NFC South not as small as you think

July, 17, 2012
7/17/12
4:28
PM ET
We’ve talked a lot in the past about how the NFC South is filled with small markets.

Is it really? I’m not so sure after looking at the list of the top 100 television markets, put out by the NFL.

The NFC South has one market in the top 10 and two more in the top 25. Atlanta is No. 9, one spot behind Washington, D.C. That doesn’t qualify as small in my eyes. But I do think Atlanta has an issue going on behind the scenes. Although the Falcons have their share of die-hard fans, casual fans have never embraced a team that hasn’t been consistently good until recent years. It also doesn’t help matters that college football and the Atlanta Braves are very big deals in that region.

Tampa-St. Petersburg (along with Sarasota) is No. 14, one spot behind Phoenix and one spot ahead of Minneapolis St. Paul. Heck you could even factor in the Orlando market, which is No. 19, because it’s only about a 90-minute drive from Tampa. Despite a whopping population, the Bucs have had trouble selling out home games in recent years. I don’t think you can blame that on a small market. I think the economy, a transient population and the team’s recent struggles are more to blame.

And I don’t think Charlotte, at No. 25, qualifies as a small market, especially when you look at No. 24 and see nearby Raleigh. The Panthers haven’t had attendance issues and they also have done a nice job of penetrating all areas of the Carolinas. Think back, when he got the expansion team owner Jerry Richardson insisted on calling the team the Carolina Panthers, not the Charlotte Panthers.

The reality is there's only one NFC South city that truly can be called a small market.

I’m surprised every year when this list comes out and see where New Orleans ranks. It’s No. 52 this year, two spots ahead of Scranton/Wilkes- Barre, Pa. That’s the area I grew up in and I think of it as small. But, in terms of television sets, it’s just about as big as New Orleans. Funny, but the skyline of New Orleans is a lot more populated than what Scranton and Wilkes-Barre have.

The only television market with an NFL team that’s smaller than New Orleans is Green Bay, which is No. 69. We all know Green Bay and the Packers are a special situation, with die-hard fans that care about little else than their team. In a lot of ways, I think New Orleans has become a lot like Green Bay.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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