As the country celebrates all things NFL in preparation for Sunday's Super Bowl, the folks at Facebook have released a fascinating study which tells us things about ourselves and our rooting patterns that we otherwise may not have known.

As it turns out, Americans are prone to state their NFL fandom on their Facebook pages. More than 1 in 10 Americans have declared some sort of allegiance to an NFL team on Facebook (mostly through Liking a team's page). So, through a comprehensive study of Likes, Facebook created this cool "allegiance map" of the country.

The country is divided by county, and each area is shaded by which NFL team its users prefer. It's noteworthy how certain teams have pockets of supporters across the country (Pittsburgh Steeler fans in Western Oregon, Dallas Cowboys in Virginia). The Cowboys have perhaps the widest fan base, encompassing the majority of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, Nevada and Idaho.

The data also tells us which teams our friends are likely to support. For example, the top five fan-friendships for Chicago Bears fans were: Green Bay Packers fans, Dallas Cowboys fans, Pittsburgh Steelers fans, Indianapolis Colts fans and New England Patriots fans.

The Facebook analysts examined how the "Like" count for each team's page changed following games this season. As you'll see below, making the playoffs was huge for NFL teams. "Likes" on their pages were three times higher for a playoff loss than a regular season win. This growing affection for teams that qualify for the postseason explains the widespread love for the historically successful squads like the Steelers and the Cowboys.

For the entire study, see here.

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Facebook, NFL

The race to create new ways for fans to enjoy interacting with sports continues. It is evocative of the Oklahoma Land Rush, with innovators competing to create the next new niche that delivers an experience that is novel and fun. The 800-pound gorilla in the field is the $1.5 billion fantasy sports market.

The number of participating fans continues to explode exponentially. Reports of thousands of fans who participate from their computer at work are an indication of the burgeoning fantasy mania. Years ago my former partner Jeff Moorad, technologist Mike Kearns and I talked about the concept, which they later developed, of a stock market speculating on the value of players. An enterprising young company has a new twist on the sports speculation experience, which combines fantasy sports and finance and mobile gaming.

Sports Tradex, founded by Houston-based CEO Benjamin Lipson, is a virtual futures market or stock market for teams and players. Users on the site buy and sell players to predict sports outcomes or performance and compete for cash prizes. What is novel is the ability of the users to be active in real time during games. As the action continues to develop, fans can trade their positions. "This is a constantly fluctuating market that is different than picking a team or player or players to win," Lipson commented. "Our users can be active during the game."

Users sign up for free and get 5,000 units of virtual currency. With this currency, users can enter contests, many of which are free. Some contests have a fee to sign up -- usually between $5 and $25. Depending on the contest, currency can be used to invest in an different players to create a fantasy team or can be used to invest in an entire team the user anticipates to be the most profitable. Suppose a player were to break his arm during the contest, a user can trade their units in that player. But the value of the units will drop if everyone tries to sell them at once, emulating a stock exchange. In certain contests the player who aggregates the most virtual units can win cash prizes.

The site also offers some unique content in the form of user generated probabilities. For example, the Sports Tradex market gives the 49ers a 65 percent of winning the Super and the Ravens a 35 percent chance. The company likes to compare their predictions with other sources, like AccuScore and Vegas lines. As of this writing that prediction differs from the betting lines. The points on the 49ers continue to drop as fanatic Ravens fans are in a betting frenzy.

There will be stiff competition between fantasy sports sites. The derivations will continue to develop with numerous start-ups involved. There are websites like Star Street Inc., that allow users to play for just one day, buy and sell shares, and win cash prizes. This doesn't include employer user-generated market prices. The trend for innovation and new start-ups is similar to the Internet craze of the 1990's. But unlike that period, where there was a difficulty in proving revenue flow and monies came from IPOs and investor dollars -- the advertising model is expanding.

Players in these competitions can play on their computers or tablets during games, and soon this will expand to mobile applications so users can trade easily on handheld devices. Sports Tradex currently has contests for Major League Baseball and the NFL, but certainly will rollout in all major sports. As in the 1990's, the survivors in this start-up fight will be those companies with astute management, adequate financing and financial controls, and holistically imagined business models. So the land rush will continue and the best and brightest will quickly find the most profitable parcels. Those companies that are flawed in one of the prior categories may find themselves stuck at the starting line.

-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.

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For football fans used to seeing a simulated first down line on their television screens, it may be easy to forget that players and spectators at the stadium don't have this luxury.

Instead, teams still rely on field judges and first down markers, which are helpful but imperfect.

Soon all this might change, as an entrepreneur with financial backing from former NFL player and broadcaster Pat Summerall is hard at work on a laser marker that could be a literal and figurative game-changer.

The businessman, Alan Amron, has developed and patented the First Down Laser System. Amron's invention projects a light green laser across the field which would be visible on TV as well as to players and fans. This laser wouldn't eliminate the chain gang, rather it would help the officials to more accurately measure ball placement.

Amron recently told the Associated Press that he has met with the NFL twice, in 2003 and 2009, and he made revisions to the laser idea after both meetings.

"They give me different opinions and suggestions along the way," Amron said. "We comply with them and come back. They tell me it took them years and years to implement replay and the overhead cam. The NFL right now has made it very clear to us that they didn't want to eliminate the chains, but augmenting them wouldn't be a bad idea."

While the officials normally get the ball placement correct, some argue that it would be best to eliminate the possibility of human error.

"A misplaced ball on a first-down measurement can mean the difference between winning and losing a game," Summerall told the Associated Press.

Summerall also thinks the laser could play a part in the NFL's drive to get fans off of their couches and into the stadiums. This new first down marker, along with super-sized video boards and better in-game technology, could significant enhance the league's in-stadium experience.

While the NFL has not committed to adding the laser marker, it has expressed interest in working with Amron.

"We have not been convinced that it would work for us," Greg Aiello, an NFL spokesman, told the Associated Press."But we are open to further discussion after the season."

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Have you ever been on Twitter during a big game when everyone except one person is tweeting about the matchup? Or all your friends, co-workers and family are tweeting about the game, but that one celebrity you follow just won't stop tweeting about Breaking Bad?

If you've ever been in that position, SportStream is here to help.

A San Francisco-based startup, SportStream offers fans a streamlined version of their social media timelines.

The program combs through Twitter and Facebook to bring fans an entirely new conversation. No more spam, only team news, fan reaction and other messages that people want to see. SportStream CEO Bob Morgan told Wired that 83 percent of fans check social media sites during games. But before SportStream it was hard to find a platform meant exclusively for the game.

SportStream has already partnered with the Seattle Seahawks, and you can check out Seattle's site here.

"Our partnership with SportStream provides Seahawks fans one location to view all team related news and information from respected sources," Seahawks president Peter McLoughlin told the team's website.

SportStream also offers fans a personalized virtual chatroom, a place where they can go during games to talk exclusively about that matchup. If the partnership with the Seahawks goes well, SportStream may work with the NCAA on creating a similar platform for college basketball fans.

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