No. 15 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: DetroitSeptember 5, 2014
No. 15 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Detroit
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.
Detroit comes in at No. 15.
Number of Teams/Events: 18/20
Detroit has all four of the major U.S. sports leagues covered with football (Lions), basketball (Pistons), baseball (Tigers) and hockey (Red Wings).
They also boast one of the more storied collegiate athletic programs across all sports in the nearby University of Michigan and a number of smaller colleges in the vicinity like Detroit Mercy, Oakland and Eastern Michigan.
Needless to say, if you're looking for an athletic event to attend, it would be difficult to imagine not finding something.
Where Detroit loses some points, however, is their lack of a WNBA team (The Shock moved to Tulsa in 2009) and not having an MLS team—a failing seeming more and more egregious these days than ever before.
Remember, this score is about someone moving to Detroit and how much that person might enjoy the sports scene. Without a top-tier professional soccer team, I can think of plenty of people who might enjoy another city more.
Success of Teams in Past 5 Years: 12/20
This is a bit of a cop-out, but the Detroit sports scene is all about perspective.
Many diehard fans of the Tigers would probably believe this score to be too low (especially if they're Michigan State fans). In their world, things are going pretty great because they couldn't care less about the ineptitude of the Lions or the Wolverines football teams in the last few years.
Even Michigan itself is a bit of a glass half-full/half-empty sort of proposition, as the decline of the football program matched up pretty nicely with the ascent of the basketball team, which has become one of the powerhouses in college basketball.
Then again, it's really easy to be cynical about Detroit sports—as many Lions fans are. The Pistons are looking to rebuild, and the Red Wings have lost some luster. Fans of those teams may feel as if the sky is falling, or has already fallen.
Still, if one looks at the city as a whole, this middle-of-the-road score seems perfect.
Big points here thanks to the University of Michigan and recent renovations both to The Big House (one of college football's premier venues, and one of the most recognizable stadiums in the world) and the Crisler Center, which used to look like games were being played in a dark hallway.
Still, if you take Michigan out of the equation, Detroit's stadium scene leaves something to be desired.
I'll always have a soft spot for the Wings' Joe Louis Arena, but the 35-year-old building hasn't been a top venue in some time. A layer of "stickiness" seems to coat the floors, and a new home is well overdue—and thankfully on its way. History, fans and the team that occupies it make the Joe cool, but it's a drain on the points here.
The Palace, too, is getting up there in age, having opened in 1988. Once upon a time, leaving the city to go north wasn't as bad of a proposition, but when you get there and the stadium lacks some of the newest technology and amenities of many NBA arenas and is at the base of a landfill—literally—instead of in a vibrant downtown, one can't help but feel like they're getting the raw end of a deal. Since new owner Tom Gores purchased the team, he's invested over millions in renovations, but a newer structure within the city limits is sorely needed.
Ford Field, home of the Lions, is one of the newer stadiums on the list and has hosted a Super Bowl in 2005. That said, it was built right before the age of newer NFL super-structures, and the way NFL teams are bilking their fans for new stadiums more and more, it can't help but feel a little dated as well.
The bright side, among the pro teams, is Comerica Park, home of the Tigers. Opened in 2000, the park has major curb appeal with fountains, gigantic tiger statues, plenty of historical landmarks dotting the concourse and it's starting to figure out this whole ballpark food thing.
Fan Passion: 6/10
Similar to the "success of teams" slide, the Detroit sports landscape is diversified enough that this could be answered from a number of angles.
As for the Lions, I've long held that Detroit, at its core, is a football town. As the rest of the state prefers to make jokes about the Lions and has started sloughing off into Packer territory (looking at you, U.P.), the metro area of Detroit is practically begging for the Lions to do something, anything of note.
Heck, just look at the fact that the team was once known as a constant TV blackout threat, and all it took was a slight bounce-back to completely re-energize the fanbase. If the Lions' new regime can get this team back to the playoffs consistently, Ford Field will be rocking.
Wings and Tigers fans suffered through enough lean years that they've been tested by fire and tempered with cool water by now. Maybe they've got nothing on the "crazies" in Boston or on the North side of Chicago, but this is a big boost to the score.
Pistons fans are the ones who are being tested the most at this point. The countless missed draft picks of Joe Dumars' tenure and the slow slide into basketball oblivion have weakened their resolve from the memories of championship parades down the center of town.
Also dragging down the score is, regrettably, the Michigan Wolverines fanbase at large. Though there are well-known digs at "Walmart Wolverines" from Ohio State and Michigan State supporters, the diehard are just that, and the student section is always a force to be reckoned with, but the corporate and detached feel of many games—both football and basketball—pales in comparison to the atmosphere one might expect.
General Fan Experience: 9/15
A personal note, here:
I've covered sports in a number of cities and lived in a number more. Though I grew up in Michigan and still support Detroit sports, the biggest knock in this category is that I can't think of many of the venues in the Detroit area as a place I would really want to take my boys.
The Big House, sure, I'm a firm believer that every sports fan should get there once. But once you're there, once you've seen it? Once you've been in the mass of people? Once is enough.
Playoffs at the Joe? It's a special thing—especially if the octopuses are flying.
Comerica Park? Absolutely, especially because they're getting better at being an attraction of their own instead of just being the home of a baseball team.
Remove yourselves from the fan perspective from a moment. If two other teams would be playing at the Ford Field or the Palace of Auburn Hills, would you consider it a must-see destination? Is there something about the stadium itself (like the ivy at Wrigley or the celebrity atmosphere at the Staples Center)? Is there the chicness factor of hanging out in the downtown area? Is there something drawing people there?
I love Detroit sports, but Detroit as a sports destination for the fans could use a ton of work.
Detroit is pretty blessed when it comes to the coverage of their favorite sports teams.
From the dogged day-to-day beat guys like Dave Birkett (Detroit Free Press, Lions), David Mayo (MLive, Pistons), Vincent Goodwill (The Detroit News, Pistons), Ansar Khan (MLive, Red Wings) and Chris Iott (MLive, Tigers) to columnists like Mitch Albom (Free Press) and John Niyo (Detroit News); to the team/league guys like Tim Twentyman (Lions) and Jason Beck (MLB.com), the Detroit media scene has an incredible amount of coverage.
Sports radio in Detroit, too, is vibrant and (for the most part) as well done as it is anywhere. As I do radio across the country, Detroit-area radio hosts are typically less into the "shock jock" atmosphere and aren't looking to make headlines. Though every market will have their share of knuckleheads, Detroit's are few and far between.
The fan-media and blog scenes are pretty good as well when compared to other cities across the country.
The one negative thing here, though, is the lack of a true "dean" of sports media. For many, the definitive voice for years was Tom "Killer" Kowalski, who covered the Lions for MLive. He passed away in 2011, and now the Lions media workroom is named for him.
Arguments could be made for who that is today, but that's the point: Many in the Detroit media either haven't been around long enough or simply don't have Killer's gravitas to fill those shoes. Twice in recent weeks, longtime Detroit sports fans have told me they still "miss" Kowalski, and it's true that the city at large does as well.
Star Power: 7/10
Does Detroit have it?
The easy money here is on Tigers pitchers Justin Verlander. Though he's in a bit of a slump right now, every start of his is guaranteed to have the potential for greatness. He stands on top as a marketable talent over a Tigers roster dotted with potential greatness in Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Max Scherzer and the team's most recent addition, David Price.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is too up and down to draw people to Lions games just to watch him. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson also isn't active enough as a receiver on a weekly basis to really draw people outside of maybe two or three really huge catches per week. Both of these guys are positives here, but minor ones, along with lesser ticks up for running back Reggie Bush and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
After that, the Red Wings have Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk with a few other names that might perk up the ears of a diehard hockey fan. The Pistons have a couple of young talents in center Andre Drummond and power forward Greg Monroe, but the latter could be traded soon.
There's enough talent, and it's spread out enough that this group could entice plenty of new sports fans to come see the action, but there's no one the caliber of Barry Sanders, Steve Yzerman or Isaiah Thomas of a couple decades ago, and there's certainly no Gordie Howe, Ty Cobb or Joe Louis types like there were in Detroit's heyday.
Bo Schembechler vs. Woody Hayes...
Those two names alone start the conversation of this being a perfect five out of five. Bo, for his part, helped turn Michigan into one of the most successful football programs of all time. Michigan vs. Ohio State is arguably the biggest rivalry in U.S. sports (Duke and UNC fans might quibble, as will Yankees and Red Sox fans).
The amount of history that that man up there has brought to the Detroit area is staggering.
Add in the Bad Boys.
Add in the Production Line of Gordie Howe, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay.
What about the Russian Five of Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Sergei Fedorov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Vladimir Konstantinov? It was a group matched only in their talent by the tragedy that tore them apart.
Lou Whitaker turning double plays with Alan Trammell?
Ty Cobb coming home with his spikes turned up?
Barry Sanders running backwards 20 yards to run forward 50 more?
The Fab Five of Michigan Basketball—Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson and Juwan Howard—redefined cool for an entire era of basketball players.
Joe Louis helped lead a much more important cultural revolution years earlier as both a black man and a black boxer. A monument of his fist, forever aimed at injustice, still stands downtown.
Detroit has had its fair share of hard times, but the history of this sports town is hard to beat.
Final Tally: 72/100
Detroit often gets a bad rap, but it's a pretty solid city to be a sports fan in. There are plenty of options and usually a couple of those teams are doing well at some point. General fan experience and passion may be lacking a bit, but Detroit has a great history and a some quality stars worth the price of admission.
Though it comes in at just No. 15, if we've learned anything it's that you can't keep the city of Detroit down for long.
Michael Schottey is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff on his archive page and follow him on Twitter.