No. 25 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: New Orleans
How much does where you live matter as a sports fan? The short answer: It depends.
If you're an Alabama football fan, there's no better place to live than Tuscaloosa. If you're a 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? 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.
New Orleans comes in at No. 25.
Marquee events like the Super Bowl and Sugar Bowl have made the Big Easy a sports-destination city for decades. It’s also all about the fanatical “Who Dat” love of the Saints. The rest of the local sports picture is a bit lacking, though.
Number of Teams/Events: 15/20
With the Saints (NFL) and the Pelicans (NBA), New Orleans has a major-teams profile on par with Indianapolis and Charlotte, both of which have larger populations.
There’s also the Triple-A Zephyrs and Arena League VooDoo, but no hockey. On the college level, Tulane provides FCS football and, along with the University of New Orleans, Division I basketball and baseball. The Zurich Classic in April brings the PGA Tour to town, and the Fair Grounds is a major winter racetrack.
But what sets New Orleans apart is its history of hosting big events: 10 Super Bowls (tied with Miami for the most of any city), five Final Fours and—thanks to the Sugar Bowl—four BCS championship games and several others that decided the national title in earlier years. In fact, the Superdome is the only facility to be the site of all three events. Two NBA All-Star Games in the past six years have put New Orleans in heavy rotation for another event.
Success of Teams: 8/20
The Saints’ victory in Super Bowl XLIV came in 2009, so that epic triumph gets in just under the wire for our qualifying purposes. However, the team has been in the playoffs in three of the four years since then, albeit without another championship run.
The Pelicans are another story. As the Hornets, they last made the playoffs in 2011, which was also Chris Paul’s final year with the team. Since then, the renamed team has had three straight losing seasons.
Meanwhile, Tulane broke an 11-year bowl drought last season, but there hasn’t been much else to cheer for on the college level.
The Superdome opened 39 years ago, in 1975, but thanks to post-Hurricane Katrina upgrades, it maintains a high ranking among indoor facilities, even if its exterior looks dated compared to its newer contemporaries.
Similarly, the 14-year-old Smoothie King Center, which got its new name earlier this year (formerly New Orleans Arena) and is next to the Superdome, has had recent interior and exterior makeovers. But it is still more utilitarian than eye-catching.
Tulane moves into its new on-campus stadium this fall, but with 25,000 seats and cramped surroundings, its ambiance is yet to be determined.
Fan Passion: 6/10
No NFL team south of Green Bay has the fan allegiance of the Saints. Credit the emotional impact of the rebuilding of the Superdome after Katrina and the team’s unprecedented success since then, combined with a passion that can feel all-consuming.
The Pelicans have yet to yield anything approaching that passion, and they probably never will.
Similarly, Tulane, with its lack of football and basketball success and an alumni base that is overwhelmingly out of state (82 percent), doesn’t move the needle very much. Nearby LSU does, though.
General Fan Experience: 6/15
On Saints game days, it seems like everyone—inside and outside the Superdome—is wearing some form of black-and-gold gear. Road games find fans gathering in local watering holes, and, it being New Orleans, there are more than enough of them to make sports bars seem superfluous.
There’s not much of a sports entertainment element around the ‘Dome and arena. Oddly enough, Bourbon Street isn’t a favorite of locals; it’s more for tourists. The exception was the night the Saints won the NFC Championship Game, when it seemed the entire crowd descended there and didn’t go home until dawn.
Meanwhile, nobody outside of the Smoothie King Center has ever been spotted wearing a Pelicans jersey on game day.
While there hasn’t been a blackout in years, many Saints fans show their loyalty to WWL Radio and the team of play-by-play man Jim Henderson and analyst Hokie Gajan by muting the TV and listening to their broadcast.
Similarly, Pelicans TV announcer Joel Meyers is a first-rate pro.
But the most intriguing local media story is that New Orleans is a rare two-newspaper town. In 2012, when The Times-Picayune announced it was reducing its actual publishing to three days a week, the ownership of the Baton Rouge-based The Advocate committed to a New Orleans operation. That has morphed into the New Orleans Advocate, which goes head-to-head with the Picayune in sports, much to the benefit of local readers.
Star Power: 7/10
Drew Brees, Drew Brees, Drew Brees. New Orleans has never had a more popular sports figure, although Archie Manning has morphed into one since his playing days, especially following the success of sons Peyton and Eli.
In Anthony Davis, the Pelicans have a potential NBA MVP, but unless the team puts enough players around him to prevent a Chris Paul-like departure when he’s eligible for free agency, he won’t reach the heights Breezus has.
The Saints didn’t make the playoffs during their first 20 seasons and didn’t win a playoff game until 2000. Their success in the past nine years has only emphasized how fallow those early days were.
The Pelicans have only been here since 2002 and have won only one playoff series in that time.
Tulane hasn’t been to a major bowl game since the 1939 Sugar Bowl.
Final Tally: 57/100
In a city where people pay thousands of dollars a year to throw beads, it’s difficult to get a commitment out of people to spend their discretionary funds on live sports.
Certainly, the Saints are the exception. But the overwhelming love they’re shown is a combination of post-Katrina emotion and the team’s success, which doesn’t translate to other teams, while the Super Bowls, Final Fours and the like are mostly populated by visitors.
Hosting those big events boosts the score, but New Orleans recently lost out to other cities for the College Football Playoff in 2016 and Super Bowl LII in 2018, leaving New Orleans without a major event on the calendar for the first time in recent memory.