In America we love sports. And support for our teams runs deep. It also tends to run within state lines. Many of our best sports rivalries like Yankees vs. Red Sox or Packers vs. Bears pit teams from neighboring states against each other. But with all major sports being considered, which state has the best sports teams overall?
This is a somewhat complicated question to answer. For our purposes here we will include MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, MLS, and WNBA teams as our pro sports teams. First, we can exclude the 25 states that don’t have a pro sports team in these leagues. Sorry Nebraska, Mississippi, Wyoming, etc. by not having a pro team we can say pretty safely you are not the best.
To make a determination of which state has the best sports teams we needed to pick a criterion. There have been other analyses that looked at win percentage by state. This approach is simple (and interesting), but in this case a flawed method because it included college sports and carried a heavy bias because of it (would anybody really say Alabama is one of the best states for sports? College football, yes. Sports overall, no). We chose to look at how often pro teams within each state reach the pinnacle and bring home their respective championship trophy. After all, that’s what they play for, there are no games after the championship trophy is handed out. But of course total number of championships alone is not a fair measure. Some states have more teams than others and some states have older franchises than others. So to standardize things, we also looked at the total number of seasons played by all teams in the state. What we generated was a metric called “seasons per championship” (SPC) which is the total number of seasons played by all teams in that state over time, divided by the total number of championships won over time. With this measure a lower number is good, it means there are less seasons in between championships.
For each sport we had to set some kind of cutoff for time frame. This was particularly important for the NBA and NFL, leagues that have seen significant changes over time. For the NBA we only included seasons and championships after the ABA/NBA merger. For the NFL we only included the Super Bowl era (1967 onward). By limiting the time frame for these sports we greatly simplified our analysis.
Now let’s dig into the results.
Which State Has the Worst Sports
There are three states that have pro sports teams yet have never registered a championship. Those states are Oklahoma (Thunder – NBA), Tennessee (Grizzlies – NBA, Titans – NFL, Predators – NHL) and Connecticut (Sun – WNBA). The Thunder and Sun are both new franchises and are the only sport in their respective state. So it’s not surprising they haven’t captured a title yet. Still, they both register at the bottom of our analysis (and don’t appear on any of the upcoming figures). Tennessee has three pro sports teams and no championships to show for it, though the Titans were about this close.
When using seasons per championship as a measure of a state’s pro sports success, Georgia comes out as the worst state for sports. Georgia has four current pro teams totaling 174 seasons of play yet they have just 2 championships to show for it. That comes out to 87 seasons of play for every championship won. The average number of seasons per championship in our analysis was around 30 (close to the average number of teams in the larger leagues). Based on that, we would have expected the state of Georgia to have five or six championships after all those years of play. But that’s not the case, and it’s why they hold down one of the lowest spots on the list (after the states with no championships of course).
Next in order (from worst to better) we have North Carolina, Louisiana, Ohio (thanks Browns), Utah, Indiana, Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, Oregon, the District of Columbia (which we treated like a normal state), and Illinois. And a few notes on that list: North Carolina, Louisiana, and Utah have not played that many total seasons and each has one championship. Another championship in the near future in any of those states would dramatically change their position on the list. Ohio, on the other hand, has played a ton of seasons (442) since it has a lot of older franchises and multiple franchises in some of the bigger sports. Yet through all those seasons they have won only 9 championships in the state (get to work LeBron). Wisconsin would have fared better if we’d included some of the early days of the NFL when the Packers were dominant. Illinois was just one or two more Michael Jordan championships away from getting out of the bottom half of our list. So you can thank Jordan’s baseball experiment for Illinois’ inclusion as one of the worse sports states.
Which State Has the Best Sports
Based on our seasons per championship measure Massachusetts comes out as the best state for pro sports in America. And when you look at the teams individually it makes sense. With the exception of the New England Revolution (MLS, no championships) and the Boston Braves (MLB, defunct, one championship), all of the pro sports teams in Massachusetts have above average scores for seasons per championship. The Boston Celtics are particularly dominant, winning 17 times, or about once every 4 seasons on average. But the New England Patriots are no slouches either, winning about once every 12 seasons of play. In total, fans of Massachusetts sports have come to expect a championship from one of their pro teams every 11.8 seasons of play, or once every 2.5 years considering there are 5 active pro teams. Of course in real life championships can be much streakier than that (see Celtics). But if you have lived your whole life as a fan of Boston-based teams you have had a lot to celebrate.
The next best states for sports, in order, are New York, Maryland, Michigan, Washington, California, Texas, Colorado, Missouri, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. New York and California both have accrued a lot of total seasons of sports play (nearly 800 in each case), and they have a fair number of championships to show for that, just not enough to put them at the top. Maryland is a bit of a surprise, but earns its high spot on the list based on short-term success of a relatively young franchise (Ravens – NFL) and long term success of an older franchise (Orioles – MLB). Michigan ranks highly thanks to a pile of championships won by the Red Wings (NHL). Minnesota’s inclusion on the list is interesting because most of the success has come from basketball, not always a sport associated with the U.S. Hockey Capital. But the Lakers (NBA) won 5 championships in their short time in Minnesota before departing for sunny L.A., and the Minnesota Lynx have won 3 WNBA titles as well.
Of course, all numbers aside, everyone is loyal to their team and thinks their part of the country has the best sports. But if you do take these numbers to heart and you want to see your state move up on the list, cheer harder!