thought of football teams written in books before. It's true that there are a lot of aspects that determine "storied" teams.
For example, the Washington Redskins are up there a lot because of their location- they are the nation's capital team.

fgoodwin said...

Brian, nice research.

I think you did well to base your results on an unbiased source like Amazon. I think walking into a local bookstore to see what's available will naturally lead one to think the local team is more published than others, when of course, the local bookstore is in fact only catering to the local market.

While there may be Cowboy, Packer & Redskin fans nationwide, within a given community (outside of Texas, Wisconsin & NoVA), those fans probably make up a minority of the buying public. Meaning the bookstore probably can't justify the carrying cost of inventory not related to the local team (which probably turns over much faster).

Thanx again.