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posted: 2/2/2013 7:15 AM

Almost everybody is rooting for the 49ers, Facebook data shows

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  • San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh participate Friday in a news conference before Super Bowl XLVII.

      San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh participate Friday in a news conference before Super Bowl XLVII.
    Associated Press

 
By Will Oremus, Slate

Facebook's data science team dived into the social network's data on NFL fandom and came back with some revealing findings. For one thing, pro football fans are shameless bandwagon-hoppers, especially during the playoffs. And it seems the bandwagon everyone's hopping on right now is the one that belongs to the San Francisco 49ers.

In a post that draws on what he calls "one of the most comprehensive samples of sports fanship ever collected," Facebook data-science intern Sean Taylor analyzed patterns in the numbers of people who "like" the team pages of various NFL organizations, including the Super Bowl-bound 49ers and Baltimore Ravens. In all, some 35 million U.S.-based Facebook users -- more than one in 10 Americans -- have declared their support for at least one team.

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How does a given team accrue these "likes?" By winning, of course. But especially by winning in the playoffs. Facebook data show that a playoff win results in more than twice as many new "likes" as a playoff loss, and nearly five times as many as a regular-season win. In other words, an awful lot of Facebook users make their fandom official only once their team is in the national limelight.

Facebook's data also reveal which team commands the most fans in each county across the country (or, at any rate, the most fans eager to declare their allegiances on a social network).

But the Facebook map image shows what it looks like when you fast-forward to the Super Bowl. And no, it isn't pretty for the Baltimore Ravens.

Could that be because the 49ers are favored to win? Because they have a longer history of success? Because their team colors are prettier, or they have a stronger social-media presence?

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