No. 12 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Denver

Adrian Dater@@adaterNHL National ColumnistSeptember 11, 2014

No. 12 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Denver

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    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. 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.

    Denver comes in at No. 12.

    There is a tendency by people to think of Denver as just some kind of Styrofoam, pre-fab sports city. After all, the Denver Broncos didn't exist until 1960, the Denver Nuggets didn't join the NBA until 1976 and the Colorado Rockies (the baseball team, not the hockey one that played from 1976-82) and Colorado Avalanche were not even in existence in the year 1992. 

    But did you know: 

    • Dr. James Naismith, the father of basketball, taught physical education at the first YMCA in Denver in 1895 and began dreaming up his concept of the sport there.
    • Babe Ruth regularly passed through the Mile High City, along with Colorado cities Pueblo and Colorado Springs, on his barnstorming baseball tours from 1922-40.
    • The city had a heck of a Triple-A baseball tradition, starting with the Denver Bears in 1955. The Bears were the farm club of the New York Yankees, then later the Montreal Expos, and a lot of the great players from those teams started out in Denver.
    • Denver was originally awarded the 1976 Summer Olympics, the one that featured Nadia Comaneci and her perfect 10s, only to have citizens reject them over a $5 million bond issue. (People here don't like that subject brought up much.)

    Today, Denver is one of 12 American cities to have all four major pro sports, not to mention an MLS team, the Rapids, and a Central Hockey League franchise, the Cutthroats.

    We've got Peyton Manning too, but you already knew that. 

    Denverites love their pro sports, but there is a lot of other competition for their attention. All of the outdoorsy types of things to do (skiing in Vail, hiking up Pikes Peak, fishing in the Arkansas River) are serious distractions from the pro arenas, and then there are the sports at major colleges such as Colorado, Colorado State, University of Denver and Air Force. 

    Really, it's a sportsperson's mecca. But we don't like to brag about it. One look at the majestic Rocky Mountains usually is enough to start winning people over, and the activities start from there. 

    The following slideshow takes a deeper look at why Denver is one of America's premier sports cities.

Number of Teams/Events: 18/20

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Denver has all four of the "Majors"—the Broncos, Rockies, Nuggets and Avalanche. There are also the Colorado Rapids of MLS and a Central Hockey League franchise, the Denver Cutthroats.

    We've also got a strong National Lacrosse League team, the Mammoth, that regularly fills the Pepsi Center. We have one of the best college lacrosse teams in the country in the University of Denver men's team, led by legendary former Princeton coach Bill Tierney. 

    There is a Triple-A baseball team about 65 miles down I-25 South, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, not to mention another strong CHL hockey franchise about 40 miles up I-25 North, the Colorado Eagles.

    We used to have a premier Grand Prix event, the Denver Grand Prix, but it went away. And we used to have a premier PGA Tour stop, the International at Castle Pines, but that went away too. No worries, Denver is the site in September of a PGA stop at Cherry Hills Country Club, the BMW Championship

    It's not just stick-and-ball sports that Colorado/Denver can brag about. The Bolder Boulder has long been one of the premier road races in the country, drawing tens of thousands of runners every Memorial Day. Want to talk top-of-the-line skiing? They have it up in Vail and Aspen every year. Next year, the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships will be held in Vail and Beaver Creek.

    And, you know that the Winter X-Games are held every year in Aspen, right, at Buttermilk Mountain? They will continue to be there every year until 2019.

    We have a great NHRA drag race every year, the Mile-High Nationals, set on a mountainside in Morrison, just outside of Denver. Come watch John Force and the other nitromethane drag racers light up the sky with smoking tires. 

    We produce pretty good swimmers here in Colorado, too (Amy Van Dyken, Missy Franklin). 

    There is just no time of year here when you can't find some great sporting activities to either watch or participate in. It's why, year after year, Coloradans regularly rank among the fittest of all Americans. We just love our sports.

Success of Teams in Last 5 Years: 13/20

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Can we skip talking about the last Super Bowl? 

    If we can do that, we have a lot of great stuff to talk about in the last year with the state's most popular team—by far—the Broncos. Peyton Manning has guided the Broncos to two straight AFC West titles (three straight overall for the team), along with an AFC championship win last season against New England. 

    Since Manning came to Denver—and he'll be throwing the football for the 2014 season, too—the Broncos have been a dominant team. They just, well, they just got crushed in the Super Bowl by Seattle, that's all. Broncos fans used to know the feeling well. They got crushed by Dallas, Washington, the Giants and San Francisco in Super Bowls before finally winning one in 1998 against Green Bay.

    The Avalanche won the NHL's Central Division title in 2013-14. The same division with Chicago, St. Louis and Minnesota. The Avs are a young team, with two of the last three Calder Trophy winners (Nathan MacKinnon and Gabe Landeskog) and the Coach of the Year, too (Patrick Roy). The winning will continue.

    The Nuggets? They are the NBA's perennial bubble team, usually good enough to make the playoffs, almost never good enough to win a round. This isn't likely to change much in the near future.

    And the Rockies? Let's skip that, too. This season, the ownership group even has gotten into it with fans. It is one of the worst-run franchises in professional sports, and it has been for a while. 

    The Rapids are a good team, not great. We have a heck of a lacrosse team at the University of Denver under legendary coach Bill Tierney.

Stadiums: 8/10

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Coors Field sees the most use of any of the three downtown Denver arenas, and that's a plus for everyone. The Rockies might be lousy, but the people at Coors make for a welcoming atmosphere, and it's tough to beat the views and the location.

    The majestic Rocky Mountains can be seen beyond the outfield, making for an especially beautiful view at sunset. The arena is located right in the heart of lower downtown ("LoDo" to the locals), with an abundance of restaurants and bars right outside. This isn't some stadium where the only thing to do after a game is walk to the car in a giant suburban parking lot and drive home.

    Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the Broncos, will never measure up to the old Mile High Stadium when it comes to pure decibel intimidation. The old Mile High trapped sound much better because of its steeper, higher east-west stands. Sports Authority Field is nice, though. Again, the backdrop of the Rockies makes everything so much prettier. Catch a game in the sunset hours, and you will soon develop the very best case of Rocky Mountain Fever you could hope for.

    The Pepsi Center? Nice building, modern enough. Does it have the ambiance of the other two? Probably not. But most hockey and basketball buildings can't compete as well in those areas. The Jumbotron at the Pepsi Center is one of the nicest in both leagues, so there's that.

Fan Passion: 8/10

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    In the 1970s, people used to paint their houses orange, OK? So we can establish here that the Broncos have long had a very passionate fanbase. That has not changed. On The Denver Post's website during football season, it is the rare day when four of the top five most clicked-upon stories aren't about the Broncos. The local TV ratings regularly are in 40-plus share territory.

    Denver has set attendance records for two other teams, too: the Rockies and Avalanche. From 1995-2006, the Avs sold out an NHL-record 487 straight games at the old McNichols Sports Arena and the Pepsi Center. When the Rockies came to Denver in 1993, they set a still-standing Major League Baseball attendance record of 4,483,350 (55,350 a game). 

    The fact is, Denver can get very, very excited about a team when they're good, or if it's brand new. Yeah, it can be a bandwagon town in some ways (attendance was terrible for the Avs when they started losing, and the Nuggets have always been hit and miss), but it's a very good sports town.

    Come to Denver, and you're going to feel like doing something sports-related, either on the field itself as a participant or as a spectator.

General Fan Experience: 12/15

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    As we mentioned earlier, when you leave a venue in Denver, you don't just get in the car and drive home. Whether going to Coors Field, the Pepsi Center or Sports Authority Field at Mile High, lots of great restaurants and other cultural attractions are within walking distance. 

    A trip to Coors wouldn't be complete without a pre- or postgame libation and meal at the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery, right next to the field. It's a fabulous place, with not only great food, drink and atmosphere, but also tons of photos on the walls of famous athletes and celebrities who have passed through. 

    The Wynkoop Brewing Company, just up the street, is another legendary Denver watering hole. The governor of the state, John Hickenlooper, started the place in the early '90s, and it's fantastic. Play a few games of pool upstairs after a game.

    Sports Authority Field is across the I-25 interstate highway, but it's still within reasonable walking distance of everything. The stadium has a very modern feel despite being nearly 15 years old and is reasonably accessible off the highway. The Pepsi Center has a nice location, between Coors and Sports Authority. Again, there are those Rocky Mountains within full view of there and everywhere you go. It's tough to beat Denver for scenery.

Media: 8/10

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    Woody Paige, in 2006.
    Woody Paige, in 2006.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The local media scene suffered a great loss in 2009 when the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News folded. A tremendous paper, it always kept the rival Denver Post honest. The two dailies had a viciously entertaining newspaper war that, above all, served the readers of the city in good stead. They fought for every scrap of news, which only made the citizenry better informed.

    The Denver Post remains a fine, Pulitzer Prize-winning paper (full disclosure: I work there) that aggressively covers its sports teams. The Post still travels to all games of its local pro teams and has several well-known writers, including legendary columnist Woody Paige. Woody, a colleague of mine, is a walking, talking encyclopedia of Denver sports. Mark Kiszla, the other main columnist at the Post, pulls no punches in keeping the teams honest.

    Denver sports fans have nothing to worry about when it comes to television. Stan Kroenke, who owns the Nuggets, Avalanche and Rapids, also has his own cable network, Altitude. Almost every game, home and away, can be seen on Altitude, with pre- and postgame shows. All of the play-by-play men and color analysts, particularly Peter McNab as color man of the Avs, are excellent.

    The Rockies can be seen on just about every night on Root Sports, another strong local network. The Broncos, of course, are on locally every game, and just about everybody watches.

    Local sports radio? It's not the same atmosphere as a New York or a Boston. A little sleepy, a little slower-paced. But there is a 24-hour sports station, 104.3 FM The Fan, and a couple of other sports-centric stations, so people in their cars have options, too.

Star Power: 6/10

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    You want some big names, we have 'em here in the Mile High City. 

    We'll start off with Peyton Manning, of course, arguably among the top three most famous athletes in sports today. No matter where Manning goes in Denver, men and women with cameras, notebooks and tape recorders are sure to follow. His Wednesday press conferences with the media during the season are standing-room only.

    And don't forget: John Elway is still in this town. He may have stopped playing 15 years ago, but the Duke of Denver remains A-list here, there and everywhere. 

    Some of the biggest names in sports history reside here as well. Hall of Famer Patrick Roy coaches the Avalanche, and Joe Sakic is the GM. On the ice, there are some good ones, too. Nathan MacKinnon, the latest Calder Trophy winner, could go on to become the biggest star in the NHL before long. Gabe Landeskog won the Calder three years ago as well. 

    The Rockies may stink, but they have two of the biggest stars in baseball: Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. The question everyone is grappling with right now is: Will Tulo be traded? It will be a dark day in Denver if that happens.

    The Nuggets? Since Carmelo Anthony left, the star power has diminished. Unless, you are a huge fan of JaVale McGee's old reality show.

Tradition and History: 3/10

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    Alex English
    Alex EnglishBrian Drake/Getty Images

    Again, Denver can't match a Boston or New York or Chicago for sports tradition. There are no pictures from the 1920s of players from any pro team with "Denver" on their chests. 

    But what Denver lacks in yellow-tinged scrapbook pictures, it has made up for with a rich recent sports history. As one of 12 cities with all four pro teams, Denver has the maximum number of resources to draw ongoing history and tradition. All four teams are on solid financial footing and figure to be around a long time.

    If there were a Mount Rushmore of Denver sports, it would probably include John Elway, Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and Todd Helton. Dan Issel, Peter Forsberg, David Thompson, Alex English, Randy Gradishar, Larry Walker, Terrell Davis and Floyd Little would be close behind. 

    The Rockies still hold the MLB attendance record, and no team has sold out more games in a row than the Avalanche. Broncos games have been sold out forever. 

    You think Denver, you think many things: The mountains, thin air, a cowboy, frontier tradition. Above all, you think sports.

Final Tally: 76/100

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    Michael Martin/Getty Images

    Out of 100 possible points, I give Denver a 76. 

    The Rockies drag things down some, despite the lovely environs of Coors Field. Truth be told, the organization is a giant mess, with the co-owner even trading some shots of late with the fans. The Nuggets are no great shakes either, having missed the playoffs last season and losing some of their star power in recent years. 

    But Peyton Manning is here. The Avs are on the rise. And no matter what, people in Denver have plenty of sports to choose from. It's one of America's top sports towns and probably always will be.


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