No. 18 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Cleveland
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 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. What city would have the most to offer you as a sports fan? What city 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.
Cleveland comes in at No. 18.
Cleveland is the only city in America that can be described as “the little engine that could.” No other American city has experienced a longer championship drought in major sports, yet the fans never stop believing and never stop supporting.
That’s just the way Cleveland is built. Finally, it looks as though the “Mistake on the Lake” is back on the upswing and ready to get its tiny engine powered over the hill.
LeBron James made the popular decision this time and decided to return to northeast Ohio. The Browns drafted Johnny Manziel, and the Indians are in the thick of the postseason hunt. Let’s not forget the city’s recent resurgence in downtown development and the fact it was just awarded the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Things are looking up on the North Coast.
Yes, the city which has endured so much heartache may finally be in position to deliver some of that medicine to others. So what makes Cleveland rank No. 18 among America’s best sport cities? Let’s take a look at all of the determining factors.
Number of Teams/Events: 16/20
Despite never really winning much and an economy that has been among the worst in the country for the past two decades, Cleveland continues to support its three major sports franchises as if it were a flourishing metropolis.
The Browns, Cavs and Indians are the lifeblood of downtown Cleveland. When the teams are competitive, the city is buzzing with people and activity. When the teams are not competitive, it can be pretty easy to find a seat at the bars downtown.
Cleveland is also home to the Cleveland State Vikings, who have enjoyed some decent success as one the nation’s premier mid-major basketball programs. While they do not get the support they probably deserve, they certainly capture the city's attention each year around tournament time.
People in Cleveland, like the rest of Ohio, also claim The Ohio State University as their own. The campus is just a two-hour drive south, and that makes Buckeye gear more prevalent than any other college in the region.
The city is home to the Cleveland Gladiators, an arena football team. The region also hosts the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational, which draws the biggest names in the sport on a yearly basis, including Tiger Woods.
Success in the Last Five Years: 5/20
Success and Cleveland sports are two things that do not go together very often. Of the three major sports franchises in town, there have been just two playoff appearances in the last five years.
The Cavaliers barely qualified for this, as LeBron James carried them to the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference before being bounced by the Boston Celtics in the 2009-2010 season. That was truly the last time any of the teams in Cleveland were relevant.
Over the next four years, the Cavaliers went on to own the worst losing streak in NBA history, collect three first overall draft picks and never win more than 32 percent of their games.
The Indians made the playoffs in 2013. Well, kind of. They were a part of the play-in game as a wild-card team. They finished the season with 10 straight wins and snuck into the postseason with a 92-70 record only to get dismantled by Alex Cobb and the Tamp Bay Rays.
The Browns have won a total of 23 games in the past five seasons and have never won more than five. Over that span, they have seen four head coaches, two owners and countless front office members. Needless to say, they are still searching for some continuity and success at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Cleveland is lucky that this rating comes after upgrades to FirstEnergy Stadium have begun. If this had been done two years ago I am not sure Cleveland fans would have been happy with the score.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is sinking $120 million into renovations of FirstEnergy Stadium. The revamped lakefront stadium will now have two new video boards, which are nearly triple the size of the old ones. It will feature new LED video boards and ribbon boards around the stadium, and it will also add increased corner seating in the lower bowl and two new escalators.
FirstEnergy Stadium, which for years had no personality and looked as dull as the product on the field, now has life and excitement.
Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field) is still one of the gems of the Midwest as far as baseball stadiums go. Many around baseball love that it still manages an intimate atmosphere while housing the 14th-most fans in Major League Baseball.
Each year the Indians do some type of minor facelift to the facility to make it feel new and fresh.
Quicken Loans Arena is elite in the NBA ranks. The facility, which features 20,562 seats, has everything from gourmet food to flame-throwing scoreboards. Even when the product on the court is nearly unwatchable, the seats in Loudville (the upper-deck sections of the arena) are still a blast.
Fan Passion: 10/10
The city of Cleveland is home to some of the best fans in the county, and you don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask Alabama coach Nick Saban. He told ESPN’s First Take that Cleveland has the best fans in the country.
While many cities lay claim to that title, none can say their patrons are quite as faithful as Cleveland. For as bad as the Browns have been over the past five years, they have never dipped into the bottom five in attendance and did not have any games blacked out on local television.
Passion and attendance are not mutually exclusive, however. If you have any doubt about the passion of the Browns fanbase, then take into account that they have over 360 backers clubs in 10 different countries.
The Indians usually scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to attendance, but that does not temper the fans’ passion. Television and radio ratings for the Tribe are always strong, and when the team is in contention, you can see Indians paraphernalia everywhere.
The Cavaliers are an interesting phenomenon. Before LeBron James was drafted by the franchise, no one cared about the downtrodden team. Then everyone loved them and every game was sold out. Once James left for Miami, the city rallied around the Cavs and owner Dan Gilbert like the best friend of a woman whose husband had left her for a younger, more beautiful model.
Things are definitely changing, though. The amount of excitement and passion in Cleveland right now because of LeBron James, Johnny Manziel and a competitive Indians team in unexplainable.
General Fan Experience: 10/15
If you attended a Cleveland Browns game in 2012, you would have thought the music, decor, scoreboards and sound systems were the exact same as they were when the team returned in 1999. You would have pretty much been right.
The Browns took steps to fix the in-game experience last season by adding revamped player introductions, pyrotechnics and even halftime wiener dog races. The team also introduced a tradition where each end zone pushes a banner from the field to the top of the section.
The Cavaliers have in-game entertainment down like no other. Each timeout is like a mini-event unto itself. The circus of break dancers, T-shirt tossers, mascots and hype men that hit the floor during nearly every break in the action is almost overwhelming. Despite the poor performance of the team over the past four years, Cavs tickets have consistently held their value on entertainment alone.
The Indians, like many MLB teams, take a more traditional approach to their fan entertainment. There is still plenty to watch and laugh about between innings despite the old ballpark feel, however. The hot dog race is a fan favorite, and the stretch of suites that has been transformed into a kids' zone is a nice touch.
They also have John Adams. He is the drummer who has beaten his drum from the outfield bleachers at nearly every game since 1973. He was even featured as a character in the classic movie Major League.
What was once one of the best sports media cities in America has been ravaged in recent years by retirements, firings, national hirings and a dying newspaper industry.
We will start with the good. The Indians boast one of the best radio play-by-play voices in the nation in Tom Hamilton. FanGraphs ranked Hamilton as the fourth-best radio announcer in the league in 2012, and many would agree.
He is a throwback to the old days when radio announcers were a guide through the game and had personality. Most of the new-age announcers are glorified cheerleaders for the franchise that employs them.
In 2011, one of the best NBA radio announcers in recent memory retired. Joe Tait was given his own appreciation night, and the perch he once sat upon to call games was dedicated to him.
Now here is the bad. The only major newspaper in Cleveland will minimize its delivery days come August of this year. The Plain Dealer will only deliver on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, and that is a huge blow to sports coverage.
Cleveland still supports two full-time sports radio stations in 92.3 The Fan and ESPN 850 WKNR and a part-time sports station in Newsradio WTAM 1100. There are also a few award-winning writers left in town. Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPNCleveland.com and is also a Hall of Fame voter. Paul Hoynes is one of the more respected writers in MLB. He still covers the Indians on a daily basis for Cleveland.com.
Star Power: 9/10
Cleveland has quickly become the center of the sports universe. Over the past few months, the Browns drafted rookie hype machine Johnny Manziel, and then LeBron James decided he wanted to return to the Cavaliers.
All of a sudden season tickets are sold out, there are more parties being promoted at clubs, and even rapper Drake is reportedly looking for real estate in Cleveland.
Last season the Indians hired one of the best managers in baseball in Terry Francona and signed one of its biggest personalities in Nick Swisher. There has not been this much star power and name recognition in Cleveland since John D. Rockefeller still occupied a home in northeast Ohio.
Long gone are the days when Drew Carey was the only name anyone may have known from the shores of Lake Erie. Cleveland has flair again and will see stars such as Jay-Z and Beyonce courtside for games again just like they did during LeBron’s first go-round.
The Browns are still widely considered one of the most storied franchises in the NFL. When Paul Brown was the coach and Jim Brown was the most dominant athlete on the planet, there was no bigger team than the Browns.
Unfortunately, that was 50 years ago, before the NFL was even formed.
The Indians have not won a championship since 1948 and suffered through some of the leanest years in MLB history before finally bouncing back to life in the 1990s. Those years were full of electric walk-off homers and playoff runs but never ended in a ring.
The Cavaliers have been around for 44 years but have managed to make the NBA Finals just once. That was in 2007, when LeBron James willed a below-average roster all the way to the biggest series in Cleveland since 1964.
That series ended in a sweep to the San Antonio Spurs.
If you lump Ohio State in with the Cleveland franchises, then there is plenty of tradition. Without the Buckeyes, however, it is tough to find much outside of the Paul Brown years.
The positive side is that things are on an upswing in Cleveland and the franchises can now focus on building new traditions and forming new histories that don’t involve so much heartache and losing.
Final Tally: 67/100
While Cleveland’s score will not be the worst of the bunch, it certainly will not be near the top either. The lack of success is really what killed the city by the lake.
Because when franchises have success, they build tradition. With great tradition comes great sports coverage and new, innovative stadiums. It all starts with winning.
The Browns look to be on the right path, and the Cavs should challenge for NBA titles multiple times over the next few years. Unfortunately, nothing is guaranteed when it comes to championships. No one knows this better than Cleveland.
So while the rest of the country will revel in the montages of despair every time a Cleveland team makes the playoffs, true Cleveland fans know better times are ahead. I mean, they have to be right? Fifty years is too long to wait for a championship.