There are several factors that influence the cultural makeup of the city. Things like race, age, and immigration patterns have been the subject of countless studies by sociologists and other scholars. One aspect of a cities culture that I have always been fascinated by, and one that has been virtually ignored by scholars is their affinity (or lack thereof) for their local sports franchises. Sports can be an incredibly unifying factor for a city but not every city seems to come together around their sports franchises to the same magnitude, or in the same manner.
This article will discuss 13 cities that revolve around their sports team and 12 that couldn’t care less. Not only does this discussion tell us a lot of the current climate of professional sports in North America, it also tells us about the cultural history of these cities themselves. The factors that I used in compiling this list are fan attendance, merchandise sales, fan support during successful and unsuccessful times, and the relationship between the local franchises and the citizens of their city.
25 Obsessed- Bean Town or Sports Town (Boston)
Boston sports fans are consistently ranked as some of the most annoying in the country but that is because they are so passionate about their local franchises. I have noticed some apathy towards the Celtics and Bruins if they aren't doing well but I think that the Red Sox and Patriots could sell out their games even if they were winless.
This is especially impressive considering that the Patriots stadium isn't even in Boston. It is in the nearby town of Foxboro Massachusetts.
24 Couldn’t Care Less- City of Angels, Not Sports
They can shove as many professional sports teams as they want into Los Angeles, it does not mean that southern Californians will actually show up to any of the games. The Lakers are the only professional franchise in LA that gets consistent fan attendance.
This became even more pronounced when the Rams and Chargers moved their teams to LA from St. Louis and San Diego. These clubs made the move for marketing reasons but they have to be disappointed with the fan apathy to this point. Both the Rams and Chargers are slated for the playoffs, so we will have to see if this builds up excitement for football in LA.
23 Obsessed- College in Morgantown
There is a special relationship between states that don't have a professional sports franchise and their local division 1 college teams. Perhaps nowhere is this more prevalent than in Morgantown, WV, home of the WVU Mountaineers.
Because there is no pro sports team within the state of West Virginia, there is no cultural affinity for any professional franchise. The citizens of West Virginia take all of that pent-up feeling and give it to the Mountaineers. I have never been in a state where more people who never attended college cheer for the college team on game days.
22 Couldn’t Care Less- Bear Down Arizona (Phoenix)
Arizona is a weird state. It carries with it the same western swagger as Texas or California but is not big or diverse enough to have a significant impact on the national scene. There is another weird thing about Arizona, its largest cities seem utterly apathetic towards their sports franchises.
I wouldn't call the Phoenix Suns, Coyotes, Arizona Cardinals, or Arizona Diamondbacks the best-run franchises in their respective leagues, but each of them has had some measure of success. But even when these teams are playing well, they still have trouble selling out their stadiums.
21 Obsessed- New York Pride
New York sports fans are probably the most controversial fans in North American sports. Some people get upset over their treatment of opposing (or sometimes even their own) fans. Others applaud their typically high attendance. For the most part, I find myself in that second group. I find New York fans as annoying as anyone else but I think that most passionate fan bases can be annoying at times. I think that New Yorkers should be applauded for supporting their local teams, especially considering how many teams call the Big Apple home.
20 Couldn’t Care Less- Portland Fans Not Trail Blazing
Portland, Oregon only has one professional sports franchise, which makes it all the more embarrassing that they can't be bothered to show up to that teams' games. The Trail Blazers have had some very bad seasons, but they have also had some very good ones. Even when they were at their height, the fans still weren't clambering to get into the arena.
Portland is a strange city, and it seems like the culture there just isn't conducive to a rabid sports fan base. There is constant talk of an NBA team going back to Seattle, so maybe they could pilfer one from their southern neighbors.
19 Obsessed- Cleveland: The Mistake By the Lake
The city of Cleveland gets a lot of flak, both in general and in regards to their sports teams. You might not respect any of the teams that call Cleveland home but you have to respect the resolve and passion of the Cleveland fans. The "mistake by the lake" has had three professional sports franchises - the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers, for a long time. For most of these teams' histories, they have been terrible. Because of that, whenever these teams are actually good (when Lebron was with the Cavs, the last few years of the Indians) the fan support is outrageous.
18 Couldn’t Care Less- Not the Capital of Fandom (Washington DC)
I'm not convinced that the nation's capital should even have sports franchises. Judging from the attendance of all 4 sport franchises, the local fans might agree. There have been a lot of sports franchises that have called Washington D.C. home, but of the current crop, only the Redskins get consistent attendance.
The Capitals won the Stanley Cup last year and even they can't sell out all of their games. Things are even worse for the Wizards and Nationals. This might explain why the Nationals are willing to break the bank for Bryce Harper.
17 Obsessed- Regrets in Seattle
Sometimes you don't realize how much you care about something until it is gone. This is true of relationships and of sports franchises. The Oklahoma City Thunder have had steady fan attendance in OKC but they might have some regrets about leaving Seattle after seeing the fan reaction in the city to losing their beloved SuperSonics.
The franchise was putrid for years before the move but you can't tell me that the SuperSonics couldn't sell tickets with Westbrook and Durant on the team.
If you need more evidence of Seattle's love for its sports franchises, look at the attendance for the Seahawks.
16 Couldn’t Care Less- Atlanta fans aren't always invested
Atlanta sports fans get a lot of flak for failing to support their local teams. But Atlanta fans aren't like some other fans in this article who wouldn't support their team no matter how successful they are. Instead, they are your quintessential "fair weather" fans, who always show up in droves when the team is winning but quickly rescind into the shadows when they start to lose. This isn't true fandom.
You cannot truly appreciate a team's success if you weren't also invested in the bad years. In the past five years, Atlanta fans have shown their flaky support for the Falcons and Hawks.
15 Obsessed- Pittsburgh: the Self-Proclaimed City of Champions
The city of Pittsburgh has a special relationship with its sports franchises. There is a connection between the Pittsburghers and the Steelers, Penguins, and (to a lesser extent) the Pirates. That is part of the reason why all three teams have adopted the same colors - black and yellow - for their jerseys and colors.
Both the Steelers and Penguins have been great for years and the fans have awarded them with consistently high attendance. There is a three-year wait list to become a Steelers season ticket holder. The Pirates also have pretty good attendance considering the fact that their franchise is consistently underwhelming.
14 Couldn’t Care Less- Horrible Houston
It is hard to criticize a city for apathy towards their sports franchises until they have had some level of success. It is understandable if fans aren't rabidly supporting a team that loses every week but when they still aren't paying attention to a playoff team, they draw my ire. As a sports city, Houston Texas is pretty spoiled.
The Rockets are usually competitive and both the Oilers and the Texans had years when they were Super Bowl contenders. But I never saw as much excitement as if teams of this caliber played in a place like Cleveland.
13 Obsessed- Charging in Wisconsin
For the purposes of this article, I have decided to count Milwaukee and Green Bay as a single city. This area has been blessed by some historically good franchises and they have responded by becoming die-hard fans. Even when the Brewers and Bucks aren't very good, their fan attendance stays at a respectable level. But the king of sports in Wisconsin is the Packers.
NFL.com recently ran an article where they asked former players what stadium was their favorite to play at. Lambeau Field was the most popular answer, and I think that the local fans are a big part of that.
12 Couldn’t Care Less- It’s Too Nice In Miami For Sports
There are certain places and climates that just aren't conducive to building rabid sports fan bases. Miami is a perfect example. The local fans might come out for the Dolphins or Heat if they are playing particularly well (during the Lebron era was the only time that the Heat was consistently selling out their stadium) but they have shown complete apathy for the Marlins.
I am convinced that the Marlins could win 50 games in a row and they would still play their 51st game in front of 700 fans.
11 Obsessed- Detroit Proud
The city of Detroit has a lot of problems. Following the industrial collapse of the 20th century and the financial crisis of 2008, the city was in dire straits. None of these problems stopped the local fans from rabidly supporting their sports teams. And it wasn't because any of these teams were particularly good. The Lions have been a laughing stock for decades, the Pistons are more famous for getting in fights than winning championships, and the Tigers have been consistently inconsistent.
The only team with any winning pedigree is the Red Wings, and they have been idolized by Detroit fans because of it.
10 Couldn’t Care Less- Tepid Tampa
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have decided to give away a portion of their tickets away for free for the remainder of the season. This is not the action of a team with an interested fan base. According to a recent Yahoo Sports article, the Buccaneers currently rate third to last in fan attendance. This was evident against the San Francisco 49ers when they had their worst attendance of the past 30 years. Attendance for Rays games isn't any better.
The city of Tampa should be very concerned that they might lose their franchises if fan apathy continues.
9 Obsessed- Pandemonium in Philly
Philadelphia sports fans are a little too rabid for my taste. They got the attention of the nation during last year's Super Bowl run by the Eagles. After every big win they were videotaped climbing light poles, fighting with cops, and generally going wild. Some locals were upset at the way that these fans portrayed their city but all of their actions were the result of their passion for the local franchises.
If the 76ers or Flyers ever win a meaningful game, they can expect the same treatment, for better or worse.
8 Couldn’t Care Less- What is Indianapolis?
I have been to a lot of cities but nowhere that I have visited reminded me more of the color beige than Indianapolis, Indiana. There was nothing wrong with this city but there also wasn't anything there that overly impressed me.
I have similar feelings about their city's sports fan base. There is nothing particularly wrong with the Indianapolis sports fan, most of their teams rank in about the middle of their respective leagues for fan attendance. The problem is that these fans don't seem to come to games with the intensity that other fan bases do.
7 Obsessed- Sports in the Big Easy (New Orleans)
New Orleans is a great sports town. The Big Easy is all about entertainment and what is sports but the greatest form of spectator entertainment? What amazes me so much about New Orleans is that the fans are so supportive of their local sports teams when there are so many other things to do in the city.
The Pelicans and Saints are consistently sold out, though this might reflect how well these teams have played in recent years. For now, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt and ranking New Orleans as one of the best sports cities.
6 Couldn’t Care Less- The Cincinnati Curse
I don't really understand the lack of enthusiasm that the city of Cincinnati has for its sports franchises. Sure, the Reds and Bengals haven't been spectacular this year but both teams have a history of being competitive. If the Cincinnati fans were more concerned with their local teams, Marvin Lewis probably wouldn't have been able to rest on his laurels for the past 12 years. Similarly, there should be much more of an uproar to get Pete Rose, a former Reds player and the all-time hits leader, into the MLB Hall of Fame.
5 Obsessed- Don’t Sleep on St. Louis
When people talk about major cities in the United States, St. Louis is the city that they seem to forget about the most. But the Gateway to the West has a lot to offer, including a great sports fan base. They lost the Rams to big city politics but the Blues get regular fan attendance from the NHL crowd.
The gem of the city, however, is the Cardinals. St. Louis is a huge baseball town and when the Cardinals are good, every single game in the baseball season is meaningful.
4 Couldn’t Care Less- The Downfall of Denver
Just because a city was once a great sports city, doesn't mean that it still is. In the 1970s and 80s, it was hard to play in Denver. The local fans were so ravenous that opposing players felt intimidated coming into the Mile High City. Not so much anymore. Denver has become a trendy destination for young adults, and these migrants don't have the same affinity for the local teams.
Attendance for the Broncos, Nuggets, Rockies, and Avalanche has suffered as a result. As the city becomes more populated by migrants, this trend should continue.
3 Obsessed- College is Big in Columbus
Not every great sports town in the United States has a professional franchise. Until the 1960s, college athletics were a much bigger market than any professional league. You can still get a taste for this bygone era when you visit Columbus, Ohio.
Columbus is, of course, home to Ohio State and the Buckeyes. Columbus is obsessed with their local team. You cannot go anywhere on game days that doesn't have the game on and when they lose, it ruins the cities atmosphere for the whole week.
2 Couldn’t Care Less- Apathy By the Bay (San Francisco)
The city of San Francisco has a great sports history. As the demographics of the city have changed, however, support for these great franchises has faded. The San Francisco Giants have been one of the best MLB franchises of the 21st century but they have seen their fan attendance decrease ever since Barry Bonds retires. Attendance has been even worse for those franchises that haven't won championships.
Levi’s Stadium, home of the 49ers, has been conspicuously empty on game days. This is coming from one of the all-time great franchises in the history of the NFL.
1 Obsessed- Twins in the Twin City (Minneapolis)
Minneapolis is a great sports city. There is a unique connection between the local fans and every single franchise that calls that city home. This is especially apparent when those teams, or even individual players, are playing well.
This phenomenon comes out in a recent Sports Illustrated article about Joe Mauer. Mauer was a fantastic baseball player who just retired after a long career with the Minnesota Twins. The article talked about the fact that Mauer can't go out in the city without someone offering to buy his drink. I wonder if stars from the Vikings, Timberwolves, and Wild get the same treatment?
References: YahooSports, NFL.com