No. 1 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Boston
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.
Boston comes in at No. 1. Let's find out why.
Number of Teams/Events: 18/20
Yes, Boston has one representative in each of the four major North American professional leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL), if we’re counting the Patriots. And for just the 24th-most populous city in the U.S., that’s quite a feat.
Boston fans also enjoy some of the best college hockey the country has to offer, including the annual Beanpot Tournament, as well as sporadically entertaining college basketball teams and the occasional stud college football player from Boston College.
And last but not least, Boston is also home to Major League Soccer's New England Revolution, Major League Lacrosse's Boston Cannons, National Lacrosse League's Boston Blazers, Women's Football Alliance’s Boston Militia and National Women's Soccer League’s Boston Breakers, to name representatives from some alternative leagues.
However, Boston doesn’t boast continuously successful college football, basketball or baseball teams and can’t compete with two-team towns such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles on the professional side. For that reason, it’s docked a few points here, even if it covers all of the bases when it comes to the Big Four and has a few unique callings to offer.
Success of Teams in Last 5 Years: 20/20
This is one of the areas in which Boston truly shines, as it’s hard to find another city that’s had as much success as Boston over the past half-decade. From 2009-2013, each of the major four teams made it to a championship game at least once.
The Bruins reigned supreme in 2011, and the Red Sox won it all in 2013. Boston College also won the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship in 2010 and 2012.
The Patriots and Bruins have been consistently excellent over the past five years, the Celtics were very competitive until 2013 and the Red Sox have had ups and downs but have generally been in contention. There’s always a team to watch or root for that has a legitimate chance at postseason aspirations.
Plus, if we extend this category to the past decade, we can add another two rings for the Red Sox, a ring for the Celtics and a ring for the Patriots, as well as many playoff appearances, individual successes and NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championships (BC and Boston University).
If you encounter a Boston fan, he or she is quite likely to tell you how successful the city’s sports teams have been in the recent past. Thankfully, humility is not a category here.
When it comes to professional stadiums, Boston isn’t perfect, but it does well nonetheless.
Fenway Park is practically a historical landmark at this point, and new ownership has done wonders to breathe new life into the stadium. From the Monster Seats to new, cleaner interior facilities to the new right field roof deck and more, Fenway is one of the best places in the country to take in a game, occasional obstructed view aside.
TD Garden, home to the Celtics and Bruins, is a solid sports arena that’s easy to get to and offers an intense atmosphere during important games. It’s not a terribly unique or impressive facility, though, and it lacks the historic elements of the old Boston Garden.
Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, is a beautiful, modern stadium that offers great views of the field from many levels and can comfortably fit nearly 70,000 guests. However, it’s difficult to get to from Boston, as trains are limited and take forever, and getting out of the parking lot can take nearly as long as the game itself for those who choose to drive.
Other interesting venues include Boston University’s Nickerson Field, once the home of the Boston Braves, the Coliseum-inspired Harvard Stadium and Northeastern University’s Matthews Arena, which is the oldest multipurpose athletic building still in use in the world.
Overall, Bostonians have nothing to complain about when it comes to their athletic facilities.
Fan Passion: 10/10
This is one of the more difficult areas of evaluation to quantify, but it’s hard to find a city that takes more pride in its sports teams than Boston.
From the legendary sellout streak at Fenway Park (820, including postseason), to the fanatical hockey fans for both NHL and collegiate action, to the "Bird 33" shirseys you still see out in force, to the scores of Bostonians who’ve sworn allegiance to the Dark Lord Bill Belichick, rabid fans abound in this city.
What’s perhaps most interesting about the fan passion in Boston is that it varies in intensity and motive by age. There are many Bostonians who saw generations go by between championships, endured part of the 86 years between Red Sox pennants, witnessed decades of mediocrity from the Bruins and the pre-Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Patriots.
Then there’s the younger crowd of Boston fans who’ve grown accustomed to success and who demand a deep playoff run from every team, every year. Their passion is palpable too, albeit in a different way.
But no matter where you turn in Boston, whether you’re on a college campus, hitting up a bar, walking downtown or running errands, you’ll run into someone wearing a No. 12 Pats jersey, a Red Sox hat, a Celtics jacket or a Bruins sweater.
And if you go outside in Yankees, Jets or Lakers gear, expect to be heckled—a lot.
General Fan Experience: 13/15
Overall, now is a terrific time to be a sports fan in Boston. All of the major sports teams are competitive, have been in the recent past or look like they will be again in the near future. The city is thriving economically, which makes high ticket prices and concessions a bit more tolerable. And as discussed earlier, there’s no shortage of pride in this town.
Boston loses a few points here for the aforementioned cost of attending a game, as well as the lack of options for those who truly love college football or basketball. But really, that’s nitpicking. You’ll always find a local game on at every bar or restaurant, will always encounter someone willing to talk sports at the water cooler and can see support for Boston’s teams every time you run an errand, board the T or go for a jog.
We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention some of the more eclectic but city-defining sporting events, such as the Boston Marathon or the Head of the Charles Regatta (world's largest two-day rowing event). These competitions might not jump out when you think "Boston sports," but residents of the city identity with both—especially the Marathon, given 2013’s events.
This is a city that’s acutely in tune with how each of its teams is performing, and that creates a fun atmosphere for both casual and diehard fans alike. If you’re looking for someone to watch or talk sports with, you’ll never be alone in Boston.
There’s a lot of pressure that comes with playing in the Boston market, and much of that comes from the expansive, constant media coverage that all of the major teams must face. From ESPN to WEEI to CSN New England to NESN to local affiliates and more, Boston fans have no shortage of options when it comes to watching, listening to or reading about their favorite athletes and teams.
The Red Sox feature the popular broadcasting duo of Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo when on NESN, and talented beat writers from The Boston Globe, WEEI.com, the Providence Journal and beyond cover the Sox all year long.
The Celtics and Bruins face a bit more scrutiny when it comes to broadcasts. CSNNE’s Celtics color analyst Tommy Heinsohn and NESN’s Bruins play-by-play man Jack Edwards both come under fire for blatant homerism. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for those who live in the city, mind you, but it’s a valid criticism for those on the outside looking in.
The Patriots don’t have their own local broadcasts, of course, but there’s no shortage of talented beat writers and analysts discussing their movements on an everyday basis. Plus, the media here has to deal with Bill Belichick, so they deserve extra points for patience.
In terms of national relevance, Boston is home to sportswriting legends such as Bob Ryan and Jackie MacMullan and personalities such as Dan Shaughnessy and Bill Simmons.
And with current reporters such as WEEI.com’s Alex Speier and Rob Bradford; The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham, Julian Benbow and Amalie Benjamin; the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton and Brian MacPherson; ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes, Chris Forsberg and Mike Reiss; and many, many others; the city’s day-to-day coverage is in good hands.
Star Power: 8/10
Boston is home to no shortage of nationally recognized stars and household names across all of the major sports.
The Patriots have some guy named Tom Brady at quarterback—maybe you’ve heard of him—along with well-known defenders such as Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman represent the two non-Brady stars on the offensive side of the ball.
The Red Sox boast David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia—two of MLB’s better-known personalities—and have Yoenis Cespedes and Koji Uehara from the next tier of stars, too. Add in up-and-comers Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, and the Sox should be able to put butts in the seats for years to come.
The Bruins have the reigning Selke winner and EA Sports’ NHL 15 cover man Patrice Bergeron, as well as the physically intimidating Zdeno Chara and one of the league’s better goalies in Tuukka Rask. Factor in more infamous talents such as Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand, and the Bruins have some of the NHL’s better-known names.
The Celtics have rostered more talent in their history than any other Boston-based professional sports team, but they represent the low man on the totem pole here. Rajon Rondo is extraordinarily fun to watch on any given night, but he’s really the only star on the roster. With the C’s firmly in the midst of a rebuild and without the services of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or Ray Allen, they cost Boston a few points here.
Still, while Boston may not be home to a phenomenon such as Mike Trout or LeBron James, it has enough household names spread throughout its four main teams to fare pretty well in this category.
Bill Russell. Ted Williams. Larry Bird. Bobby Orr. Tom Brady. Milt Schmidt. Babe Ruth. Bill Belichick. Cam Neely. Bob Cousy. Carl Yastrzemski. Mike Eruzione. Roger Clemens. Pedro Martinez. Doug Flutie. John Havlicek. And many, many more.
These are just some of the names that not only define Boston sports, but also define the sports they played in general. These names transcend All-Star Games or Hall of Fames—they’re iconic in their own unique ways, and they’ve all called Boston home.
The Bruins are the oldest NHL team in the United States. The Celtics have won 17 championships. The Red Sox have been around since 1901 and are one of the charter franchises of the American League.
And while the Patriots don’t quite have the history to match, they defined success in the 2000s. Boston is awash in sports history and tradition, and this is a city that very much prides itself on its past.
The Boston Marathon began in 1897. The Head of the Charles Regatta began in 1965. Harvard University’s baseball program began in 1865, and Boston College’s football program began in 1892.
Boston is an old, old city, and while the pressure to "win now" is considerable, it doesn’t come at the expense of remembrance of and reverence for the past.
Final Tally: 90/100
Boston is one of the premier sports cities in the country, and its professional teams are in the midst of an exceptional run of success. Here's some food for thought: Of the four major sports, the Boston team that's currently endured the longest championship drought is the Patriots, who won their last title in 2004.
A few factors prevent Boston from netting a perfect score here, such as its lack of premier college football or basketball programs, the exorbitant cost of attending a game in the city and its distance from Gillette Stadium. But really, this is nitpicking—Boston is as close to the ideal sports city as you can get, despite its relatively modest population.
There are cities with more teams, bigger stars, a forgiving media and affordable games. But there are few, if any, places in the country that excel in as many areas as does Boston when it comes to sports.