Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How do you determine a great sports city?

It is certainly a tough task to determine what cities are "good" sports towns and which are "bad" sports towns.  There have been numerous lists over the years attempting to rank the best and worst sports towns, but when this topic comes up, there always seems to be cheap shots towards Atlanta sports fans being some of the worst.

One such article was printed last year by Rob Parker, known more for saying that RGIII didn't have enough "Blackness" than any piece of journalism he ever published.  This piece brought up this topic of "Great Sports Cities" and was on ESPN New York, detailing why the Falcons did not deserve to beat the NY Giants in the 2011 NFL Playoffs because the "City of Atlanta doesn't deserve to win." 

A couple bullet points on his arguments on why NY is such a great sports town and Atlanta is the worst:

1)  Giants fans live and die with their team, Atlanta fans are likely transplants and don't even know there is a game
2)  NY Yankees are standard of excellence when it comes to fans, Atlanta across the board is the worst
3)  Hawks had trouble selling out playoff games during their "thrilling" run a few years back
4)  Best pitching staff in the 90's and fans shouldn't have missed a pitch but there were empty seats at playoff games
5)  Braves fan base did not care after the team collapsed in 2011 in September and should have been trying to fire Fredi Gonzalez.
6)  Lost 2 NHL Teams

We will use Rob's points to get this topic rolling, as these seem to be the points that ESPN anchors, journalists, and other media types usually trot out as their reasoning behind Atlanta being such a poor sports town.

So, let's regroup.  New York is the greatest sports town because of their die-hard fans and passion, while Atlanta doesn't care and no one shows up at the games even though the teams have been good.  Rob Parker then took these ideas and wrote an article on how the Falcons don't deserve to win because their fans are so lousy.

Before getting deeper into the "Bad Sports Town" argument, I'll debunk some myths about Atlanta and why this article and the whole idea that Atlanta is a bad sports town is an old and outdated argument.

This next part is for everyone in the Northeast, Midwest, West Coast, and who has/does/will ever work at ESPN.

The article and the bullet points above are very adamant about certain things, like the Braves have empty seats at playoff games when there were great in the 90's.  Well, the Braves sold out every single playoff game in the 90's.  The 2000's?  Yes, the data there is accurate, there were a select few games at the end of the 14 year division title streak where fans did not sell out playoff games because of the heartbreak and shortcomings of previous teams.  Just like the Yankees did last year when they left 10,000 seats empty in their playoff series against Baltimore.

As for the NFL, sure the Giants fans deserve the game more because they are die-hard and live and die with the Giants.  No one even knows when the Falcons play.  That is, except for the 72,000 plus that have filled the Georgia Dome during its current 48 game stretch of consecutive sellouts that is in no danger of ending anytime soon.

My favorite argument is the lack of a backlash by Braves fans after their collapse.  So, because ESPN does 100 stories on Terry Francona's job security, impact of the Sox collapse, and daily updates on Big Papi quotes, the Braves fans didn't care about their similar collapse?  Nonsense.

And how about the Hawks having trouble selling tickets during their "Thrilling" playoff run a few years ago?  Oh you mean the Boston series when a 37-45 Hawks team made it into the NBA Playoffs
as a #8 seed and lost to the eventual champions in 7 games?  Yea, every game sold out and that place was electric.

The NHL thing?  Sure, if you want to say Atlanta is a bad Hockey town, I'll agree with you.  But even the reason behind the Thrashers leaving had way more to do with their ownership group than the fan base.

You can list attendance figures and talk about how the Braves have been around 10th-14th the last decade (averaging around 30,000 per game) or while the Yankees have been as high as 52,000 per game in 08 but have slumped to under 40,000 in 2013.  You can mock the Hawks attendance figures as they averaged just over 15,000 a game last year while the mighty Knicks with Melo were less than
4,000 a game ahead of that number.  We could list numbers like the 2012 Falcons filling the GA Dome to 98.4% capacity, higher than the die-hard Giants fans.

But I'll save the number crunching until later.

What if Atlanta sports fans #1 sports passion isn't a pro sport?  Does that make them worse fans because as you just read they have done a fine job supporting pro teams?

Atlanta just happens to be the college football capitol of the world.  It is the future home of the College Football Hall of Fame, the SEC Championship Game, and within a hour or 2 drive to many of the greatest sports venues in the country.

Most Atlantans these days are not transplants from the north but alumni or fans of College Football powerhouses in the SEC and ACC.  That means a lot of time and money is spent to travel from Atlanta to Tuscalosa, Clemson, Auburn, Athens, Columbia, Tallahassee, Knoxville, Gainesville, and a host of other towns.

The 3 FBS schools in New York combined to average just over 80,000 a contest, just a few thousand more than Atlanta schools GT and Ga State averaged, at least 10 thousand less than a single game at UGA, Bama, Auburn, Tennessee, Clemson, or South Carolina.

The great sports fans of LA couldn't sell out a UCLA-USC game just a few years ago.  Los Angeles has 2 MLB teams and 2 NBA teams, but you can support those numbers with its size and a lack of an NFL team, the nations most popular sport.

The legendary Boston sports fans couldn't fill 44,000 seat Alumni Stadium to 80% capacity last year.

While St Louis may be a great baseball city, they once lost an NFL team and haven't had the NBA in almost 50 years, losing the Hawks to...Atlanta.

Put any of the College Football powers within 300 miles of Atlanta up against SE Wyoming Technical Institute and you'll see 90+ thousand strong any hour of the day.

Need more proof Atlanta is not the worst, but one of the best sports towns in America?  Where else can you go for the best Bowl game each December, SEC and ACC basketball tournaments, Final Fours, and Super Bowls?  Each packed to the rafters with die hard sports fans.

In summary, there is not nearly enough actual evidence or argument that Atlanta is a bad, let alone the worst sports city.  We don't like Hockey, so continue to be nuts for the Bruins, Blues, and Rangers, but the other 3 major sports are supported quite well with a 6 million metro area population.  

And when it comes to college football, maybe the city of New York doesn't deserve to win.

1 comment:

William Satterwhite said...

Calling Atlanta a "bad" sports town is just lazy journalism by hacks who have too much of a Northeast bias t understand the differences between different environments. Professional sports rule up north because each of the major leagues basically established its roots in the major cities between Boston and Chicago down to Washington and St. Louis (the NHL had teams in Pittsburg and St. Louis before the classic but mislabelled "Original 6 era")- the deep south was minor league territory at best. As you point out, Atlanta is the epicenter of big time college football, a sport that northern sportswriters have little regard for primarily because it has prospered everywhere else except for within the northeast metropolises. Yet, the thing is, college football is right now arguably the number 2 major sport in America.

Also, a note on the Braves postseason attendance- it would be interesting to track the difference in attendance between day games and night games. If I'm not mistaken, the Braves in the 2000s have seemed to have a disproportionate number of day playoff games versus night compared to other teams.

One other thing to note which goes back to the points about lazy hack journalists and day/night games- most writers simply look at overall market size without also taking into account population distribution and stadium location. While the Atlanta market is large numbers wise, it is also just as large area-wise with a terrible transportation network. Atlanta is not New York City or Philadelphia with a large in-town population, the actual city itself is smaller than the likes of "small markets" like Kansas City and Milwaukee. I think a fair argument could be made that the Braves, Hawks and the dearly-departed Thrashers actually do/did well attendance-wise considering how difficult it is for someone from say Gainesville or Peachtree City to get in and out of downtown Atlanta on a random weeknight.