No. 17 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Washington/Baltimore
How much does where you live matter as a sports fan? The short answer is: It depends.
If you're an Alabama football fan, there's no better place to live than Tuscaloosa. If you're a Boston Red Sox fan, there's no worse place to live than New York City.
But what if you were a free agent, so to speak? What if you loved sports, but didn't have a specific affiliation to any team?
Say you're moving to a new city. Which metropolis would have the most to offer you as a sports fan? Which would give you the best overall experience?
That is what we're here to find out. We took 25 of the best writers from Bleacher Report and beyond to objectively look at their cities and come up with a ranking. To get a better understanding of the categories and grading criteria, click here.
Washington/Baltimore comes in at No. 17.
The sports fans—the people, for that matter—of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore are so close. But yet, at the same time, they are also so very far away.
Now, we're doing our part to bridge the gap between those two populations, just 30 miles away from each other and yet separated by so much. We will do so by scoring those fanbases as a single group, according to several categories. How do these two, with their powers and weaknesses combined together into one, stack up against the fanbases of the nation's other big markets?
We will see. But before we go any further with this exercise, we need to establish a few inalienable truths for the record. Because before we can unite, we must understand those things that divide.
It has nothing to do with the cities' teams themselves, which play occasionally but don't even operate in the same conferences. It's more of a fan issue.
It's hard to summarize in a nutshell, but there's a white-collar vs. blue-collar tension between the two entities (guess which one is which!). As a sports example, D.C. is, in its soul, a hoops town; plenty of people in Baltimore, on the other hand, would be delighted to never lay eyes on a basketball again. Baltimore, however, arguably has the pound-for-pound better teams and deeper sports tradition.
There's also the small matter of fact that Baltimoreans hate Washingtonians, like, as people. I don't use that word lightly. I also don't use it inaccurately. They despise what they view as the well-heeled federal suburbanites who watched The Wire once and now spend weekends slumming it in Charm City.
Washingtonians, for their part, care not a whit about Baltimore or its feelings. Aw, Baltimore is so cute, thinking it's on level footing with the most powerful city on the planet! It's a one-sided animosity, which probably just makes it worse.
It's complex, is what I'm saying. And it kind of makes this collective rating a bit of a fool's errand. Good thing I'm a big fool. I'm also a native of the area, though, so I feel I can make as informed of a decision as possible on the number of teams, their levels of success, stadiums, fan passion, general fan experience, media, star power and tradition/history. Let the healing begin.
Number of Teams/Events: 19/20
It's an embarrassment of riches in the Baltimore/D.C. corridor.
Both cities have NFL teams, those being the Ravens and Redskins in case you're new to America. Major League Baseball is alive and well inside the Beltways thanks to the Orioles and Nationals. Baltimore lacks a pro presence in basketball and hockey, but a Bullets Wizards or Capitals game is just a 30-minute I-95 drive away.
College sports is relatively robust. Though they are on one heck of a schneid these days, the Maryland Terps might just be the only team that D.C. and Baltimore fans freely share. The Georgetown Hoyas and regional teams from conferences like the ACC and Big East have plenty of loyal fans in both markets. And that's before you consider the smaller schools that occasionally become a bigger story, like that magical 2006 Final Four run from George Mason University in Washington's Virginia suburbs, Big Dance appearances this year from D.C.-based American and George Washington universities or an FCS title-game run for the Baltimore area's Towson Tigers.
Don't forget about Maryland and Johns Hopkins lacrosse, either.
You get the idea. Sports fans in the region have plenty to root for. They have some problems, but a lack of choices ain't one.
Success of Teams in Last Five Years: 11/20
There's the Ravens. That's, uh, that's about it.
The 2013 Super Bowl win was great. Hey, Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco and so on! But after this high-water mark, the proverbial pickins get a little slim.
Sure, the Wizards finally broke through this year, reaching the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. That was great, but it doesn't exactly wash away the previous four seasons in which the team went a combined 98-214. Not very good.
The Nats and O's have similar stories, with both clubs on the upswing after years in the hinterlands. Both teams reached the postseason in 2012, but there's still the inconvenient truth that the teams' cycles have been more bust than boom on the whole.
The Caps make the playoffs pretty regularly, though they tend to, ah, underperform when they get there. Then they missed the playoffs entirely this season, their first outside the now-defunct Southeast Division and inside the much more challenging Metropolitan Division.
And that brings us to a little team called the Redskins. It's been a march of mediocrity dating back far beyond five years, but that's the span we're measuring. You have heard something about Robert Griffin III's 2012 rookie campaign, in which he led the team to a 10-6 record and a first-round playoff game. You may also have heard something about 2013, in which the team went 3-13, which is considerably less impressive. In the three non-Griffin seasons up for consideration, you have a collective record of 15-33.
So, right. Unless you're pulling for the Purple and bBack, there isn't a ton to be excited about when considering the past five seasons. Is the future brighter than the past? Probably. But anyone with a tendency to learn from history will wait to believe it until they see it.
This one's a pretty mixed bag.
One extreme of the spectrum is the beautiful and charming Camden Yards, the standard-bearer of the throwback baseball yard, with the real-life converted warehouse and so on. So authentic for the Washington day-trip demo!
On the other extreme, you have FedEx Field. That's the Redskins' home base, located smack in the middle of non-scenic nowhere, also known as Landover, Maryland. Want to go do something before or after the game? No chance. But don't let the location sway you entirely. It's only $35 to park and $9.50 for a cup of suds!
And if that's not enough, do you hate traffic? Great! Then there's no way you'll like FedEx Field.
In the middle space, you have Verizon Center, the downtown-D.C. home of the Caps and Wiz. It's actually a pretty good space, convenient for driving and subway and situated in the city's vibrant Chinatown neighborhood.
You also have Nats Stadium, a somewhat less convenient spot than Verizon but not in the middle of nowhere like FedEx Field, either. In contrast to Camden, Nats Park is an unapologetically "modern" facility. It's a little sterile in its construction, but it more than makes up for that inside, where there is just about every amenity and activity you can think of, and maybe a few that you can't. In other words, you don't even have to like baseball to enjoy visiting this ballpark. And if you think that's a facetious remark, you clearly don't have children, or in-laws.
Rounding out the list is the Ravens' stadium, named after some bank now, I think, but who knows, it changes every year. As far as the venue itself, it's the most middling of the group. It's right next to Camden. I've been there a few times. I don't know. It's nice enough. Seems pretty standard issue. There could be more parking.
Fan Passion: 5/10
There's a rant coming. Forewarned is forearmed.
The Wizards failed to sell out their final playoff game of 2014, a Game 6 loss to Indiana. But yes, tell me again about how the team's postseason run captured the city's imagination.
The Nationals are a decent 12th thus far in MLB for attendance this season. But they're also first place in the NL East as we speak. Shouldn't this be higher? The team was 11th in 2013 and 14th in 2012, their first season in the playoffs. Perhaps not surprisingly (especially in Washington), the faithful disappear when the team isn't great, clocking in at 20th in 2011 and 23rd in 2010.
The Orioles, with their legions of blue-collar diehards, surely put the Nats to shame on this front. But wait a second. Let's hold the phone on that one. The O's attendance rankings for the same years: 15th so far this year, 18th in 2013, 20th in 2012 (the year they made the playoffs), 26th in 2011 and 24th in 2010.
So perhaps Baltimore doesn't hold any high ground on fan loyalty after all.
Redskins fans are passionate, in that they will immediately shout fellow 'Skins fans down if those other fans don't think the team is definitely, absolutely winning the Super Bowl that season or fail to believe that RG3 is the best quarterback in the league.
Of course, if it's time to shout down other fans, like, say Philadelphia Eagles fans, or if it's time to not sell your tickets to other fans, like, say Pittsburgh Steelers fans, they're a little less passionate. But hey, nobody's perfect.
Capitals fans are very passionate, I will grant that. Their team is wired the same way.
Ravens fans are pretty good, too. But how about when the team is bad? We'll see if the faithful remain faithful when the going gets tough.
In general, I do believe Baltimore fans have a sort of provincial, "our boys" approach to their teams that Washington fans generally do not have.
But there is evidence that both cities are populated with their share of fair-weather front-runners. That's probably more common throughout sports than most fanbases would like to think, but it's pretty clear that sports teams (especially when the teams aren't doing well) are an ancillary part of the average D.C./Baltimore lifestyle.
General Fan Experience: 7.5/15
American sports fanbases are like Lake Wobegon. Everyone fancies themselves slightly above average.
But it's probably fair to say the D.C./Baltimore fan experience is more or less smack on the mean line.
No one wants to hear that, but it's true. There are good points—the history of the franchises, some of the venues—and there are bad points—flaky fans, some of the venues—that blend together to make it all just about normal.
In fact, it's almost comical how much it pans out. Even the owners are perfect counterweights. The Orioles have a famously bad owner in Peter Angelos. The Nats have what seems to be a solid owner in Ted Lerner. The same thing applies for the Redskins' Dan Snyder (bad) and the Ravens' Steve Bisciotti (good).
The bottom line for the fan experience is that there are a lot of local sports teams which are reasonably healthy on the whole, and some people enjoy attending games and supporting the teams. There you go.
Here's one category where the Balitmore/D.C. area excels.
You're going to be hard-pressed to find a town that shares and transmits information with the same skill as Washington, D.C. Though politics is obviously the town's biggest game, sports is no exception to the rule.
Leading the way is The Washington Post, home of Tom Boswell, Sally Jenkins and a host of other standout columnists. It's also the paper that spawned Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, not to mention the highly influential D.C. Sports Bog (not a misprint, for those not in the know).
Washington is still the home of Pardon The Interruption and Around The Horn. It's also a city not afraid to ask hard questions of its sports leaders, or give them the out-and-out business if circumstances dictate. Ask Mike Shanahan or Daniel Snyder about that.
All of this is to say nothing of The Baltimore Sun, a newspaper that has done outstanding work over the years and continues to do so, across a wide range of sports.
The only demerit comes from the ongoing dispute between the Orioles and Nationals over media rights, namely the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. That is largely the work of Angelos, who didn't want a Washington baseball team in the first place and would be the region's most disliked owner if not for Snyder.
Star Power: 6/10
Historically, Baltimore and Washington have seen their share of larger-than-life celebrities and truly memorable athletes. At the present moment, the cupboard is reasonably well stocked, but the goods are perishable.
'Skins quarterback Robert Griffin III has all of the tools, but after two very different seasons, it's an open question as to where his needle will settle in the NFL.
The Ravens lost their signature names after their Super Bowl run, leaving an imperfect Flacco and Ray Rice, who has faced serious off-the-field issues in recent months, to hold down the star fort. It's not an ideal situation.
Alex Ovechkin can't win the big one, be it in the NHL or as part of the Russian national team. He also couldn't lead Inuits to an ice floe, which is unfortunate.
Young talent abounds, but the jury is still out on much of it. It remains to be seen whether the Wizards' John Wall and Bradley Beal can repeat their excellent 2013-14 playoff run. Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Manny Machado are a tremendous trio for the Orioles, but they remain in development and unproven in the playoffs. Ditto the Nats' Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, who have struggled with consistency and are often prickly with the public.
It may not exist across the board, but there are patches of promise. Check back in about three years for a more definitive answer.
As alluded to in the previous slide, the D.C./Baltimore region excels in the history department.
Cal Ripken Jr. owns the most unassailable record in sports history.
Ray Lewis and Ed Reed anchored one of the greatest defenses ever assembled in professional football.
The Hogs is the most only famous offensive line of, you know, ever.
The Baltimore Colts dominated the early NFL and were the darlings of the city, until they famously deserted the city for Indianapolis.
The Ravens and Redskins have five Super Bowl rings between them.
The tragic death of Maryland great Len Bias remains one of the most indelible stories in the annals of basketball, and one of the 20th century's saddest examples of a dream unfulfilled.
And that just scratches the surface of the history and tradition here. Consider just a few more names: Frank Robinson, Wes Unseld, John Riggins, Earl Monroe, Joe Gibbs, Allen Iverson, Brooks Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Art Monk, Len Elmore, Jim Palmer, Johnny Unitas, Dikembe Mutombo. Just a few names who made their bones in, and an impact on, the two cities' sports landscapes.
This is an area where all D.C. and Baltimore sports fans can take pride. Too bad it's only worth five points.
Final Tally: 68.5/100
Ultimately, when it comes to the nation's major sports markets, the D.C./Baltimore area is strikingly average.
There are good organizations, and there are bad organizations. Heroes, villains, the whole nine.
The fans could be better, but you know what? So could the teams. It's amazing how that happens. A handful of outliers aside, it's pretty easy to see the good teams have good fans, the bad teams have bad fans and a change in either direction probably brings a direct correlation more often than not.
With that in mind, the area may be on the ups, with exciting young stars lighting up different teams in both cities.
Better times could be on the horizon, but that's been the story for a while now. Until it actually happens, these teams, and the fans that support them, are locked in a state of malaise.
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