Why do some cities’ pro sports teams win championships and others don’t?

By Kevin James Shay

Most of us who follow sports want to live in a city or region that has successful professional sports teams. We want to attend championship parades. We live for these life-altering memorable celebrations of our favorite teams.

Among my best memories as a kid is attending a parade with my dad and siblings in downtown Dallas after the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl in 1972. I was only 12, and the pro football team was probably my main focus in life. Our mostly woeful hoops team, the Chaparrals − which did not come close to even a watered-down ABA title − would soon leave for San Antonio. The Rangers were just about to play their first season, but in Arlington, which back then might as well been China. The Mavericks would not arrive for almost another decade, while the Stars were two decades away.

The Cowboys players wheeled by on truck trailers, smiling and waving at us as if we were long-lost friends. There were Lilly and Howley and Staubach and Hayes and Renfro and Reeves. I had met several players at their practice field and various events back when they were more accessible, getting their autographs in the process. To me, they were more than professional athletes; they were heroes, larger than life, akin to the astronauts that walked on the moon.

None of us felt the chill in that wintry air. We were finally champions, which helped shed the memory of the horrendous 1963 tragedy and the accusations that we resided in a bigoted city where presidents could be assassinated. Dallas had arrived. And as citizens of the city, we shared in that crowning achievement.

About midway through the procession, I observed taller adults become appreciably more excited in craning their necks towards one trailer. Many pointed and cheered. I pushed my way through the crowd to get a better view. There, I came face-to-um,breast with a sight that I will likely never forget. An attractive young woman had climbed onto a trailer and was lifting up her shirt to expose her braless chest in all its glory. I observed her do this a few feet away, then turn to the other side of the trailer and do the same.

There were no players helping her, no Ezekiel Elliott’s aiding her in this exposure scene. But no one stopped her. It was an epic moment, one that forever cemented that event in my mind, as if it needed another reason beyond the championship. I stood there in awe long after police pulled her down from the trailer to the jeers of the crowd.

Every pre-teen boy should have such an experience – or at least get the opportunity to have same. My son and I shared the Ravens’ 2013 Super Bowl parade when he just turned 13. There were no exposed breasts. But he took the opportunity to jump the inadequate barriers and join the crowd who paraded with Ray Lewis down the Baltimore street. It was a similar moment that he won’t soon forget. OK, maybe mine was better. Who’s to really say?

When the Cleveland Cavaliers shucked more than five decades of major pro sports failure by winning the 2016 NBA championship, you could feel the burden lifting in that city from hundreds of miles away. Cleveland sports fans had suffered through 144 major sports pro seasons of the Browns, Cavs, and Indians since their last title in 1964. No one should have to undergo such torment. They deserved a celebration more memorable than the Dallas one I attended in 1972.

So what are the next most long-suffering fan bases? What North American city is most in need of a title breakthrough by its NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL team? Sorry, but pro soccer and major college championships are nice, but they don’t really count here. A city needs a title in one of the Big Four pro sports to validate its existence in the sports world.

The reason major sports titles matter is because they are marketed so highly by national media. D.C. United can win all the soccer championships out there, but relatively few will notice. You have to win in the Big Four leagues. And you have to care about this because who wants to live in a city that many in the national media calls the saddest or most cursed? When you have a major sports championship parade, the media finds another city to pick on. That’s just life. That’s the way the game is played here, like it or not.

Also, pro sports are more than just games. They are big businesses, ones that many people depend on for their livelihoods. When you win, there is more money made and sometimes even better jobs. Some companies cite the sports environment as one of many factors in moving to an area.

So here is a list of the longest-suffering fan bases who have sat through the most current seasons without sniffing a Big Four sports championship parade. San Diego tops the list, with its last title being an AFL one way back in 1964. Some say an AFL banner should not count, but I will give it to them, just because it seems downright cruel not to when that is all the city of San Diego has.

I know, besides perfect weather, a decent economy, cool beaches and scenery, and the Bill Walton clan. I’m sure San Diegoans don’t suffer too much, at least not as much as those in Buffalo, who have sat through more than 100 major sport seasons of futility in brutal winters with only the Gronkowski clan to cheer them up. Talk about depressing.

Milwaukee residents, whose city is third on this list, at least have good breweries in which to drown their sorrows. Those in D.C. have to suffer through lame political attacks and worse, along with failed seasons, although we do have a better economy than most and can get to the mountains or beaches faster than those in Minneapolis.

As for why sports fans in cities such as Boston, Chicago, and Pittsburgh don’t wait as long for titles as cities such as Cleveland and San Diego, perhaps that comes down to momentum and sheer luck. Once you finally get over the hump and win one, it’s easier to win the next.

Fans in those “winning” cities will say that organizational skills and community support play roles in their victories. Organizational skills might play a part. But sometimes, it’s just the luck of the draw and a seemingly small decision that doesn’t go your team’s way. The Rangers were within a strike of giving Arlington its first title in 2011 but could not get a call. The Titans were within a yard of tying and perhaps winning the 2000 Super Bowl on the game’s final play that would have resulted in Nashville’s initial big sports title parade. If Matt Williams had let Jordan Zimmermann get the final out in a 2014 playoff game, rather than bring in Drew Storen, D.C. might not be near as high on this list.

But alas, it was not to be. That’s the cruelty of these games. And why I continue to root for teams in cities at the top of this list.

North American cities with most major pro sports seasons [NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL] since its last championship, as of June 2017

City                        No.         Last title                Leagues represented

San Diego             111    1964, Chargers AFL        MLB, NFL*, NBA*
Buffalo                  105       1965, Bills AFL              NFL, NHL, NBA*
Milwaukee             92      1971, Bucks NBA            MLB, NBA
Wash, D.C.              88      1992, Skins NFL             MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL
Minneapolis          78      1991, Twins MLB           MLB, NFL, NBA
Atlanta                   77      1995, Braves MLB          MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL*
Toronto                  69      1993, Jays MLB              MLB, NBA, NHL
Phoenix                  63      2001, Dbacks MLB       MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL
Houston                 59      1995, Rockets NBA       MLB, NFL, NBA
Vancouver             53           Never                         NHL, NBA*
Cincinnati              53      1990, Reds MLB            MLB, NFL
Charlotte                50           Never                         NBA, NFL
Arlington               45           Never                         MLB
Tampa                    38       2004, Lightning NHL   NFL, MLB, NHL
Portland                39        1977, Trailblazers NBA  NBA
Detroit                   36       2008, Red Wings NHL  MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL
Salt Lake City       37            Never                           NBA
New York City      36       2012, Giants NFL           MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL

Montreal               36      1993, Canadians NHL    NHL, MLB*
Philadelphia         35       2008, Phillies MLB        MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL
Nashville               33            Never                          NFL, NHL
Ottawa                   33        1927, Senators NHL            NHL
Sacramento          32                Never                      NBA
Calgary                  28          1989, Flames NHL                NHL
Orlando                  27               Never                        NBA
Edmonton              27            1990, Oilers NHL                   NHL
San Jose                25               Never                        NHL
Newark                 23          2003, Devils NHL            NHL, NBA*
Jacksonville         22                  Never                   NFL
Winnipeg             22                 Never                      NHL
Indianapolis       21           2007, Colts NFL              NFL, NBA
Anaheim             20           2007, Ducks NHL             MLB, NHL
Dallas                   18         2011, Mavs NBA              NFL, NBA, NHL
Miami                  16         2013, Heat NBA      MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL
St. Paul                17           Never                        NHL
Columbus            17                Never                        NHL
Los Angeles        16   2014, Kings NHL      MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL
St. Louis              16        2011, Cardinals MLB     MLB, NHL, NFL*
Memphis            16                Never                     NBA
New Orleans      14          2010, Saints NFL                    NFL, NBA
Raleigh                11          2006, Hurricanes NHL              NHL
Baltimore           10            2012, Ravens NFL          NFL, MLB
Oklahoma City   11                    Never                      NBA
Brooklyn               9       1955, Dodgers MLB         NBA, NHL, MLB*
Seattle                   6     2014, Seahawks NFL          NFL, MLB
Green Bay            6           2010, Packers NFL                 NFL
San Francisco      5           2014, Giants MLB            MLB, NFL
Denver                 4     2016, Broncos NFL       MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL
Kansas City         3          2015, Royals MLB             MLB, NFL
Cleveland            3          2016, Cavs NBA        MLB, NFL, NBA
Pittsburgh           2          2016, Pens NHL       MLB, NFL, NHL
San Antonio        3          2014, Spurs NBA               NBA
Chicago                3        2016, Cubs MLB        MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL
Boston                 2        2017, Patriots NFL     MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL
Oakland              0        2017, Warriors NBA      MLB, NFL, NBA

* Formerly in this league, team moved after a title last won in that city


3 thoughts on “Why do some cities’ pro sports teams win championships and others don’t?

Add yours

  1. From Steve Berberich via LinkedIn:
    New York, Chicago and L.A. have the money to buy championship players, Boston gets edgy advantages with a wacky ballpark and a football team operating outside of the rules, and no one pays any attention to K.C., Baltimore and Cleveland until we look up and find them in first place and it is too late. Oh St. Louis Cards, what about them? Some cities just have good organizations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. True. Money definitely helps, but then there are the Dodgers. And the Dbacks beat the Yankees in the Series back in 2001. And having a good front office is always an advantage. But like I said, sometimes it comes down to who gets the breaks in a game.


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