‘Steelers Nation’ takes a hit when it comes to being the most influential NFL fanbase

Over the years, fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, known as ‘Steelers Nation’, have been lauded as one of the most faithful, die-hard, well-traveled fanbases across all 32 teams in the National Football League. In 2020, however, the Steelers’ fanbase took a major hit when it came to being influential. Fans may be caught off guard by the revelation considering there are still hundreds of thousands of Steelers loyalists. The biggest surprise may very well be the teams whose fanbases leapfrogged Pittsburgh during the 2020 NFL regular season and leading up to Super Bowl LV.

Pickswise, a member of the Spotlight Sports Group, took a sample of 12,000 followers of each NFL teams’ Twitter accounts and analyzed how influential fans were and how far their reach was; from cheering on their team, purchasing merchandise, and more passionate fan activities on social media. Most NFL teams firmly believe that their fan base is the most loyal. The question, was ‘Steelers Nation’ as influential and far-reaching in 2020 as they believe they have been?

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Which teams placed in the Top 5?

There were eight teams who, when analyzed, had reach and influence of over 1,000,000 “fans followers”. Yes, millions. The team that took the top spot at 8,831,433.00 was the Carolina Panthers. This was a team that parted ways with head coach Ron Rivera, placed secondary coach Perry Fewell in as the interim head coach, and under owner David Tepper hired Matt Rhule as the franchise’s fifth full-time head coach directly from the collegiate ranks (Baylor). Cam Newton went to New England, and Teddy Bridgewater ran the offense until he was injured and both P.J. Walker and Will Grier stepped under center. The Panthers averaged just 1.8 sacks per game in 2020 and PFF ranked the defense’s pass rush as No. 17 in the league.

The remaining teams in the top five were the Washington Football Team (2,172,045.00), Jacksonville Jaguars (1,602,152.00), New York Jets (1,442,577.00), Atlanta Falcons (1,294,717.00), and Miami Dolphins (1,233, 114.00).

The corresponding win-loss records of each of those teams is as follows: Panthers (5-11), WFT (7-9), Jaguars (1-15), Jets (2-14), Falcons (4-12), Dolphins (10-6). Could having a really horrible season be a reason why a fanbase would be so outrageously active on social media? That argument could be made IF the Dolphins had tanked yet again this season. It also doesn’t explain why teams, whose fanbases were at the bottom of the list, including the Kansas City Chiefs, had a low influence and reach when their team did extremely well. Toss in the Steelers, who went 11-0 to open their season, and there’s very little possibility that a bad season equates automatically to fanbase elevation.

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Where did ‘Steelers Nation’ rank?

For the first time in franchise history, the Steelers started off hotter than any other team in the NFL during the 2020-21 regular season. They struggled down the stretch, however, and lost their playoff game during Wild Card weekend to the Cleveland Browns. The most popular hashtag was “#FireRandy”, which did come to fruition as Matt Canada was elevated to Offensive Coordinator and Randy Fichtner was sent on his way. So, regardless of Steelers franchise records being set, a No. 1 defense, personal records being broken by members of the team, All-Pros named, Pro Bowl nods, and a season that saw Pittsburgh get back into the playoffs, the fact that ‘Steelers Nation’ earned a rank of No. 27 with an influence, reach of 526,814.00 is perplexing.

After speaking to members of ‘Steelers Nation’, I found several trends that fans felt may have factored into a lower ranking; they were unaware of the actual number or how low on the chart they’d fallen when they were polled and interviewed.

One of the most common reasons listed as to why the Steelers’ fanbase likely wasn’t as engaged in 2020 was the COVID-19 restrictions and ongoing uncertainty surrounding the virus. Unfortunately, all 32 teams dealt with those same restrictions and uncertainty, and since fans weren’t allowed to attend Heinz Field for games, it’s highly unlikely that COVID-19 kept Steelers fans from expressing their support for, or against, their team on Twitter.

Certainly, having no fans in the seats did play a part; I’d go so far as to say that a part of the lack of momentum from the Steelers at times was due to not having their typically rowdy and vocal fanbase in the stands cheering for them and jeering the officials and opponents. The other 31 teams who had limited or no fans, though, should have seen a similar dropoff – and many didn’t; they had the opposite happen.

Another common reason was boycotts, refusals to participate due to unrest in the United States, and opposition to the NFL and the Steelers for positions they may or may not have taken in regard to social issues. This likely did have at least some effect on the ranking ‘Steelers Nation’ earned but does not explain fully why teams based in cities that experienced some of the more serious social issues ranked higher.

A few people mentioned the uproar over players dancing, making TikTok videos, comments, and questionable coaching as a potential factor for why the Steelers didn’t fare well in this study. Unfortunately, trends on Twitter showed that those topics created more reach, even if it wasn’t the type of influence some members of ‘Steelers Nation’ wanted.

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The complete results

The 2020-21 NFL season was one for the books across the league. There was plenty of scheduling questions, typical and atypical distractions, a move by many NFL fans from social media altogether, and some teams who were overlooked that became favorites while favorites fell to the wayside. It was a mixed bag, as the results of the study show. The total number of fans followers does not indicate the size of the teams’ markets, either, as some of the larger markets had lower ranking.

Here’s hoping that ‘Steelers Nation’ can truly get back to being “Steelers Nation Unite” (the official fan club of the Pittsburgh Steelers) for the 2021-22 season.

Influential ranking – Team – Total number of fans followers
1.  Carolina Panthers – 8,831,433.00
2.  Washington Football Team – 2,172,045.00
3.  Jacksonville Jaguars – 1,602,152.00
4.  New York Jets  – 1,442,577.00
5.  Atlanta Falcons – 1,294,717.00
6.  Miami Dolphins – 1,233,114.00
7.  Buffalo Bills – 1,098,077.00
8.  New York Giants – 1,023,154.00
9.  Los Angeles Chargers – 902,787.00
10.  Detroit Lions – 898,770.00
11.  New Orleans Saints – 844,783.00
12.  Arizona Cardinals – 843,234.00
13.  Cincinnati Bengals – 825,534.00
14.  Cleveland Browns – 747,215.00
15.  Las Vegas Raiders – 692,655.00
16.  Green Bay Packers – 657,686.00
17,  Indianapolis Colts- 656,221.00
18.  Tennessee Titans – 629,137.00
19.  Chicago Bears – 628,109.00
20.  Los Angeles Rams – 616,583.00
21.  Minnesota Vikings – 591,363.00
22.  Seattle Seahawks – 585,400.00
23.  Denver Broncos – 581,290.00
24.  Houston Texans – 573,223.00
25.  San Francisco 49ers – 545,674.00
26.  Philadelphia Eagles – 540,547.00
27.  Pittsburgh Steelers – 526,814.00
28.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 522,556.00
29.  Dallas Cowboys – 516,917.00
30.  Baltimore Ravens – 500,165.00
31.  Kansas City Chiefs – 485,426.00
32.  New England Patriots – 434,041.00

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