To many NFL fans, the team they root for means everything. The stars and coaches are like members of the family. A tradition. And how people perceive their team forms a fanbase that could weather any playoff drought—just ask any Cleveland Browns fan. On the flip side, a fan’s perception of their team could influence a sudden drop at the first sign of a problem.
Teams and organizations, like human beings, tend to present and embody an outward personality. After all, sports teams are in fact brands that do much more than generate revenue—they embolden and unite millions of people around an idea. Brand communication and connection to fans is pivotal in shaping what could be the story of a dominant, analytical powerhouse or a scrappy, entertaining dark horse contender. At Carnegie Dartlet—a Boston-based research, strategy, and communication firm—we wanted to see what fans think about their team’s personality using our psychometric model. Through a partnership with the Samford University Center for Sports Analytics, nearly 2,000 NFL fans answered questions about the personality of their team, plus the team they love to root against.
Carnegie Dartlet employs archetypal theory in understanding personality. These archetypes are color coded and linked to diverse traits and human characteristics. What motivates your team? What drives them to victory? The result is nine distinct categories of personality that can be further drilled down into personas—or social stereotypes—that help cement the foundation of every action and connection of the team.
So how is personality determined? In the case of this survey, eight different question types were used, from iconographic associations to trait selections, and even exploration of personality faults and weaknesses. These were scaled together to form an overall score of each personality type for a team. Importantly, fans only evaluated their team and the team of their rival so that they had enough knowledge to accurately respond.
A Snapshot of NFL Personalities
Being that NFL teams share a singular market vertical, it’s important to note that some personality types might be more common than others. The results above show a strong perceptive preference for the Blue archetype within the NFL, which is all about power, leadership, assertiveness, and strength. This is not surprising based on the subject matter. In other industries, like higher education, the Purple neighbor archetype is dominant, or in science and industry, the Yellow innovator often leads the way.
The clustering of scores in the second to sixth position is where a lot of the differences in teams begin to show up. While most teams will have strong elements of Blue leadership, the other personality types combine in unique combinations to form a holistic view of the “person” a team might represent.
The first set of results showed what fans thought of the personality of their own team. This second chart shows the same metrics but from the perspective of rival fans. In other words, what is your rival’s personality? Importantly, they still had to select from positive options rather than being allowed to claim everything about their rival is bad. Blue leadership and power loses quite a bit of its strength here, and Purple “nice and neighborly” scores plummet. The rebel personality and sophisticate make major gains, while the fighter becomes the top choice. In other words, it’s easier for fans to admit their rivals are scrappy, tough competitors, but it’s almost impossible to see them as caring, supportive friends.
Another important finding from looking at rival scores is that the variance of scores is much smaller. This means scores for rivals are more consistent, even across different teams. So while our favorite teams can have a nuanced, distinct personality, our rival team is often perceived as a singular totem. In other words, no matter who your rival is, the perception is roughly the same league-wide.
A Winning Personality?
When comparing the personality of playoff teams to those that didn’t make the postseason, there were two significant differences. Those who made a bracket had fan perceptions of a much stronger Blue leader personality, and those on the outside looking in had much more of the Black rebel archetype defining them. This makes good sense in that Blue is often associated with winning and being on top, while the rebel personality has its roots in being unconventional or different. The question becomes this: did the winning lead to the personality perception, or does the personality actually have an outcome on success?
Though there’s no way to piece out the truth from this study, it’s likely some combination of both. This is because personality perceptions change slowly over time. The Blue leader perception doesn’t go away the second your team misses the playoffs. Plenty of research about people who “fake it ’til they make it” in job settings and competitions suggests the right outward attitude and personality can actually lead to these outcomes becoming true, or being believed by others. If you believe in the Blue and think it’s a key to winning, acting like it’s already true can be motivating.
Of course, personality perceptions are likely born from lots of different factors that ultimately lead to varying success. Would it be a surprise to find that Brown resilience and scrappiness goes hand-in-hand with defensive-minded teams that grind? Or that a high-powered passing offense leads to perceptions of Red excitement and entertainment? Moreover, the personalities of stars and coaches could have a major impact. During our survey’s open-ended essay questions, Tom Brady was mentioned multiple times as having an influence on the New England Patriots’ personality profile. He’s seen as more analytical—and maybe sophisticated—than other quarterbacks, along with a storied history of success. This led to the Pats’ colors to be Blue, Pink, and Brown, the most unique and distinctive combination of any team in the league. Love them or hate them, the Patriots have a clear personality, and it can likely be tied, at least in some sense, to their quarterback.
The New England Patriots: The Sophisticated Monarch
For score profiles, the team scores for personality are notated by stars. The bars are the whole league average.
As mentioned above, the Patriots have one of the most distinct personality profiles in the NFL. Their score on Pink sophistication is so strong, in fact, that it leads every other team in the league. When deciding on a profile and persona for the Patriots, not only would one look at raw scores (which suggests a personality of Blue, Brown, and Pink) but also whether these outpace the league baseline. As such, though Yellow innovation scored fairly low in the raw sense, the fact that it’s so much higher than the league average suggests it’s at least part of the authentic personality of the team. Further, Pink sophistication might take precedence over Blue and Brown qualities.
All considered, the Patriots might be best described as a Pink, Blue, and Yellow/Brown. One other unique aspect of this team’s personality is that it has the highest correlation between the fan scores and the rival scores. Rivals of the Patriots deplore Pink while the fans embrace it. One notably amusing comment from a fan said that Patriots fans are simply “fans of Tom Brady, blinded by sheer beauty. Lost in a world untold and untouched.” Yep, rivalries can bring out the philosopher poet in anyone. Also to note, the Patriots were selected as rival more than any other team, with many citing “cheating” as a reason.
In addition to archetype scores, it’s also important to look at some key traits of the team to better enhance personality understanding. In the case of the Patriots, their biggest strengths in perception are that they’re polished and analytical. In contrast, their greatest personality flaw is being pompous (even according to their own fans).
The New Orleans Saints: The Secure Guardian
The Saints are another team that has a strong difference from the league average. Here it’s the Purple neighbor archetype. This was the only team in the league where Purple neighborliness came in second place for raw scores. It was almost always overshadowed by both Blue and Brown. Orange creativity and Red entertainment are also beating averages here. What might be interesting to note is how the Saints could potentially be tied to their city. New Orleans as a location actually has a Purple, Orange, Red/Brown personality. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine the attachment of the team to the city could be a big part of how the Saints are perceived by their own fans.
Using this data, the Saints are scored here as a Purple, Blue, Orange/Brown personality type. Rivals see less of the Blue and quite a bit less of the Purple, though it’s important to note they did retain their Purple much better than most other teams when switching to a rival perception. Rivals also saw the Red entertainer portion of the Saints personality as particularly true, plus a bit rowdy, saying “they are the most annoying fans in the league because they are always drunk and obnoxious.”
Strong traits for the Saints include confident, a play off their strong Blue score, and creative, showing the Orange archetype well. Most interesting, their greatest fault is also a decent indicator of Purple: self-sacrificing. Though in this case, that perception was only true to fans—rivals called out the major fault as being melodramatic.
The Kansas City Chiefs: The Resilient Composer
One of the few playoff teams without an overabundance of Blue power personality was Kansas City. The Chiefs were the only team to have the Orange creator archetype as its strongest personality. There was also still a good amount of Brown tenacity, while Red entertainment also flourished. This could be explained by play style or team personalities. Importantly, though, this information was drawn from a relatively small sample of fans compared to some of the other results. While it’s an interesting snapshot, it would be good to hold off on some total speculation.
The results here suggest a total personality of Orange, Brown, and Red. Blue, although higher than Red in raw score, was so far below the league average that it’s mainly a remnant of simply being a football team. Personality should transcend market vertical whenever possible. Rival fan scores were almost exactly at the league average; those who root against the Chiefs see them as a pretty generic rival. This didn’t stop at least one fan from saying they were “trash can weirdos with an average fan base.”
The strongest traits for the Chiefs were creative, playing back into the Orange theme, and relentless, a common descriptor of a Brown personality. However, their creativity may hurt them in the weakness category, with their fans calling them a bit convoluted.
The Los Angeles Rams: The Energetic Front Runner
Scores for the Rams are fairly similar to league averages, with the two exceptions being a lower amount of Brown resilience and a greater amount of Red energy. When so many scores are this close to the market average, the true personality of the organization can be a bit muddled. This no doubt is at least partially influenced by the team’s move from St. Louis back to LA. A major overhaul like that can not only shake a fan base but also have major repercussions on personality expression.
Perhaps the toughest to pinpoint currently, the Rams’ personality is likely something along the lines of Red, Blue, and Yellow. But beyond the exceptional Red score, not much is certain. Rival fans were comparatively flummoxed, with very average scores across all categories except for Brown, which they also saw lacking in the Rams’ personality. Their rivals even called them “common.” But like the Chiefs, a lack of data, even from nearly 2,000 completes, makes the rival scoring hard to pin down.
The Rams had some interesting trait scores, with clever being the biggest standout. Polished and analytical were also strong, indicating some bit of their personality might be similar to the Patriots, just not as well-defined. Their major fault, from both fans and rivals, was being melodramatic.
The Final (Personality) Showdown
After two thrilling overtime victories, the Patriots and Rams have made it to Super Bowl LIII. Both teams boast an exceptional score for Blue leadership and an above-average amount of Yellow innovation, the latter of which had an almost exact score tie for these teams. The differences arise mostly in how they present their hard work to make it this far. The Patriots show a resilient streak born from the methodical and relentless approach of returning to the game year after year. The Rams are more unconventional, having rarely even made the playoffs since their last Super Bowl appearance in 2002…when they lost to Tom Brady and the Patriots.
One interesting note from the data finds that rarely do these teams consider the other their favorite to root against. The lone Patriots fan that assessed the Rams called them “generic” and gave them low marks in Purple and Yellow personality qualities. One of the three Rams fans that listed the Patriots as their favorite to root against called them “overrated,” while, amusingly, another called them “stacked.”
Until the big game, it will be interesting to watch the expression of personality from both teams via social media, player and press comments, and official merchandise. Will the perception of either team change based on a win or loss? Could the Patriots solidify a legacy of Blue and Pink? Could the Rams be a surprise and lift their own profile and brand of Blue and Red?
What’s perhaps even more intriguing to consider across all this research is this: Do these NFL teams actually agree with the personality assessments bestowed upon them by their fans? Would the strategic marketing departments charged with constantly shaping and managing their teams’ images agree with these outcomes? This data may also present ample opportunity for NFL teams to leverage or pivot reputation gains using some different tactics.
One Last Note on Personality and Our Research
Institutional and team personality are a hot topic in market research. In essence, it guides all communications and marketing efforts. The consistency of an authentic human connection through consistent archetypal strategy is a big part of what Carnegie Dartlet spends its time in understanding. But it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Samford University’s Center for Sports Analytics tackles dozens of topics about the NFL and other major spots. More than one methodological approach to understanding fans and their teams is pivotal in making sense of fandom.
What about your favorite NFL team? Where did they score? We’re still collecting valuable data on all 32 teams in the league and rounding out the information that might be lacking for some squads. By next season, we hope to have a new survey for anyone to take that lets us evaluate your personality and match you to the closest NFL team. Until then, enjoy the Super Bowl and the close of another season of NFL football.