Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills' growing fandom shows how more people are rooting for players over teams

    (CNN)The Buffalo Bills, led by quarterback Josh Allen, beat the New England Patriots 47-17 during this weekend's NFL's opening playoff round. As a huge Bills fan, I was rooting for Allen to do well.

    But an analysis of recent online search trends indicates that team loyalty like mine may not be as widespread in the age of free agency and social media. Plenty of sports fans are more interested in individual players than teams.
    This is seen throughout football, the sports industry and even across continents -- with Allen and the Bills proving a fascinating example of this growing phenomenon.
      The Bills have historically not been a team with national appeal. Based in the second smallest metropolitan area in the US for a pro football team -- according to the 2020 US Census, Buffalo had a population of 1.17 million compared to New York City's 20.14 million -- their games are rarely shown nationally often.
        Allen on the field before a game against the Atlanta Falcons.
        However, I noticed something while reviewing which local television markets were broadcasting which games this season. All Bills games weren't just shown in Buffalo's local market, but also in the Southeastern Wyoming market.
        For those without a map, southeastern Wyoming is thousands of miles from Buffalo. So why do people there even care?
        Well, for starters, southeastern Wyoming is home to the University of Wyoming, where Allen went to college and starred for the Cowboys. Also, the state doesn't have an NFL team of its own, so it makes sense they want to keep tabs on a local hero.
          Allen throws for the Wyoming Cowboys against Boise State on October 21, 2017.
          Former CBS executive Steve Warner told me local television stations broadcast Bills games because they know their viewers are interested in watching Allen play.
          We can see how much interest Allen has drummed up in the Bills since his arrival by looking at Google search data.
          Allen's Bills are the most searched team over the last year in New York, not surprisingly, likely due to their consecutive AFC East division titles and the New York Jets' and Giants' recent struggles.
          They're also the second most searched team in Wyoming. To put that in perspective, there's no other state outside the Northeast where the Bills are even in the top five most searched teams over the last year. The Bills also ranked in the top two in Wyoming from March to August 2021 before the NFL season began, so it's not that people are searching for the Bills in Wyoming just because their games are being shown there.
          An examination of Google data in 2017 -- before Allen's arrival in Buffalo -- shows things were very different. While the Bills did rank No. 1 in New York searches, they didn't rank inside the top 20 in Wyoming.
          In other words, the data suggests that Allen is driving interest in the Bills among a group of people who previously hadn't cared much about the Buffalo team.