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Fun with Numbers: What’s the REAL Best City for Sports?

Friday, February 3, 2012, 23:42 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Boston vs. New YorkAfter yesterday’s pre-Super Bowl post, I had intended to wait until after Sunday’s game to write again about sports. But I had to renege in order to contest this ridiculous montage from AOL.

Somebody (the perpetrator, er, author won’t ‘fess up) decided to rank the top ten best sports cities in the United States, based at least in part on the following criteria:

In order to decide which cities have the luckiest fans, we started with those that have at least two professional teams in or near the city. We then ranked each city based on the number of teams it has and the total number of sports the teams represented. We also factored in the popularity of the teams — based on attendance and change in attendance — the win-loss records of the teams in each city, and the number of championships each team won.

Those guidelines established, and understanding that “professional teams” means “professional major league teams,” here’s the list in descending order:

10. Washington, D.C. (4 teams, 4 sports, 0 titles in the last 10 years)
9. Minneapolis-St. Paul (4 teams, 4 sports, 0 titles)
8. Denver (4 teams, 4 sports, 0 titles)
7. Detroit (4 teams, 4 sports, 3 titles)
6. Dallas (4 teams, 4 sports, 1 title)
5. Philadelphia (4 teams, 4 sports, 1 title)
4. Los Angeles (6 teams, 3 sports, 5 titles)
3. Chicago (5 teams, 4 sports, 2 titles)
2. Boston (4 teams, 4 sports, 6 titles)
1. New York (9 teams, 4 sports, 3 titles)

If you’re scratching your head over the order of the top two, you aren’t the only one. Both areas are home to all four major team sports. But as the photo caption for Boston notes, “No city has won more championships than Boston in the last decade. Each of the four major teams in the region has won the top title for its league in the past seven years.” So how is it that Boston, with fewer than half the teams of the New York metropolitan area but twice the championships in the last 10 years, comes in second to its bigger and smellier neighbor to the southwest? Using any mathematical method known to man or woman, six is more than three. Even if the Giants beat the Patriots on Sunday, that will lop the first Pats Super Bowl off the tally sheet and add one championship to New York’s total, leaving Boston with the lead at five titles to New York’s four. Either way, advantage: Boston.

Perhaps New York beats Boston because of the sheer number of teams that manage to draw enough fans to keep them going. New York certainly leads the way there, with multiple teams in every sport. But how much of a feat is that, given that it’s the most populous city and the most populous metropolitan area in North America? According to 2010 census data compiled on this Wikipedia page, the population of New York City dwarfs that of Boston by a factor of 13 to 1, and the New York Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is four times bigger than the Boston MSA. Considering that the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics have been selling out for years, the New York market should be able to support at least 12 teams to be comparable to what Boston supports. Looking at the teams per capita, Boston has the edge.

(For the rest of the comparisons, I looked at the last decade of full seasons, plus the current NHL and NBA seasons through last night. Keep in mind that means ten NFL seasons, ten MLB seasons, 10½ seasons, but only 9½ seasons because of the 2004-05 NHL lockout.)

How about average attendance? Using data from ESPN.com (and disclosing my inability to find NFL figures for 2002 through 2006 or NHL attendance percentages from 2001-02 through 2005-06), average season attendance for New York area teams was higher at 1,291,515 compared to 1,248,175 for the Boston area. But that’s with football and baseball facilities in New York that have thousands more seats than those that are home to Boston’s teams. Considering attendance as a percentage of capacity of the facilities, Boston beats New York 96.9% to 87%. Re-read what I wrote in the last paragraph and repeat after me: Boston has the edge.

Perhaps New York comes out ahead in terms of regular season win-loss records. New York has the Yankees, one of the winningest teams in the country (in any sport) over the last decade; the Devils, with only one losing season in that time span; the Giants, with only two losing seasons; and the Rangers and Jets, each of which has more winning seasons than losing ones. On the other hand, they also have the hapless Islanders and Knicks, plus the mediocre Mets. All of Boston’s teams have won more seasons than they’ve lost, with the Pats and Sox doing it every year. So how does it come out overall? New York teams have a combined winning percentage of .493, Boston teams .603. Once again, Boston wins handily.

Ironically, though, it seems that New York’s perennial bottom-dwellers have catapulted that city to #1 on this list. “[T]here is a team in New York for any kind of sports fan. For those perpetually rooting for the underdog, the Islanders in hockey, the Mets in baseball, and the Nets in basketball have struggled for years.” And there you have it—by providing so many opportunities for fans to watch losers, New York “wins.” Sheesh.

Maybe I’ve identified another area where Boston beats out New York. We can do math.

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