One of the many perks of working here at Indentured Servant Cooperative No. 781 is the fun we have on our Slack channel arguing things that have no solution. Well, okay, that’s not as good a perk as the blueberry heroin smoothies, but we have a good union—us.
Anyway, amidst Sean Fitz-Gerald’s 1,453-word magnum opus in The Athletic regarding Edmonton’s place on the list of great sports towns came one of those extended typing debates about how one defines a great sports town, and after considerable theorizing, the only conclusion to draw is anyone who has a theory is packed to the eyelids with shit. There is no useful definition that fits all sensibilities, and we test-ran them all, starting with Comrade Anantharaman’s helpful opener, “I tend to think that the fewer things you can do outside, the better your sports town is.”
In short, by this rubric, the best sports town is Alert, Nunavut, because as the northernmost inhabited place in North America, inside is all there is because outside is death with fur, hunger, claws and sharp, pointy teeth. Thus, the Time-Wasters’ Executive Committee (which is essentially everyone here) met in executive session to sort this out, with the following towns tossed out as potential winners and losers. You’ll have to decide for yourself which arguments belong to which staffer, and how genuinely they were made.
Green Bay: “A great football town but it’s not a great sports town.”
New York: “New Yorkers assume they live in a great sports town because they assume they are the best town for everything; however, as a town with much to do, it could not therefore be a great sports town.”
Also New York: “If New York isn’t a great sports town, why were Rangers tickets to Game 6 $300?”
Los Angeles: “The Lakers have more spiral-eyed lifer fans whose entire identity is built around their Lakers fandom than Ottawa has total residents.”
Indianapolis: “You go to an Applebee’s in Indianapolis on a random NFL Sunday and probably one third of the patrons will be wearing a Colts jersey.”
Buffalo: “Buffalo is a great sports town. The noon news had live reports from the Sabres morning skate.”
Hartford: “Hartford is a horrible town. I tried to enjoy it and could not.”
Kingston, New York: “I have missed this entire conversation but the best sports town is Kingston.”
Someplace in Virginia: “The best sports town is whatever dumb city in Virginia the Commanders’ football stadium winds up in.”
Halifax, NS: “Halifax is the only town in North America that supports a team that does not exist.”
Boston: “Boston feels like the case study in ‘great sports town’ being at best a backhanded compliment. like Boston is a pretty great sports town, and I think I’d rather chew and swallow a dirty sock than watch any Boston sports team in the company of that team’s fans.”
And therein lies the real core truth here. There is no useful definition that can be applied without exception, and there is no catch-all city that makes this work for everyone. It’s a trap that allows your wallet to become fair game for every cruddy Tuesday night game ever scheduled, and makes you feel shame if you don’t attend Iowa State-Kansas State when you could sit at home listening to it, if that’s your idea of fun. Tailgating, like everything else, is very much an acquired taste.
Most college towns don’t work in this definition because they are one-issue towns—mostly the local football team. You go mostly because of peer pressure and business connections. This rules out most of the 16 SEC cities because the largest town of them all is Nashville, home of Vanderbilt, which also has the smallest stadium. The more there is to do, the more reason not to bother with church … err, football.
One-team towns don’t work because there is the crushing peer pressure that comes with not comforming. If you can’t be a Packer fan, why on God’s earth would you live in Green Bay? So you can experience living like Hester Prynne?
Big cities don’t work because they get more teams than the town has fans (see the Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils, Washington Wizards, or San Jose Earthquakes just to name a few teams that get easily lost in the urban sprawl).
And looking at attendance figures don’t work because A) attendance figures are a well-told lie, B) COVID-19 has neutralized ticket-buying decisions into a choice between Pirates-Marlins and quarantine, and C) not going to a game means you not only respect your lungs, but that you are objecting to the shoddy workmanship of your team.
Actually, C) is a grossly underrated truth here. Not going to a game actually is often the sign a good consumer who either hasn’t been properly engaged by the team or chooses not to throw good money down a leaky toilet. An empty seat isn’t a sign of civic shame, it is often the sign of a diabolical genius and should be viewed as such, e.g. The Oakland A’s attendance of 3,469 Tuesday night does not include 32,598 potential customers who declined to attend because they both fear feral raccoons fighting for their nachos and think an owner like John Fisher shouldn’t have their money.
Indeed, the best sports fans may actually be those who object to conditions as they exist and withhold their patronage until said conditions improve. This brings us to the Arizona Coyotes, relocating to an on-campus rink with only 5,000 seats because that’s the highest number of people who will defy logic to attend a game despite the fact that the team is a litter box with a Zamboni. Or the Washington Commanders trying to flee to semi-suburban Virginia because people in the nation’s capital have finally reached critical mass with the salt flat with feet called Danny Snyder. Or the Ottawa Senators, whose fans have successfully outlasted the late owner Eugene Melnyk and now have to re-learn how to find their misplaced arena and why they would bother.
And we can definitely include the fans who took to the streets and stands a year ago to stop the European Super League from forming. That means London, Mancheste,r and Liverpool most notably, who won their place on this list by calling bullshit with their voices, feet, and bolt-cutters. There are special places in heaven for them all.
By that more inclusive definition, nearly any place can be the best sports city in North America, which renders the distinction an utterly meritless one—especially in Halifax (well, Dartmouth, technically), where the Atlantic Schooners have awaited for 40 years the moment when they will be named the Canadian Football League’s 10th city. They care enough to be fans even though the Schooners were first conceived in 1982 and haven’t actually found a stadium, formed a front office or even a roster yet.
Thus, your answer is no answer. The best fans are as often as not the ones bold enough to not be fans when the conditions are unfavorable or even oppressive for fandom. Sellouts and great ratings are fine if the team has earned them; otherwise, an invisible middle finger is just as useful a marketing tool as merchandise sales. The folks in the ticket office can hear you say no, because it’s their job to hear it.
But if you are tied to old notions like attendance and money because you’re the type who needs to be seen no matter what the cost, maybe you’ll like the fact that, according to The Sporting News, courtside seats to Game 1 of the NBA Finals are going for anywhere from $24,716 to $80,879. That’s one expensive ass conveyor. I guess that makes San Francisco the best sports city in America—if your definition of best sports city includes having entrepreneurs with thumbs long enough to gouge out not just your eyes but those of the guy standing behind you in line.
In short, if you actually need to know if you live in the best sports town, you need to prioritize better. Besides, you can just as easily tell the best sports city in America by the number of fans you can’t see. If you have a full building, especially if you’re charging 80 large for the privilege, there’d better be a damned good explanation for it, better than telling your equally dissolute friends, Hey did you see half my head on my cellphone over Jeff Van Gundy’s right shoulder?
Thus, we will close by deferring to Comrade Magary, who put the entire discussion in its proper place when he said, “This is a real July sports talk radio conversation right here.” Jesus, it just got cold in here.