Sports Market Rankings: First Tier

Which North American sports markets are the best?


Philly might not be number one, but it’s home to four solid teams in the Big Four.

While researching for the upcoming Sport Change Ideal Leagues, it became necessary to pinpoint which markets might be ready for expansion or relocation.  The next logical step was to take the assembled data and compile a rankings of the best sports markets in North America.  The “First Tier” is the Top 30 markets.  Thirty was chosen due to the fact that there are that many teams in three of the Big Four.  Those three leagues (NBA, NHL, and MLB) all have less than 30 unique markets, while the NFL has 31 unique markets.


How is market defined? There is certainly some gray area here, but we’ll be using similar definitions to those that have been used in previous Sport Change posts.  As a refresher, here a few notes:

-Though the San Francisco Bay is one condensed area, we’re considering San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose to be distinct markets.  The Golden State Warriors will be considered as representatives in each city.

-Baltimore and Washington D.C. are viewed separately.

-All teams in any borough of New York City are viewed as one.

-Anaheim is considered to be part of the Los Angeles market.

-The Texas Rangers are rolled into the Dallas market.

-The New England Patriots are certainly part of the Boston market.

-The Green Bay Packers are combined with the Milwaukee market and are referred to as Wisconsin.

-Due to it’s relatively recent emergence in the Big Four, the entire state of Tennessee is viewed as one market.


What determines a market’s ranking?

Number of current teams.  If a market has three or more teams represented in the Big Four, it’s obviously a very strong market.  Only one market (Tampa) with three teams did not make first tier.  Beyond the Big Four, having a strong showing in secondary, minor league, or collegiate sports can also boost a market’s ranking.

Quality of current teams.  Generally speaking, factors such as attendance and TV markets were considered to be a much more reliable gauge than wins or losses.  However, there has to be some leeway.  The Chicago Bears, for instance, draw near the bottom of the NFL in average fans per game.  It’s not because the Bears are unpopular–it’s because Soldier Field is the smallest stadium in the NFL.

History.  A rich and storied history can boost a market’s rank, and the reverse is certainly true as well.  Defunct teams within a given market were examined as well.  Some markets that once had a pro team were usually ranked higher than markets with no notable history of professional sports.  Conversely, markets that were unable to hold on to particular teams can see their ranking slide.

Attendance.  Ticket sales is a fairly good marker of team success, and was used extensively in this study.  Factors such as quality of stadium/arena, TV market, etc. can skew the results, so all was taken with a grain of salt.

Population.  When measuring markets that lack sufficient data to rank their suitability for pro sports, populations of cities and regions were considered.  There are exceptions, of course, but population can certainly play a major role.

Let’s get started from the top.  For the record, I did not create any of these logo combinations–they were added by members of–primarily someone who goes by name ‘Firefly.’


1. New York City.  It’s not much of a debate at number one.  Between Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island, the New York market boasts two teams in each of the Big Four.  Most of these teams draw well, have vast TV networks, and rich history.

2. Los Angeles.  The lack of an NFL team is certainly a gaping hole for now, but the other five teams enjoy relative success.

3. Philadelphia.  Philly might be the most solid all around of the 4-team markets.  The Phillies are the top draw in baseball, and the Eagles, Sixers, and Flyers are no slouches.

4. Dallas.  With one representative in each of the Big Four, Dallas makes a strong case.  The Cowboys, Mavericks, and Rangers are all respectable franchises.

5. Chicago.  The Windy City has five teams in the Big Four–all with considerable success.  Middling to low ticket sales in baseball and football are what keep Chi-town from the third spot.

Boston 6. Boston.  The performance of teams in the Boston market has been tremendous over the last decade, and Boston boasts four of them.

7. Washington D.C.  Even when separated from Baltimore, the Capitol makes a strong case with a team in each big league.

8. San Francisco.  The Giants and Niners are both powerhouses in all regards, and the Warriors fill out the roster.  

Detroit 9. Detroit.  An historic team in each league, with mixed success.  The Red Wings are the strongest of the bunch.

10. Colorado.  Four solid franchises that represent each of the Big Four.  The Broncos are the workhorse of this market.

11. St. Louis.  Three franchises, with varying histories and success.  The Cardinals are inseparable from baseball, while the Rams struggle to keep their football team.

12. Miami.  The Heat are the hottest of the four, while the Dolphins, Marlins, and Panthers all have their share of quirks. Miami 13. Minnesota.  Four underachievers call the Twin Cities home, but there are four nonetheless.

14. Wisconsin.  The Packers and Brewers are model small-market franchises, while the Bucks struggle to make bucks.

15. Houston.  The Texans have built something nice for Houston, while the Astros and Rockets are perennially playing catch-up with stronger markets.

16. Toronto.  Toronto makes Canada proud with three Big Four franchises.  The under-performing Maple Leafs are the strongest of the three within a given league, and nearly out draw the Jays. Toronto

17. Pittsburgh.  A tough, historic sports town with three representatives.

18. Atlanta.  The Braves, Falcons, and Hawks are all fairly solid franchises, and ATL represents a vast swath of area in the Deep South.

19. Cleveland.  Despite the worst luck of any sports city, Cleveland still draws fans to see the Browns and Cavs.

20. Baltimore.  The two black birds both represent the Charm City quite well.  Can Baltimore host an NBA team once again?

21. Kansas City.  The Chiefs are a very popular team for fans in several states.  The Royals blend into the woodwork a little more.


22. Seattle.  Losing the Sonics hurts, but Seattle is a large market that amply supports the Seahawks and Mariners.

23. Arizona.  This one is tough to gauge.  There’s a team in each of the Big Four, but none are very successful–both in games and at the gate.

24. Oakland.  The A’s and Raiders have a devoted following, but that doesn’t equate to ticket sales in the dilapidated Coliseum.  The Warriors still officially call Oakland home.

25. Carolina.  The Panthers have the most promise here, but it looks like the Bobcats and Hurricanes are safe for now.


26. Tennessee.  Tennessee has three relatively new teams that are generally middling in play and pay.

27. Buffalo.  The Bills have an historic fan base, and the Sabres are surprisingly popular for a smaller market.

28. New Orleans.  The Saints are a top draw in the NFL, while the Hornets (future Pelicans) are looking for a foundation to build a franchise.

29. Cincinnati.  The Reds are rock solid, but the Bengals bungle their way to the bottom of the pile.  Perhaps on-field success will turn that around.

30. San Diego.  With underachievers in baseball and football, San Diego makes a weak case for any more pro sports teams. San-Diego


And there is the first tier.  If you were building an ideal pro sport league from scratch, perhaps you would look to these thirty teams.  The NBA and NHL contain several markets that didn’t make it to first tier.  The NFL has three and MLB has only one team not represented in here.  Look for those markets in the Second Tier—coming soon!



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