On a sports radio talk show the other day, a lively and heated debate arose about sports towns, big markets vs. small markets, money, population and championships. This got me thinking: Which city has been the most successful sports town? Is success and championships related to population? Money does matter, but as the Oakland Athletics have shown, it’s not necessarily how much money you have but what you do with it. But is Oakland the exception to the rule?
With this in mind, I took a quick look at the number of major championships won over the past ten years by major metropolitan area. I included MLB, the NBA, NHL and NFL. In addition, I compared the number of titles to population within the relevant metropolitan areas.
Numbers and data can tell different stories if you are not careful. For instance, a quick look at the data shows that there is a relationship between championships and population, with a correlation of 0.36. However, if you normalize for the fact that the largest cities have multiple teams in a given sport, the relationship drops close to zero. Of course, some would argue that a championship is a championship, but I am also after success factors for particular teams.
The leader in professional sports championships over the last ten years? Yes, as the title of the article suggests, Boston is the winningest town over the last ten years.
When the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, they “reversed the curse,” a reference to the “Curse of the Bambino” (Babe Ruth) and the road sign above Storrow Drive. For those who do not know, a sign on the Longfellow Bridge near a dangerous “reverse curve” was altered to read “Reverse the Curse” years ago and remained that way until after the 2004 World Series victory. This seemed to release the floodgates, with the Red Sox winning three championships over the past ten years through the help of sports analytics and Bill James.
The Red Sox were not the only champions in town. Boston has won six championships over the past ten years — including one championship in each of the other major sports by the New England Patriots, Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics. This is quite a feat for a town which has just one team in each of the major sports, as opposed to some larger cities like New York and Los Angeles, which boast at least two teams in most sports.
The city to capture the second highest number of championships is Los Angeles, which captured five championships over the past ten years. The numbers show that Boston has definitely been the most successful sports town over the past ten years, in terms of winning championships, across the major professional sports.
An interesting metric is the number of championships divided by the population of the corresponding metropolitan area. Part two of this series of articles will look into this ratio. Part three of this series will review the feats of smaller market teams.