Blue Devils v. Tar Heels: Running the (alumni) numbers

Duke v. UNC is consistently ranked the best rivalry in college basketball, and one of the greatest rivalries of all American sports:

The teams are consistently among the best in their sport. The campuses are all of eight miles apart. The games are among the most hyped of each college basketball season and they rarely disappoint, and frequently determine the ACC champion.

Beyond head-to-head competition, the rivalry is close on nearly every metric: fan base (measured as revenue relative to team’s performance), NBA pedigree/NBA draft efficiency, and general interest on Google search.

Duke Blue Devils v. UNC Tar Heels Men’s Basketball, Google Search Interest, 2004-2014

Blue Devils vs Tar Heels

But, what about the size of their fan base? And, where are their fans located?

Lacking access to the troves of Facebook user data recently used (by Facebook) to map NFL team preferences, and lacking the inclusion of NCAA Basketball in the CommonCensus Sports Project, I used data from each school’s alumni association to estimate size and location of potential fans.

UNC has a large alumni advantage over Duke. In May 2012, the Tar Heels had 286,707 living alumni. In contrast, Duke has 154,200 living alumni (as of late 2013). This reflects general enrollment patterns; UNC has twice as many currently enrolled students as Duke: 29,100 versus 14,600.

The Tar Heels’ alumni advantage is heavily concentrated in the South. In North Carolina, UNC alumni outnumber Duke alumni by more than 5 to 1. In South Carolina and Georgia, there are nearly 2 Carolina alumni for every Duke alumnus. Outside of the South, Duke takes a slight edge.

This map shows whether Duke or UNC has a larger alumni base for each of 11 states for which there is enough data to make a comparison. The remaining states don’t have sufficient data to make comparisons, but may be more likely to have a larger population of Duke graduates than UNC grads, given Duke alumni’s greater dispersion throughout the states.

Of course, one does not need to be a graduate to be a fan—and many sports fans enjoy the rivalry without cheering one particular team. When Duke and UNC meet on March 8th, the outcome of the game may be unknown, but one thing’s for sure: millions of sports fans nationwide will tune in to see these rivals battle it out.

About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Population Center.

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