The Anatomy of a Sports Town
In the long stretches between major championships, much of sports journalism takes the time to opine on an old question: What’s the best sports town in America — and, for that matter, what’s the worst? The possible criteria for rating cities are almost endless and often conflicting. After all, what’s the better sports town: the city with dominant teams but lackluster fans, or the town of mediocre franchises with passionate and enthusiastic support? Does a city with professional teams in all four major sports automatically beat out a town with only two major franchises as the better sports town? Should college sports or sports outside of football, baseball, basketball and hockey be taken into consideration? What about the number of sporting events hosted?
To reveal more clearly exactly what people mean when they talk about a “good sports town,” let’s examine the home cities of this year’s Super Bowl contenders: Boston and Atlanta. One has often been cited as the “best sports town” in America, while the other has been called the “worst sports town” in the country by more than a few sports journalists. But, depending on your point of view, both have a claim to being America’s best sports city, and both could be accused of being the worst.
Boston: The City of Sports Dynasties
With four professional sports teams that have all claimed multiple championships, Boston is often cited as the paradigm of what a sports town should be. Certainly, Boston is undisputedly the most successful sports town currently in the country. A study conducted by The New York Times’ analytical blog “The Upshot” revealed that Boston’s four professional sports teams have won championships in an incredible 10 percent of all seasons they’ve played in over the past 50 years, far more than any other city in the country.
Boston also has a fan base that is rabidly dedicated to supporting their local teams, as demonstrated by how much money these Boston sports lovers are willing to pay to see their favorite teams in action. According to SeatGeek.com, Boston fans pay more for tickets to see local professional sports games than fans in any other city in the country, with an average ticket price of $118. Indeed, these high home-game ticket prices are one of the reasons that Boston fans have a reputation for supporting their teams on the road. At the beginning of the 2014 season, a Patriots fan could have flown to Miami and sat at the 50-yard line for the opening game for less than it would have cost to sit in similar seats at the first home game of the season.
However, its fans are also one of Boston’s weak points in its claim as the country’s best sports town. Outside of New England, Boston fans have a widespread reputation as being difficult. While Boston has experienced an incredible winning streak over the past 15 years, all of Boston’s sports teams endured decades of losing prior to the early 2000s, a fact that has led many to label Boston sports fans as both “forgetful” and “fair weather.” If a city’s fan base is the measure of its sports town cred, many might argue that Boston should end up at the bottom of the list.
Atlanta: The Unconventional Sports Town
As often as Boston has been labeled the best sports town in America, Atlanta has been deemed the worst. Atlanta didn’t even have a professional sports team until 1966 when the Milwaukee Braves relocated to the city, and the Falcons franchise was founded; basketball’s Hawks moved from St. Louis two years later. Among its three teams, Atlanta has just one championship: the Braves’ now two-decades-old victory in the 1995 World Series.
More than its lack of titles, however, critics of Atlanta’s reputation as a sports town point to its supposedly lackluster fan base. The less-than-enthusiastic crowd at the Georgia Dome pushed the owners of the Falcons to play fake crowd noise over the sound system during home games in 2013 and 2014, an action that resulted in a $350,000 fine and the loss of a draft pick. Attendance at all of Atlanta’s home games has often been spotty. While the Braves have only captured the World Series once, they did win 14 division titles in a row; despite this, division title games over the past two decades have had thousands of empty seats rather than Braves fans filling them. Indeed, some believe that Atlanta lost its second NHL team because of poor fan support.
None of this completely captures the picture of Atlanta as a sports town, however. Its claim to the title of “best sports town” is unconventional to be sure, but those who believe in Atlanta point to its fervent college sports fan following and its record of hosting major sporting events. Since Atlanta didn’t have any professional teams until the mid-1960s, college sports — particularly college football — continue to serve as the nucleus of Atlanta’s sports fan base. Claims that NFL home game attendance is low can easily be countered by pointing to the hundreds of thousands of Atlantans who attend college games nearly weekly. Similarly, Atlanta may not have won many championships, but its appeal has led it to its hosting many, including the Olympics; the Super Bowl, twice; and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, four times; notably, Boston hasn’t hosted any of these events at all. In other words, shifting the definition of a “good sports town” away from professional fanship and toward the love of sports in general alters how Atlanta should be judged.
So what makes a good sports town? It’s the same as what makes a bad sports town, depending on your perspective.
Why Sports Towns Matter
Sports towns are important for sport managers, sport coaches, sport marketers and everyone in between. Knowing where your audience is and how to leverage it is key to success in modern sports. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your home towns is important as you work to manage and market your team.
If you’re interested in sports (and the towns that come with them), consider pursing an online Master of Science in Sport Management from Adelphi University online. Our program offers a foundation in the wide range of complex and interrelated concepts that underpin a career in sport management. To learn more about our online sport management degree, please reach out to us today and find out how our programs can prepare you for a career in a variety of sports-related professions.