Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How Did the Sports City Draft Unfold?

Last week, I emailed Kavanaugh with the following proposition: Let's have a draft of the best sports cities in the U.S.

My question was simple: "If you could be a sports fan in any American city, and you had no previous rooting interest, where would you live?" Here's the email exchange that ensued over the next few days:

FranT: If you could be a sports fan in any American city, and you had no previous rooting interest, where would you live? You get the first pick in this draft, because I picked the category. You're the away team, as it were.

P.S. We're not just confining this to pro sports. I have some interesting ones up my sleeve.

Kavanaugh: Wowww, now that makes it interesting.

Alright, first up I'll take San Francisco. Based on the description, it doesn't sound like past championships are that much of a factor, but if they are that's fine. I can grab a more historical city later in the draft.

The Niners are a perennial contender now with a new stadium, the Giants have two rings in the past couple years, and I've heard their stadium is also awesome. Meanwhile, the Warriors are one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA in what, yet again, looks like a great arena. Add in Stanford football on the up-and-up (and hoops always having a chance at relevance), and I'd be willing to spend the coldest winter of my life in a San Fran summer.

FranT: I like your first pick. I was in Deadhead Central for the first time last summer, and I was thoroughly impressed. We saw a game at AT&T Park and it was the most picturesque baseball stadium I've ever been to. It seems that you sort of expanded your "city" into the the entire Bay Area, though. Whatever; I have some cheating up my sleeve for the later rounds anyways. The Warriors have one of the best homecourt advantages in all of pro sports, as was evident in their upset of the top-seeded Mavs in the first round of the 2007 playoffs. When you throw in the Niners and even the A's (since as long as you're cheatin', you might as well go all the way), you've got a top-notch sports city.

With the second overall pick, I'm selecting (gulp) Boston. The "you had no previous rooting interest" clause in the question makes Boston a desirable selection.

I should say now that I think past championships are always a huge factor in cheering for a team. It's so much more fun to root for a storied franchise over one with a crappy history. Therefore, the illustrious Celtics and "Patriot Way" Patriots make Boston a great destination. The Red Sox of recent vintage are also appealing, especially since they now boast a strong farm system.

Boston also has an awesome college sports culture, and the Beanpot hockey tournament is one of the coolest events in sports.

Lastly, the Hub has the Boston Marathon. The race was always a great event but in the next few years, New Englanders will show up in force to give a collective middle finger to terrorists everywhere. It will be similar to the atmosphere at all those New York baseball games after 9/11.

While the New Yorker in me hopes that this No. 2 pick flounders like Saw Bowie for the next decade, I don't think that's going to happen. Boston it is.

Kavanaugh: Haha yeah, one of my college friends is from Northern Cal and his teams are the Giants, 49ers, and Warriors, so I just assumed that was the case out there -- and did not care to research the validity of that assumption…moving on!

Based on our conversation Saturday night, I'll take the Big Apple with my second pick. Each team has a rich history to drawn on, with this being one of the original cities for each sport/league. More on history is your aforementioned 52 championships. Every team has at least one championship (Nets in the ABA, I guess that counts), so the goal in New York City is always to "return to championship form." Lame as that may sound, many cities and teams are still struggling to find out what championship form even looks like.

You probably can't root for all the NY teams (one of my previous blogposts argues that you definitely can't), so another great aspect of NY is options. You can go with the "Best Bet Combo" of Yankees-Giants-Rangers-Knicks, or the "Masochist Special" of Mets-Jets-Islanders-Nets, or any combination in between. All of these teams have fan bases that hate losing, as well as front offices that at least claim to hate losing. They've all done it ad nauseam recently, but there's no city that's in a bigger hurry to quit those bad habits. So what if that urgency is often the very thing that keeps NY mired in mediocrity?

Speaking of mediocrity, NY sports are like pizza: even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. With other cities, a losing season might yield anger or maybe apathy. In New York, it usually yields entertainment. In bad times, the back pages of the Daily News and New York Post have the potential to be the funniest thing you see all day. In a city that's hopelessly obsessed with its stars and big sports personalities (players, coaches, execs), there's never a dull moment.

And speaking of excitement, the venues may not be quite as great as those in other towns in terms of aesthetics, but there's still no better spectacle than the NY venues. Even when the Knicks are crappy, the best teams in the league play with something extra at the Garden, and the fans are rewarded. In Yankee Stadium, opposing teams come in with something to prove in front of a sellout crowd, something they might not be used to in their hometown park.

Give me big, give me history, and give me entertainment in my No. 2 slot.

FranT: Needless to say, I loved that pick. The stakes just always seem bigger in New York. You know, unless none of your teams makes the playoffs.

With my second pick (fourth overall), I'm taking the Second City. (Yes, that phrase did begin as an insult in which Chicago was unfavorably compared to New York.)

Chicago has some great arenas, and it would be a good adopted sports city because there are plenty of opportunities for bandwagoning. Most people see Wrigley Field as a great venue to party,* catch some sun, and see a great ballgame. Oh, and those "lovable loser" Cubs play there. Meanwhile, many of my friends said that Blackhawks "fans" came out of the woodwork during last year's Stanley Cup run. If you're being randomly planted in a new city, it seems like Chicago would be a pretty good destination.

*I would have said "great venue to drink some Old Style," but unfortunately that's no longer the case.

I don't mean to make this sound completely like a Chicago bandwagon argument. Da Bears have a terrific history, and Soldier Field is a really cool place. The United Center isn't so cool, but Michael Jordan did play there for a while. If Derrick Rose comes back healthy next year, that would be a huge boost toward my chances of winning this draft.

I've gone Boston-Chicago so far, so I think I'm done selecting big cities for a few picks. We're approaching the midway point of the draft, and you're up again. I think we're neck-and-neck so far.

Kavanaugh: Nice one. Hockey probably has the most bandwagon fans, just because of its low popularity compared to the other three pro sports. Bandwagon or not, those shots of the Blackhawks parade from last June looked absolutely insane.

For my third pick, I'm taking Phoenix. Maybe I'm caught up in the Eric Bledsoe mania and the Cardinals' recent flirtation with the playoffs, but I like Phoenix's collection of teams right now and moving forward. And on top of all that, it's Phoenix after all -- you can keep your Boston/NY/Chicago weather and tradition, but I'll take the Valley of the Sun.

No one expected the Suns to even have a prayer in the West, but they built a nice team and from a few things I've heard, Suns games are a great time. From what little I see on Red Zone every Sunday, so are Cardinals' games. With Patrick Peterson anchoring the defense, Andre Ellington anchoring the offense, and leader-of-men Bruce Arians leading the charge, I like this team's prospects in the near future. I understand they're in the toughest division in football, but look at how they played San Fran and Seattle this year -- they're going to be a factor moving forward.

The Diamondbacks can hang their hat on one championship (it kills this Yankee fan to write about it), one right field hot tub, and one MVP vote-getter this year in Paul Goldshmidt. They'll be threatening to win that division every year.

While the Suns and Cards might feel like "plucky upstarts," let's not forget that the Cardinals were a Santonio Holmes catch away from a Super Bowl just five years ago, and the Suns were of "7 Seconds or Less" fame only eight years ago, making consistent deep runs into the Western Conference Playoffs.

In the college game, Arizona State is competitive in basketball and football, and Pac-12 football right now is as cool as it's ever been. And you could argue that ASU is on the easy side of a great division when it comes to making the conference championship game. The girls and party scene are notorious for being the best in the country. Life is good when you move to Phoenix, AZ. If you hate the Sun Devils, just latch on to University of Phoenix Online.

To top it off, you get to go to the Phoenix Open. Its 16th hole has been called "the most boisterous hole in golf." Even Tiger Woods gets into it (beginning of the video). If you love the intersection of golf and drinking like I do, this has to be on your list.

FranT: I hated your pick until you mentioned the Arizona State girls. Now, I merely dislike it. The Suns have one of the cheapest owners in sports (Robert Sarver), so their recent success probably isn't going to last. The Coyotes? Hockey in the desert just doesn't feel right. The Cards? It's pretty much Larry Fitzgerald then pray their opponents get sun-poisoning. Meanwhile, the D-Backs just locked up Goldshmidt for a criminally low figure (5 years, $32 million), but they're always going to be an up-and-down team in the Dodgers' NL West.

With your crappy selection and my next choice, I think I'm about to pull ahead.

(David Stern voice): "With the sixth overall pick in the 2014 Sports City Draft, FranT selects...Chapel Hill, North Carolina." (Pan to Chapel Hill smiling awkwardly and putting on an oversized FranT flat-brim.) 

This is similar to your San Francisco, a.k.a. "The Entire Bay Area" pick. I might as well have just selected "Tobacco Road" here. UNC is less than 30 miles from Duke, NC State, and Wake Forest. In real life, I wasn't an ACC fan before Notre Dame joined the conference this year. (I still haven't exactly come around.) But for a sports fan with no preconceived rooting interests, Chapel Hill is in a great spot. Cameron Indoor Stadium is right down the road, and Duke's football team really came alive this year. Like Duke, UNC finishes the year ranked in a plethora of sports. Tobacco Road also hosts the ACC Tournament every other year, allowing you to see some of the best college hoops games of the season.

And since golf is your thing, as well as the thing of many other people, Chapel Hill is in a desirable state for you.

If you need a pro sports fix, Chapel Hill is just two hours from Charlotte. The Panthers and Scam Newton will be legitimate Super Bowl contenders in the near future. With the Hurricanes and Bobcats, at least you can buy tickets to see good opposing teams. Oh, and Michael Jordan goes to Bobcats games sometimes, so that's fun.

The lack of baseball is my only hang-up, but the Carolina Mudcats and Charlotte Knights minor league teams play close to Chapel Hill.


You're right, let's just go back to talking about ACC basketball.

Kavanaugh: I like the Tobacco Road pick. But good luck staving off boredom from March to November. I guess that's where the golf comes in, or the Outer Banks.

With my fourth pick, I'm taking Philadelphia. Philly fans are notoriously harsh, er...passionate about their teams. You've gotta love that, knowing that stepping into any bar or diner could spark some authentic sports talk with people who have been in the city for generations. Chip Kelly has ushered in a new era of Eagles football. The Phillies took home one World Series in 2008, and while that core group is getting older, Dominic Brown is going to keep them exciting moving forward. The Flyers are always in the playoff picture in a city that appreciates its hockey. The 76ers are...the 76ers.

Philly is one of the few cities where all four major teams play in the same complex. I've heard that in the center of the four-stadium area is a great circle of bars and restaurants that has a unique feel, since they're all dedicated to all Philly sports teams versus one team or two teams in particular.

Beyond the pro games, Philly has also been called one of the best college basketball cities in the country. (We're talking actual cities, not geographic zones like Tobacco Road.) The Big 5 basketball games at the Palestra might not ever feature a team ranked No. 1 in the country, but it always showcases a couple top-40 teams among Villanova, LaSalle, St. Joseph's, Penn, and Temple. These games are particularly intriguing, because they are true intra-city, out-of-conference rivalries. NY should be able to emulate that level of college hoops excitement in St. John's, Iona, Manhattan, Fordham, and others, but they don't. And you've got to admit that it's special and unique that Philly can.

For my fourth pick, give me passion, give me overzealous, give me Phanatics, and give me these Eagles fans.

FranT: Philly fans boo Santa Claus. Philly fans throw snowballs and batteries. Philly fans cheer when opponents are seriously injured.  Philly fans are assholes. With all that being said, The City of Brotherly Love was a good pick. Most of the Philadelphia teams have great tradition, good venues, and pretty bright futures. Kudos to you for picking the skelliest sports city.

With my fourth pick, the eighth overall selection, I'm taking Indianapolis. The Pacers look like the class of the NBA so far, and their window to contend will remain open for years to come. Paul George is a superduperstar, Roy Hibbert is an animal, and Lance Stephenson has unlocked his considerable potential.

Across town from Bankers Life Fieldhouse (née Conseco Fieldhouse), the Colts just finished another successful season. Last week, you and I watched in the bar as Andrew Luck orchestrated the second-biggest comeback win in postseason history. He's going to be one of the best players in the NFL for the next decade. If the Colts can cobble together a decent defense for him, they'll be Super Bowl contenders for a long time.

College sports are also pretty prominent in Naptown. Butler basketball has had great success the past few years, and Hoosiers are obsessed with hoops. In addition, guess who plays just a couple hours upstate from Indy? That's right -- the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.*

*I sort of violated the "no previous rooting interest" clause in our original question, but I don't care.

One last point: I never took advantage of it during college, but the Indy 500 is supposed to be one of the coolest in-person sporting events in the country. It apparently leaves you without much of a voice and disables your hearing for a few days, but those are small trade-offs. Some day I'll attend The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

I called Indiana home for four glorious years, so I'll give the state capital some love. Naptown is the newest member of my team.

You've got one more pick, sucka.

Kavanaugh: No baseball hurts Indianapolis, but the Indy 500 and the Pacers/Colts combo has to be the best mix of a yearly event and a few good pro franchises. I considered the Kentucky Derby, some golf tournaments, and the like, but there's rarely good pro sports around. Also, Indy is usually in the rotation for the Super Bowl and the Final Four. You know who else is in that rotation? My 5th pick, New Orleans.

After decades of being the Aints, the Saints are now the Who Dat team with one of the best home-field environments in the NFL, and a Super Bowl to show for their last decade of success. So what if they were putting bounties on opposing players? Everyone in the Big Easy just likes to keep things interesting.

The Pelicans won't be a contender this year, but they have some of the most exciting young players in the league led by Anthony Davis. Bill Simmons claims that the Unibrow is in his top five of "who you would pick to start your team today" in the NBA. Luckily for New Orleans, they're the ones that actually have him, until his first free agency at least.

Technically, Baton Rouge is an hour-and-change away from New Orleans, but from everything I've heard and seen on College Gameday, New Orleans itself kind of bleeds into Baton Rouge on fall Saturdays and the entire Bayou cries "Geaux Tigers" for LSU. If you make the trip to Death Valley, the LSU fans are notorious for having a second wind, a third wind, and a fourth wind when it comes to tailgates and partying. If you can make it into the stadium still standing straight, Tiger Stadium has been described as "the best place in the world to watch a sporting event" by ESPN's Wright Thompson as recently as 2008.

Once you're back in the New Orleans city limits, there's always a sporting event to look forward to. That's because, as I mentioned, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome plays host to the Sugar Bowl every year, and is in constant rotation for the Final Four and Super Bowl. If you're like me and want to check a few of those off your sports bucket list, doing so will be a lot easier if you're living in New Orleans. Even if you don't go, having those events consistently around will create a great atmosphere within the city. And to hold you over in between great events or seasons, I can think of no better place to keep the buzz going than Bourbon Street.

Add in a casino and easy access to a fan-boat ride to go check out some gators on the Bayou with your buddies, and I can't see why anyone wouldn't want to go hard in the Big Easy. For my last pick, give me Cajuns, give me the Mad Hatter, give me the Unibrow, and give me Bourbon Street.

FranT: N'Awlins was a solid ninth pick. You didn't mention that if you need your baseball fix, LSU consistently boasts one of the best college teams in the country.

With my last pick, I'm taking the Mile High City. I probably should have grabbed Denver over Indy with my fourth pick, so I'm glad it's still on the table. The capital of my favorite state in the Union features a team in each of the four major sports, as well as countless opportunities to participate in recreational sports.

The Broncos have a great shot at the next few Super Bowls with Peyton Manning at the helm. They've been my adopted team ever since I knew the Giants would miss the playoffs.*

*Somewhere around Week 4.

Mile High Stadium is just a couple miles from Coors Field, probably the second-coolest baseball stadium I've ever been to. Even though the Rockies finished in last place in 2013, Troy Tulowitzki is one of the best players in the game and they'll be okay if he stays healthy. Also, the beer selection at the stadium is top-notch.

Like the Rockies, the Nuggets are a middling team but their arena is a pretty cool spot. I went to the Pepsi Center for the NCAA Tourney a few years back, and I had a blast. If it's sunny out, which it is 300 days a year (no joke), you can walk to the arena and hit a bunch of cool bars on the way. 

The Avalanche share the Pepsi Center with the Nugs, and Coloradans (Coloradites? Coloradish?) are great hockey fans. There are a bunch of adult leagues in the city, and I know many people who take part in them. And speaking of participatory sports, COLORADO SKIING!!! You can keep Phoenix and its wonderful golf courses, complete with a full complement of 80-year-olds. I'll take the Rocky Mountains, the ski-bum lifestyle, and snow bunnies.

Getting Denver with the last pick makes me feel like the Cavs must feel about drafting Anthony Bennett with last year's No. 1 choice, only the complete exact opposite.

If you made it through all 3,600 words of that exchange, odds are that you were extremely bored at work. Thanks for coming along for the ride, though.

The final draft hauls:
Kavanaugh -- San Francisco, New York City, Phoenix, Philadelphia, New Orleans 
FranT -- Boston, Chicago, Chapel Hill, Indianapolis, Denver

Please vote for your favorite American sports city in the poll on the right side of the page. Also, pick whether Kevanaugh or FranT won the draft.


  1. Sorry little guy you lose the draft in my eyes with San Fran, and Phoenix. But with the best football fans and a soccer fan base thats always get 40,000+ in each game in a league that has an average of 23,000 or so, and a basketball and hockey team in the works coming to their city. Also if your ambitious and want to drive to gonzaga you have that option. (It is far though)

    1. Seattle is the city i meant to say before i accidentally hit enter. They will be a top sports city within 10 years.

    2. I actually thought a little about Seattle, if for nothing else than being able to watch Robbie Cano hit for the next decade. The Sounders do have a great, raucous fan base. If the city does grab another NBA team (Sonics, R.I.P.), they could easily make this list.

  2. Yeah I guess I'm moving to Phoenix alone. I thought about Seattle too considering the promise of an NBA return and hearing about how great their fans were/will be when it's in town. The Mariners just feel like a disaster though.

  3. This comment comes from Will Flanagan, who said he couldn't get it to post:

    Kavanaugh wins this going away.

    He has the undisputed sports and entertainment capital of the world, where every great team comes through (including all the ones you get in Chapel Hill). You get two great second tier cities with a full and diverse offering and then two of the Mega game capitals of the US (both of which have decent hometown teams). It's not an accident that Phoenix and New Orleans routinely host the Super Bowl and NCAA tournaments, and will host the new college football playoffs.

    Two other complaints, I know you were trying to ignore your allegiance to New York but it is a travesty that it was anything but the first pick. The sheer volume of great games, or events that occur overwhelms any place else. Better still, Rutgers' move to the Big Ten (14) means that there is light at the end of the tunnel for its only glaring weakness.

    I also think you were wrong to ignore Los Angeles, particularly with the whole region included. Both the Dodger and Angels will be perennial contenders with young stars (Puig and Trout), the Clippers and Lakers bring some pizazz, and the Hockey is remarkable for a place where it is usually 80 degrees. You lack an NFL team, but have the best cross City college football rivalry in the NCAA (and Anschutz is trying his damnedest to change the NFL thing). And AND AND they play beach volleyball...

    1. My response to Will:

      Our voters seem to think that I won the draft. (And 7 voters is a pretty great sample size for this blog.) We'll see what it looks like when the polls close in a month. Democracy rules!

      To your next point: I think Kavanaugh and I were both harping on the sorry state of the NY pro teams, but your points are well-taken.

      As for LA, I cannot get past the traffic issue. In order to get to Dodger Stadium or wherever the hell the Angels play, you have to sit in gridlock (or so I hear). I was thinking about the overall experience of going to games, and the LA sprawl turned me off.

      Either way, though, you make good arguments. You're a true politician.

  4. ESPN's Colin Cowherd just claimed that "Detroit is the best sports city in America" based on the fact that if you get into a conversation with some buddies and strangers at a bar, Detroit folk more than any other city can talk about all 4 major pro sports either intelligently or at least passionately, and can also talk UM and MSU sports (with college being a detriment to most other big cities). Not sure that this was a big factor in our criteria, or if I even agree, but was interesting to hear a sports personality weigh in on the topic.

    1. Yeah, it's not a bad argument. I think that Dallas was our biggest omission, but the Motor City has some pretty good teams and passionate fans. If Detroit wasn't DETROIT, we probably would have treated it a little bit differently.