Unique Sporting Landscape
There was a sporting story a few weeks ago about some Patriotic football team from New England winning a record number of ‘Bowls’ last week and somehow male sheep and Maroon 5 were involved. I’m learning a lot about American culture, even falling in with love in many respects, but it’s going to take some time for this blogger to fully understand American football.
American culture is a unique, great and fascinating one – a product of its pioneering, multicultural, diverse history and background of starting a country anew. I could easily do an article about the food culture and diversity of the United States – maybe for another day. For example, every city has a different take on a hot dog. Similarly, Canada has a distinct rich culture and history separate to United States – with longer ties to Britain, colder climate and smaller population – but also a linked history and Northern American culture as well.
While there Americans are sometimes unfairly stereotyped as inward looking globally – and indeed there are a high proportion of Americans without a passport – this is a misconception in my opinion. How else would America be the strong economic power over the last century being insular? In Anglophone culture and beyond, Americanisation, both culturally and economically is testament to this. However in sporting terms, whilst often the most successful nation at the Summer Olympics, the main four popular supported sports are not the same outside of the USA (or Canada).
Basketball and ice hockey have some popularity globally, as does baseball particularly in Latin America and Japan; whilst American Football, while growing in popularity is not played to any serious level outside of the United States. The dominance of football (or soccer), or other sports like cricket, have a large part to play in this. However, I would argue the time differences, cultural dominance/bubble, large population and sheer size of North America makes it natural to have a domestic focus sporting wise, with sports having national relevance to the American/Canadian experience.
Like elsewhere in the world, the British introduced soccer, cricket and rugby through the informal empire – however, while still played, particularly growing now with soccer, these sports faded in comparison to less British, easier to set up and faster-paced baseball. American football and basketball started and spread through the college environment – whereas ice hockey, whilst linked to Europe, found home in the icy North East of USA and particularly Canada, where in the latter it still dominates.
Thus in this landscape of major leagues, a density of highest class athletes and unique franchise structure to North American sports, the inter-city records and bragging rights, pride in your local city is important – maybe more so than in some parts of the world. So I have trawled through records to answer the question – “Which North American city is the most successful when it comes to sport?”
Location, location, location
So this is partly just an opportunity to do a fun map I’ll admit, but also an interesting topic, particularly personally given recent trips and links to the States. Going to see Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago Cubs one can feel the history and unique sporting culture. But despite the rich traditions (and the awesome pizza) of the ‘Windy City’, according this analysis, Chicago is only the 6th most successful city. It is a simple analysis – measuring the total number of titles of sporting franchises in a city over the five main North American sports – American Football, Baseball, Basketball, Ice Hockey and Soccer/Football.
While there are a few surprises in the top ten – it is maybe little surprise that the largest city in North America, ‘The Big Apple’ – New York comes out top with a whopping 47 titles across 11 teams, in no small part thanks to the 27 World Series won by the New York Yankees. However, population isn’t a direct correlation to sporting success – 2nd in the list comes Boston (inc. New England area), only the 12th largest city in terms of population on our list – the Boston Celtics dominance in basketball a contributing factor to this. Montréal pre-eminence in ice hockey see them just behind the much larger cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, in 5th place. Arguably, it is a surprise to see Saint Louis and Pittsburgh make the ‘Top 10’ – surprising because if we follow a logic of population to investment and sporting success – like I’ve explored with soccer – one would expect Houston and Dallas to have a greater amount of success. But sport is an aspect of culture which doesn’t necessarily follow economic or geographical logic.
Relationship between population and sport
Putting population vs sporting titles (see notes for Spearman’s Rank Coefficient), we can maybe see who have historically ‘punched above their weight’ (or lower). There are some interesting examples – Green Bay (just over 300,000 people), thanks to their NFL team, the Packers have more 4 times the sporting titles than Phoenix, Arizona, which has a population 13 times the size. Now of course, these are just interesting metrics – sporting franchises will source athletes from all around the world, let alone North America – so population size is more a fun metric for ‘bragging rights’. But let’s look at the geographical and statistical patterns to imagine – if you had billions of dollars to spare (after investing it in Swindon Town FC, of course) – “where you would start a new sporting franchise?”
While there are major population centres in Texas and Florida, the geographical patterns of success highlight the North East USA and California as areas of sporting tradition, as well as the US Mid West/Canada border. Statistically speaking, let’s also consider population – how big does a place have to be to have potential to have a title winning team? How many titles should I expect my city to win, using (population as guide)?
USA has a estimated population of 327 million in 2019, and 31 million from Canada (358 million). If we then divide this by number of contested titles (351 according to my figures) over 5 major sports (up until February 2019) – we are looking at a city size of approximately 1 million having a possibility of winning one title on average. Of course, there are many cities which have are of equivalent size which haven’t even contested a ‘finals’. Spare a thought for Buffalo, where 6 teams have entered finals, losing every single one.
So following this logic, I have two potential areas for franchise expansion to break ‘new territory – Virginia Beach, VA and Hartford, CT. Turns out there used to be a ‘Hartford Whalers’ which have since relocated – think I’m better sticking to the day job…
PS: There are a few caveats – these records will count titles where the franchise has moved to another city. Also, it is worth noting that Canadian cities are at a disadvantage given they have their own CFL rather than NFL. Some cities have had a longer history of sport franchises, while some, for example, Las Vagas have only just had their first NHL franchise last year – so the stats reflect this historical bias.
PPS: For those particularly interested in relationship between population and sporting titles – Spearman’s Rank Correlation Coefficient: 1 – ((6 x 2457)/(383-38)) = 0.731. From the SRRC (0.731), we can say that it shows that the two sets of data show strong, positive correlation – but not statistically significant.
Population based on US and Canadian Metropolitan Statistical Areas