While trying to find where to watch my beloved Pats last season after relocating to the West Coast I found the 506, a site that curates interactive Google maps of TV markets for various American sports. I rediscovered the site earlier this week via kottke and took another look.
However practical these maps may be in helping you navigate television on Sundays, they are concurrently acute cultural and possibly even ethnic cartographies.
Looking closely at a few regions for this upcoming week's FOX games you can begin to see the method and design that goes into promoting specific teams to particularly loyal or interested regions:
The Mid Atlantic, where most local teams are playing on CBS this week is a jigsaw puzzle. The Dallas-San Francisco match up is being aired in New York City & Philadelphia, possibly a nod to the camaraderie between SF and NYC or maybe a holdover from Dallas' bygone reputation as "America's Team." Meanwhile, a little further south, the local Washington Redskins are barely penetrating the Mason-Dixon line, a potential reminder that Washington is a Southern city.
In the Northwest, the Seattle Seahawks are popular for obvious reasons. But surprisingly not in Boise, ID where the Chicago - New Orleans game gets priority. Perhaps this is the long-term effect of some westward migration of Chicagoans generations ago or maybe just because people in Boise can't stand the Seahawks, I'm not sure.
My research (albeit light) also brought me to a map of NFL team loyalties called the CommonCensus Sports Map Project (below) and reminded me to re-find a Nike ad for the MLB, the United Countries of Baseball (which is more of a piece of art than actual data). The NFL clearly has an amazing handle on this game, netting wild profits from TV rights and employing a number of tactics to ensure the right games are shown in the right regions.
It's easy to get carried away and read too much into these maps alone, but I find it an interesting comment on how loyalties form and in particular the nature of being a fan in general. A lot of team loyalty is often pseudo-hereditary (I know people who are passing down season ticket waitlist numbers to their children) and who your friends are rooting for. But in the end it may just boils down to who the football gods put on your television every Sunday...
Willem Van Lancker is a product designer (UX) at Google with a passion for ethnography, maps, data visualization, and producing delightful user experiences.
Willem came to Google from IDEO where he worked as a communication designer focusing on understanding business systems and organizations through visual communication. Previous to IDEO, Willem worked for Apple, where he designed user interfaces for products including iPhone and iPad, and adidas, where he created new brand identities for various major league sports teams respectively.
Willem is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with a degree in Graphic Design. While at RISD, Willem teamed with a small group of Brown and RISD students to create A Better World by Design, a now-annual three-day conference encouraging social and environmental impact within educational policy. He also served as a researcher and core member for RISDâ€™s Strategic Plan, charting a new course for RISDâ€™s academic programs and student life initiatives focused on how students of different disciplines can innovate through collaboration.
When he is not working on new innovations for Google, Willem can be found writing, sailing, playing squash (both the sport and the gourd), following English (and American) football, and occasionally regretting the decision to eat that bacon-wrapped hotdog from a food-cart in the Mission District.