I’ll admit that one of my guiltiest pleasures is reading the comments sections of various sports outlets and watching them devolve into a pissing contest about which city is supreme in the realm of sports. Though these conversations tend to rely more on ALL CAPS and name-calling than actual arguments, I still (and partly because of this) find them highly entertaining.
As such, I decided to compile a list of the 15 Greatest North American Cities for Professional Sports. The criteria for this list will be a mixture of many factors. Though championships and team success will influence the rankings, they will not be the primary formula. Instead, this list will seek to recognize the franchises and cities which are synonymous with the various professional sports leagues. Therefore, the history of a franchise in the city, as well as how the fans of that city view its franchises are highly determinative in my selections.
In order to prevent too arduous of a research process, I wanted to limit the analysis of these cities to the four major sports; football, basketball, baseball, and hockey. Not only that but cities like Seattle (who admittedly have one of the best fan bases in the NFL) are not listed because (with the departure of the Supersonics in 2008) they only have one professional sports franchise. All stories listed in this article, as well as facts about certain cities, are from the firsthand knowledge of the author. All facts related to the franchises themselves are derived from ESPN.com.
15. Cincinnati, Ohio
I debated putting Cincinnati on this list simply due to the fact that they currently only have two professional sport franchises, the Reds and the Bengals. However, I eventually decided to include them, in no small part, due to the fanatical fans of the Big Red Machine. Still riding high from the glories of the Pete Rose and Johnny Bench era, the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati is consistently ranked as one of the best baseball experiences in the MLB and even when the Reds are performing poorly (like they were this year), the fans still manage to show up in droves. Who says you need to be good to be passionate? One of the great fanbases in baseball allows Cincy to sneak into this list, even without its own NHL or NBA team.
14. Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
A recent trip to Minneapolis may have influenced my decision to put the Twin Cities on this list, but while there it was staggering to see how many Vikings and Twins gear people were wearing. Though the Vikings have been to four Super Bowls, the cities main brush with championships was the Twins iconic 1991 World Series win. The huge fans in Minnesota (as well as Atlanta, which also makes our list) was clearly a factor as the Twins won all 4 of their games at home while losing all 3 on the road to the Atlanta Braves.
Both teams were no stranger to the dramatics, as 4 of the games were won on the final at-bat, and extra innings was needed to decide 3 of them.
Despite a lack of significant accomplishments, the incredible support of the fanbase (I think it has something to do with the cold and the isolation) allows Minneapolis and St. Paul to grace our list at #14.
13. Denver, Colorado
I have often heard ESPN and other sports outlets be accused of an east coast or west coast bias in regards to their coverage, but the truth is, this is simply where the overwhelming majority of professional sports teams are located. The exception to this, of course, is the Mile High City Denver, home to four separate sports franchises (Broncos, Avalanche, Nuggets, Rockies). With their status as the primary sports city in the Rockies, these franchises are adored throughout a large geographic area. Not only that, but the high altitude in Denver creates a very unique environment for both fans and visiting players. It also doesn’t hurt that the Broncos have won several super bowls, and have employed two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in John Elway and Peyton Manning.
12. Toronto, Ontario
The only non-U.S. city on this list, Toronto uses its Canadian status to draw in fans to its three sports clubs. To begin this conversation, we have to talk about the Toronto Maple Leafs. Though much maligned in recent years, the Leafs are historically a premier NHL team, winning the Stanley Cup on 13 separate occasions with the help of some of the greatest players to every play professional hockey. The constant griping on the part of Maple Leaf fans is just proof of their continued investment in the team and a show of their everlasting fandom. Throw in the significant fan support shown for the Blue Jays and Raptors (who have been somewhat successful recently) and you’ve got the makings of the #11 city on our list.
11. Atlanta, Georgia
I always find it interesting when a city has an NFL team, but its heart truly lies with another sports franchise. Such is the story with Atlanta, as the monumental success of the Braves in the 90s combined with the influence of Ted Turner have very much made Atlanta a baseball town. Carried by perhaps the greatest pitching staff ever assembled (Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz), the Braves won an unprecedented 15 straight Division Titles from 1991-2005. This caused the Atlanta based team to build an enormous fanbase, not only within the confines of Georgia, but nationwide. A lack of championships keeps Atlanta from being higher on this list but the consistently impressive support for the Falcons, Braves, and Hawks puts them in the discussion at #11.
10. San Francisco, California
Does anything illustrate a cities hunger for sports more than stealing another cities sports franchise? That is exactly what San Francisco did in 1957 when one of baseball’s storied franchises, the New York Giants, moved to the west coast. Rather than have buyers remorse, Giants games have habitually high attendance and the team has had two recent World Series title runs. San Francisco’s quest for sports isn’t limited to baseball, however, as the 49ers have won an impressive five Super Bowls and employed one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Joe Montana. The absence of an NBA or NHL team prevents San Fran from being higher on our list.
9. Detroit, Michigan
I think the most endearing thing about Detroit as a great sports city is that, despite all the issues and problems associated with the city, the fans still maintain such great attendance at their sporting events. I think it’s incredible that people going through such intense hardships are able to find a reprieve in their local teams. In addition to this, they have what’s most likely the most recognizable team in the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings. Throughout their storied history the Red Wings have won the Stanley Cup 11 times, more than any other U.S. based team. However, their great players aren’t limited to just the Red Wings and Gordie Howe, as Barry Sanders, Miguel Cabrera, and Chauncey Billups are also Detroit greats. Good for 9th on our list.
8. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia sports fans have become much maligned in recent years due to their strong reactions to their teams failings (pelting Santa Claus with snowballs kind of sealed their fate in the court of public opinion), however, isn’t this reaction merely a representation of how passionate they are about their sports teams? Though they have limited success over the years (10 championships), the sports teams of Philly have a long history of prominence. The 76ers and Flyers are some of the most well-known teams in their respected leagues and the Phillies and Eagles have a long history in the city. For those reasons (and as not to endure the wrath of their fans), I place the angry city of Philadelphia at #8 on our list of greatest pro sports cities.
7. Dallas, Texas
The #7 city on our list shows that a great sports city can be almost completely predicated on a single sports franchise. Though the Texans have made some inroads in recent years, the entire area surrounding the city of Dallas is Cowboy’s country. Some fans scoff at the moniker of “America’s Team”, but it is hard to argue with the impressive fanbase the Cowboys possess. While their on field success has diminished lately, they still have won an impressive five Super Bowls and, with the addition of rookie phenomenon Dak Prescott, it appears the team is again on the upswing. Add in the success of the Dallas Mavericks, led by super owner Mark Cuban, and it’s not surprising to see Dallas listed fairly high on our list of the greatest professional sports cities.
6. Green Bay/Milwaukee, Wisconsin
It will be apparent later in this list that iconic arenas weigh heavily on a particular city being named to our rankings. Perhaps no arena in sports is more iconic than Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. Not only that, but they have the distinction of being the winner of the first two Super Bowls and the home of one of the greatest coaches in the history of sports, Vince Lombardi. It definitely didn’t hurt that they went from one hall of famer in Brett Farve, to another one like Aaron Rodgers. Throw in the modicum of success that the Brewers and Bucks have enjoyed in their short histories and that’s enough to get these cheeseheads on our list.
5. Boston, Massachusetts
As I mentioned in the introduction, this list will not be entirely predicated on the amount of championships each city has won. However, it is hard to ignore the staggering amount of rings won by the professional teams in Boston. Led by the Celtics with an NBA record 17 Finals wins, the city of Boston has a collective 31 championships. Not only do they have a myriad of accomplishments, but also a significant sports history with legendary Fenway Park being the home of the Red Sox and the Bruins being one of the “Original Six” NHL franchises. Throw in some all-time great players like Larry Bird, Tom Brady, and David Ortiz, and it is hard to argue against Boston’s inclusion on this list.
4. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
I think they might evict me from my college apartment if I didn’t mention the Steel City on this list. The plethora of championships aside, I think the greatest thing about Pittsburgh pro-sports is the continuity between the three franchises. Not only do they share a color pattern (black, gold, and white), but it is also very common to see representatives of the various franchises at important games for the other teams. Pirates ace pitcher Gerrit Cole drew some criticism for constantly being at Penguins games this past year (with beer in hand), but I think it’s great that he legitimately likes watching Pittsburgh’s NHL franchise. Unfortunately, the lack of an NBA team keeps Pittsburgh from being higher on this list, but they find themselves in the very respectable position of #4 on our list.
3. Los Angeles, California
It’s surprising to me that with Los Angeles being the movie capital of the world that sports teams are able to maintain such a steady fan base, but the teams there have shown that if they continue to win the fans will continue to support them. Led by the income generating juggernaut Lakers, LA sports arenas are habitually filled, and there was enough of a sports demand to influence the NFL Rams to move their team from St. Louis. The popularity of the Lakers among movies stars and other celebrities adds to the overall atmosphere of the Staples Center making it one of the more unique fan experiences in the NBA. With the perfect mixture of historical significance (Lakers, Dodgers) and current success (Kings, Clippers), the City of Angels just misses out on the top spot at #3.
2. New York City, New York
I think New York City is the only city on our list to be named due to the sheer magnitude of teams within its borders. Just within the Big Four sports leagues alone, NYC is represented by an impressive seven sports franchises. Not only that, some of these teams (Yankees, Rangers), are the standard bearers for their respective leagues. Additionally, I think I would be remiss to not specifically mention the Yankees, who are the single most successful sports franchise in the history of North America with an astounding twenty-seven world championships. The great thing for New York based sports fans is even when one of their premier teams is doing poorly (like the Yankees in recent years), there’s always someone to pick up the slack (Mets). With a mind blowing number of both teams and championships, the Big Apple is 2nd on our list of greatest sports cities.
1. Chicago, Illinois
In determining the top spot for this list, I had a lot of difficulty figuring out just which city was deserving of the top spot. Should championships be more important or should the support of the fans reign supreme? Eventually I created a list of the most iconic franchises in each sport, with Chicago gaining a notable advantage. Of the five Chicago teams, four are synonymous with their sport (Cubs, Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears), with the White Sox of course being marred by the infamous Black Sox Scandal. The Bulls were home to the legendary Michael Jordan, the Blackhawks are one of the “Original Six” NHL franchises, the Bears are the oldest NFL team and the one with the most total Hall of Famers, and the Cubs are one of the most storied teams in baseball with their historic 100 year World Series drought just recently ending. All these things together more than warrant Chicago being named our greatest professional sports city.