In the United States, there are 276 cities with a population of 100,000 or more. Within those cities, there are 115 professional sports teams in the category of the “Big Four” sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL). Among those teams, there are millions of fans, die-hard and bandwagon alike, who spend countless hours and dollars in supporting their teams; purchasing jerseys or other apparel, losing their voices at playoff games, pulling their hair out when a trade goes awry, or walking around like a zombie the day after a team’s season ends tragically or unexpectedly. At our core, we are sports fans, regardless of time zone or zip code. Losing season or championship run alike, chances are that we will defend the validity and importance of our team and our city to the death. So who do these two college kids think they are, choosing one city over the next? How can they say that my city isn’t worthy of coverage?
Yeah, we hear you.
We know that association with a sports team, to many of us, is almost more important than your association with a political party, religious group, etc. And it is purely because of sports fans like you that we have had the opportunity to major in Sports Communication, and work on this blog. You consume the media, and one day, our goal is to be some of the people delivering that sports media to you. Given the fact that there are so many cities to choose from, we had to make the difficult decisions of which ones to cover over the course of our semester-long project. After many nights of sleep lost (well…not really), we have chosen 13 cities that are of the most relevance at this present time. These include recent championship cities, cities to recently add or lose a professional franchise, or cities that have been at the heart of a majority of the media’s attention due to high-profile trades, personnel changes, or just really dumb people saying or doing really dumb things. These things, after all, are what keep us interested in the off-season, and are also big reasons why the sporting cultures are so drastically different from city to city and team to team.
Here are the 13 that made the cut, and the reasons why they mean the most to us right now:
NEW YORK CITY:
New York City is host to SIX Big Four US Sports franchises, more than any other city in the country. While the entire city unites around their NBA and NHL franchises, the Knicks and the Rangers, the battle lines are drawn for their two MLB teams and their two NFL teams. While the Yankees and the Giants have enjoyed success both recently and in their histories, the Mets and the Jets have enjoyed magical and seemingly miraculous runs to their handful of championships. The emotional difference between these fan bases have caused each other to downright hate one another, while in the mean time creating two complex and drastically different sports cultures under the umbrella of one large city.
Chicago is home to recent success stories in the world of sports. The Blackhawks are the most recent winners of the Stanley Cup. The Bears have appeared in two NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl in the last 10 years. The Bulls have won the most NBA Championships since 1990 with six. Even the White Sox took home the World Series title in 2005. However, the culture in Chicago seems to be defined by their lovable losers, the Cubs, title-less since 1908. With a city full of titles and wins, is it possible that the culture is generally defined by what the city doesn’t have?
From Kareem, to Magic, to Kobe, Los Angeles has typically been the Lake Show. The Kings briefly stole the spotlight during the tenure of Wayne Gretzky. The Dodgers, since their move west in the 1950s, have had significant periods of dominance with the likes of Sandy Koufax and Tommy LaSorda. However, even with the all the success that has ruled the headlines of the Los Angeles papers, it is all overshadowed by the lack of a NFL team in the nation’s second biggest market.
For years, the Boston sports culture was defined by the fall of the Larry Bird era, the struggles of the Patriots, the inability to find the next Bobby Orr and, of course, the Curse of the Bambino. But then, a shaggy-haired kid from California took over for the injured Drew Bledsoe and the entire landscape of Boston sports changed. Tom Brady has led the Pats to three Super Bowl titles, the Red Sox came back from three games to none in 2004 for their first World Series in 86 years (then added another title in 2007), and the original Big Three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett resurrected basketball in the Boston Garden and captured the NBA Title.
It had been since 1980 that Philadelphia saw any of its teams win a major Championship. The city saw the likes of Mike Schmidt and Pete Rose retire, the rise and fall of Allen Iverson, seven Eric Lindros concussions, and the regular season domination but playoff collapses of Donovan McNabb. The only constant through those years were the notorious brutality of their devote fan base. Then, the 2008 Phillies came on the scene and captured the World Series over the Tampa Bay Rays. Now, the fans are still ruthless, but they have the bubbly taste of champagne lingering on their tongues.
SAN FRANCISCO/OAKLAND (THE BAY AREA):
Similar to New York City, the Bay Area sports two teams in MLB and the NFL that don’t see eye to eye. But while these teams play in two different cities, they’re rivalries are unlike those in other sports because each other’s city is a mere trip over the Golden Gate Bridge from one another. Furthermore, the two cities share one basketball team, the Warriors, and that fan base creates one of the loudest in the entire Association. Also, though San Francisco has seen the most success recently between the Bill Walsh 49ers and the 2010 World Series Champion Giants, its Oakland that has the lavish history with Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Jim Plunkett and John Madden. Oh, and an owner named Al Davis.
St. Louis is at an interesting time in their long history of sports. The Rams seem to be on their way back from the post-Kurt Warner years and the Blues finally have stability in their front office with a strong scouting system in place. However, it is their beloved Cardinals who have come to a crossroads. St. Louis called Stan Musial “The Man” when he reigned supreme at first base from 1941-1963, winning three MVPs and three World Series titles. Now, the focus is on “El Hombre” Albert Pujols, his three MVPs by age 31, his one World Series ring, and now, potentially, his final year in Cardinal red as his contract is set to expire. However, the most curious rivalry in the St. Louis sports culture is embedded in the constant conflict between professional and college sports, with Mizzou reigning supreme in the hearts of many, causing the multi-billion dollar professional franchises to often take a back seat to the Tigers in black and yellow.
Of the cities to be covered, Seattle is home to the fewest major franchise, calling only the Seahawks of the NFL and the Mariners of MLB their own. But, if you ask any native son or daughter of Seattle, they will talk fondly of the third team not mentioned: the Supersonics. Seattle is the most recent US city to lose one of their big four sports franchises to another city, as the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. The new owners left behind, legally, a name, a legacy and an arena. But, most notably, they left a huge void in the hearts of all Seattle sports fans that has yet to be filled.
Atlanta has seen their share of star athletes come through the city. Hank Aaron ended his career with the Braves after their move from Milwaukee. Dominique Wilkins earned the nickname “Human Highlight Reel” from his spectacular play and dunks while in a Hawks uniform. But most notably, the Braves rallied off 16-straight National League East crowns behind the likes of Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal, the three headed pitching monster that was Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, and a host of others. None of those division titles were possible, however, without the steady hand of Bobby Cox. Atlanta has grown accustomed to a culture of winning, but the fan base may be in for a culture shock without Cox, who retired after the 2010 season.
Jerry Jones, the outspoken owner of “America’s Team” the Cowboys, boldly stated that when the Super Bowl comes to the new mega-stadium he built for his team, it would be “a home game”. A slow start and a head coaching change later, the Cowboys missed the playoffs. While Jones remains at the top of the food chain in Dallas, he has some serious competition underneath him nowadays. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has changed the way every sports franchise interacts with users of social media, while challenging Jones for the title of most outspoken owner in the city. Speaking of owners, the Rangers have a new ownership group of their own, headed by Texas pitching legend Nolan Ryan. In their first year at the helm, all they were able to accomplish was an American League pennant. No big deal.
Two words will forever be engraved into the minds of the Cleveland sports culture: The Decision. They are forever tainted, along with the name Art Modell. With the Indians in full-rebuild mode (including the potential of a mid-season Grady Sizemore trade), the new look Browns searching for yet another head coach, and the Cavs surging towards the NBA lottery, it is certainly not hot in Cleveland for any sports fan in particular.
The nation’s capital presents a mixed bag of good news and bad news for their sports fans. The good news: the Nationals signed Jayson Werth, will get Stephen Strasburg back mid-season from his elbow injury, and have mega-prospect Bryce Harper, still not old enough to vote, prepping in the minors. Additionally, Alex Ovechkin excites all fans and John Wall looks to be the bright new face that has been long-awaited for the Wizards franchise. The bad news: the Nationals and Wizards may still be years away from truly competing, Ovechkin is still overshadowed by Sidney Crosby and his Stanley Cup, and the Washington Redskins don’t seem to be heading in any direction after the failed Donovan McNabb/Albert Haynesworth experiments. It’s anybody’s guess as to what’s next on Capitol Hill.
It’s been six months since “The Decision” and the living is easy on South Beach. After early-season troubles, the Heat seem to be on the right track. In other news, the Marlins are only a couple years away from a new stadium and a new-look name and the Dolphins have been at the very least competitive the last few years, which hasn’t necessarily been true since the retirement of Dan Marino. However, the entire culture of Miami has higher expectations since LeBron, Dwayne and Chris claimed that they weren’t here to win “just one championship, or two, or three, or so on…”. So, what would happen if they don’t follow through on their promises?