One thing I’ve always found interesting is the representation of various geographical areas in the major professional sports in the US. For this discussion, I’ll include not only the Big Four (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL), but also the MLS as it has gained a major foothold in the Pacific Northwest (minor league teams, generally, don’t average 30,000 fans to their home games).
For instance, the oldest American sports leagues, MLB and the NFL, are to this day still tied mostly to the Northeast and Midwest. For instance, in today’s NFL the chance of a bunch of guys getting together and locating a team in a city the of Green Bay, Wisconsin is basically zero. But with a limited home game schedule, the NFL can get away with using football as a regional draw (which also explains why college football is huge in the Southeast, which did not see major professional sports until the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966).
Below is a table of the 49 largest “population centers” in the US. I basically made that term up, but it rolls off the tongue better than “Primary Combined Statistical Area”, which is what the Census calls them. I specifically went with that metric because it will combine what are considered separate Metropolitan Statistical Areas in close geographical proximity. To use an example: the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland Combined Statistical Area is actually two separate MSAs: San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara. While local residents would quickly call the latter the “South Bay”, the whole region is intertwined and known as the “Bay Area”, especially for sports. This table from Wikipedia is my source, and their source are the 2011 Census Estimates.
|New York-Newark-Bridgeport||22,214,083||New York Giants (East Rutherford, NJ)
New York Jets (East Rutherford, NJ)
|New York Yankees
New York Mets
New York Knicks
|New Jersey Devils (Newark)
New York Islanders (Uniondale, NY)
New York Rangers
|New York Red Bulls (Harrison, NJ)|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside||18,081,569||None||Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
|Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Kings
|Chivas USA (Carson, CA)
Los Angeles Galaxy (Carson, CA)
|Chicago-Naperville-Michigan City||9,729,825||Chicago Bears||Chicago Cubs
Chicago White Sox
|Chicago Bulls||Chicago Blackhawks||Chicago Fire (Bridgeview, IL)|
|Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia||8,718,083||Baltimore Ravens
|Washington Wizards||Washington Capitals||D.C. United|
|Boston-Worcester-Manchester||7,601,061||New England Patriots (Foxborough, MA)||Boston Red Sox||Boston Celtics||Boston Bruins||New England Revolution (Foxborough, MA)|
|San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland||7,563,460||Oakland Raiders
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco Giants
|Golden State Warriors (Oakland, CA)||San Jose Sharks||San Jose Earthquakes|
|Dallas-Fort Worth||6,887,383||Dallas Cowboys||Texas Rangers (Arlington, TX)||Dallas Mavericks||Dallas Stars||FC Dallas|
|Philadelphia-Camden-Vineland||6,562,287||Philadelphia Eagles||Philadelphia Phillies||Philadelphia 76ers||Philadelphia Flyers||Philadelphia Union (Chester, PA)|
|Houston-Baytown-Huntsville||6,191,434||Houston Texans||Houston Astros||Houston Rockets||None||Houston Dynamo|
|Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Gainesville||5,712,148||Atlanta Falcons||Atlanta Braves||Atlanta Hawks||None||None|
|Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach||5,670,125||Miami Dolphins||Miami Marlins||Miami Heat||Florida Panthers (Sunrise, FL)||None|
|Detroit-Warren-Flint||5,207,434||Detroit Lions||Detroit Tigers||Detroit Pistons||Detroit Red Wings||None|
|Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia||4,269,349||Seattle Seahawks||Seattle Mariners||None||None||Seattle Sounders|
|Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale||4,263,236||Arizona Cardinals (Glendale, AZ)||Arizona Diamondbacks (Phoenix, AZ)||Phoenix Suns||Phoenix Coyotes (Glendale, AZ)||None|
|Minneapolis-St. Paul-St. Cloud||3,655,558||Minnesota Vikings (Minneapolis, MN)||Minnesota Twins (Minneapolis, MN)||Minnesota Timberwolves (Minneapolis, MN)||Minnesota Wild (St. Paul, MN)||None|
|Denver-Aurora-Boulder||3,157,520||Denver Broncos||Colorado Rockies (Denver, CO)||Denver Nuggets||Colorado Avalanche (Denver, CO)||Colorado Rapids (Commerce City, CO)|
|San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos||3,140,069||San Diego Chargers||San Diego Padres||None||None||None|
|St. Louis-St. Charles-Farmington||2,882,932||St. Louis Rams||St. Louis Cardinals||None||St. Louis Blues||None|
|Cleveland-Akron-Elyria||2,871,084||Cleveland Browns||Cleveland Indians||Cleveland Cavaliers||None||None|
|Orlando-Deltona-Daytona Beach||2,861,296||None||None||Orlando Magic||None||None|
|Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater||2,824,724||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Tampa Bay Rays (St. Petersburg, FL)||None||Tampa Bay Lightning||None|
|Sacramento-Arden Arcade-Yuba City||2,489,230||None||None||Sacramento Kings||None||None|
|Pittsburgh-New Castle||2,450,281||Pittsburgh Steelers||Pittsburgh Pirates||None||Pittsburgh Penguins||None|
|Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury||2,442,564||Carolina Panthers (Charlotte, NC)||None||Charlotte Bobcats||None||None|
|Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro||2,262,605||None||None||Portland Trail Blazers||None||Portland Timbers|
|San Antonio-New Braunfels||2,194,927||None||None||San Antonio Spurs||None||None|
|Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilimington||2,179,965||Cincinnati Bengals||Cincinnati Reds||None||None||Columbus Crew|
|Kansas City-Overland Park-Kansas City||2,122,908||Kansas City Chiefs||Kansas City Royals||None||None||Sporting Kansas City|
|Indianapolis-Anderson-Columbus||2,103,574||Indianapolis Colts||None||Indiana Pacers (Indianapolis, IN)||None||None|
|Columbus-Marion-Chillicothe||2,093,185||None||None||None||Columbus Blue Jackets||Columbus Crew|
|Austin-Round Rock-Marble Falls||1,826,636||None||None||None||None||None|
|Religh-Durham-Cary||1,795,750||None||None||None||Carolina Hurricanes (Raleigh, NC)||None|
|Salt Lake City-Ogden-Clearfield||1,776,528||None||None||Utah Jazz (Salt Lake City, UT)||None||Real Salt Lake|
|Milwaukee-Racine-Waukesha||1,757,604||None||Milwaukee Brewers||Milwaukee Bucks||None||None|
|Nashville-Davdison-Murfeesboro-Columbia||1,698,651||Tennessee Titans (Nashville, TN)||None||None||Nashville Predators||None|
|Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News||1,679,894||None||None||None||None||None|
|Oklahoma City-Shawnee||1,348,333||None||None||Oklahoma City Thunder||None||None|
|New Orleans-Metaire-Bogalusa||1,238,228||New Orleans Saints||None||New Orleans Hornets||None||None|
|Buffalo-Niagara-Cattaraugus||1,213,871||Buffalo Bills||None||None||Buffalo Sabres||None|
Apologies to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, which was the only area on the list that I felt like could have been separated. As it is, we can gather some interesting observations:
- As everyone knows, Los Angeles does not have a NFL team.
- Orlando is the largest market without a baseball team. Though it’s worth noting the only league represented there is the NBA.
- Green Bay, as the 138th largest such area, is the only American city represented in any of the major sports leagues that isn’t on this list.
- The largest city on the list with no major professional sports teams is Las Vegas. This isn’t surprising, given that the leagues seem eager to avoid any potential stigma they could have thrown at them by being associated with Vegas.
- I don’t really know why Nashville and Raleigh have hockey teams.
- Note that the numbers for Buffalo don’t include any population over the border in Canada.
- New Orleans, the other small multi-sport city on this list, used to be slightly larger, at 1,360,346 in 2000 (the city proper took an even larger hit, with its populating decreasing 29.1% percent between 2000 and 2010).
- The NFL’s expansion in the South definitely seemed to capitalize on the idea of making it a more regional sport, considering Nashville and Jacksonville’s locations on this list. I’d say that’s currently working slightly better in the former than the latter.
- Where would you threaten to move to today if you were a baseball owner trying to extort a new stadium from your fans? Other places were named in the past, but Washington, D.C. had to have always been the most serious candidate. Orlando is not a target, and it’s too close to Tampa anyway. Portland used to be thrown around in the past, but it never made sense to me. What would make sense to me is to put a team in the Jersey part of the New York area, but the chances of that happening are basically zero.
- The fact that there are no professional basketball teams in Missouri strikes me as a bit odd, especially considering some of the places there are NBA teams.
- Then again, perhaps some of the “odd” NBA and NHL locations are attempts to capitalize on being the only game in town when it comes to major sports.
- There are currently no MLS teams south of D.C. or east of Houston, though I believe they’re thinking about a team in Miami or Atlanta.
- Virginia is the largest state without any major professional sports teams. (In fairness, the most populated region of the state is the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area.)