No. 3 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Philadelphia
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 Boston 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?
Say 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.
Philadelphia comes in at No. 3.
I know what you think of when you think of Philadelphia sports—snowballs thrown at Santa Claus. Why do you think this? Because the mainstream media constantly reminds you the event happened all of those years ago, that’s why.
But the truth is, Philadelphia is a vibrant sports town that shouldn’t be defined solely by a few instances of poor fan behavior. It’s a town with multiple teams to follow, historic franchises and, yes, a very passionate fanbase.
Let’s break down the City of Brotherly Love.
Number of Teams/Events: 18/20
For starters, Philadelphia has teams in all four major sports: the Eagles, the Flyers, the Phillies and the Sixers. The city has an MLS team, the Philadelphia Union, and several successful college basketball programs, including Temple, Villanova (technically the Wildcats are located outside of the city, but Philly has adopted the school as its own), St. Joe’s and Penn.
And we can't forget about the team's Arena Football League team, the Philadelphia Soul.
The city regularly attracts major sporting events, most recently the NHL draft, while it’s also hosted international friendlies in soccer and regularly hosts NCAA tournament games. Plus, the Penn Relays—the oldest track and field competition in the United States—are held at Franklin Field every year. Meanwhile, the Army vs. Navy game has been held in Philadelphia more than any other location.
This is a town with plenty of options for fans, though a point has been docked because college football is largely unrepresented. While many have adopted Penn State, it’s not quite the same.
Success of Teams in Past Five Years: 15/20
The Phillies reached the World Series in 2009 and the playoffs twice after that, although the team has really struggled in recent years as the core group of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels has aged and hasn't been surrounded by the talent needed to continue reaching the postseason. It's been a slow and painful decline for a team that delighted the city with a 2008 championship.
The Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2009-10 and only missed the postseason once in the past five years. This is business for usual for the Flyers, a team that regularly reaches the postseason and just as regularly comes up short in the playoffs. Always the bridesmaids, never the brides, at least since the 1970s. Still, a young core of players led by Claude Giroux has left fans with plenty of reason for optimism.
The Eagles have reached the postseason in three of the past five years, winning the NFC East twice. More importantly, Chip Kelly's dynamic offense and unorthodox scheme and training techniques have revitalized the fanbase's hopes for a title after the end of the Andy Reid era left fans feeling disillusioned with the team. The Eagles are currently one of the better teams in the NFC, and they have plenty of reason to continue growing.
Before the Great Tanking Experiment of 2013-14, the Sixers reached the postseason twice under Doug Collins. Still, this is an organization that feels like it will be worth watching in about two or three seasons, not this year. Youngster Nerlens Noel sat out the entire 2013-14 season. It seems likely that Joel Embiid will be shelved for all of this year. Dario Saric won't even join the team for another two years, as he plays in Europe.
In college basketball, Villanova, St. Joe’s, Temple and Penn often reach the NCAA tournament, with the Wildcats the cream of the crop in recent years under head coach Jay Wright. And if nothing else, the matchups between the Big Five are always a highlight, even if a Philly team hasn't cut down the nets since 1985.
The city hasn't experienced a championship in the past five years—we probably should acknowledge that the Philadelphia Soul reached the Arena League championship in 2012 and 2013, though if you point that out in a Philly bar with a straight face you'll get some funny looks—which docks points, but Philly has boasted plenty of good-but-not-elite teams in recent memory.
Not only are Philadelphia’s major stadiums either relatively new or still quite nice, but the city also has a sporting complex that includes Citizens Bank Park—which has some of the best food you’ll find at any stadium in the country and plenty of craft beer options—Lincoln Financial Field, the Wells Fargo Center and XFINITY Live!, a dining and entertainment complex that features bars and restaurants all within short walking distance of the stadium.
And don’t forget about The Palestra, one of the most famous and historic arenas in college basketball, or the brand-new PPL Park, where the Philadelphia Union play, a brief drive from the city on the Chester waterfront.
Fan Passion: 10/10
Philly can lay a claim to having the most passionate fanbase in the country. While that passion often borders on the obsessive (and occasionally the obscene), there’s no questioning the city’s undying love of its teams, namely the Eagles.
Step into a Philly stadium on game day, and you'll quickly realize you're in an environment that isn't replicated in many other places. It's loud. It's electric. It's the place to be.
Players in the past have admitted being intimidated, or at least affected, by the environment. A Phillies game in October is so loud you can barely hear yourself think. Heck, the Philly Phanatic might be the most recognizable public figure in the city, a place where fan passion is expected and being a quiet, reserved spectator is seen as being boring, not dignified.
You can accuse Philly fans of many things; a lack of passion isn’t one of them.
General Fan Experience: 13/15
While this has gotten better once Veterans Stadium—a cesspool of an arena—was mercifully blown to bits, Philly fans can be rude, loud, profane and unsophisticated. It’s never as bad as it is portrayed from the outside, but an Eagles game in the upper levels isn’t always a great place for a kid.
That can be said for more than a few football stadiums, of course. And take away the few bad apples, and Philly is a mecca for sports fans.
In Philly, being a sports nut is normal. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bar that doesn’t have some sporting event playing in the background, from dedicated sports cathedrals like Chickie’s and Pete’s to the smaller dive bars. If you were trying to watch a USMNT game at a bar during the 2014 World Cup, you had to get there early, because thousands of people were sharing a beer and an “I believe that we will win!” chant all across the city.
Into European football? If you wake up early enough, plenty of bars on a Saturday morning will help you scratch that itch.
With the stadiums bunched together, reasonable prices to go to games, a subway system that has its own stop right at the stadiums and a solid tailgating scene, a Sunday in early September when both the Phillies and Eagles are playing becomes the biggest party on the East Coast.
There’s no lack of coverage for your favorite teams in Philly, and no concerns about blackouts. In fact, the coverage in Philly is so intense and comprehensive that the media personalities often become the story themselves.
The Philly media is notoriously competitive and intense, and it isn’t afraid to make a scapegoat. Just ask Donovan McNabb (though, to be fair, he was much more passive-aggressive than the national media ever realized).
The sports section in the paper is always quite thick. The city generally has very good announcers that are homers in all the right ways, and the entire city mourned the death of Harry Kalas in 2009. And we haven’t even mentioned the competing sports talk radio stations in the city, which fuel any and all debate about the teams, all day long.
If you have a sports addiction, you can get your fix in the papers, on the radio and on television in Philadelphia.
Star Power: 5/10
This would be a bigger number in years past, but there isn’t a ton of star power in Philly at the moment.
The Sixers are full of young, unproven talent, though the hope is that players like Noel and Embiid might turn out to be stars. But for the Sixers, trying to replace Allen Iverson—a player who was beloved and bemoaned in Philadelphia, often at the same time—has proven impossible thus far. The team has certainly tried, but the Andrew Bynum fiasco finally gave the team the impetus to blow everything up and start over.
The Phillies have some stars, though most are past their primes. You won't find a more beloved athlete in the city than Utley, but his best days are behind him. Howard and Rollins aren't the players they once were, while Cliff Lee is coming off injury and is 36.
Hamels was quietly one of the better pitchers in baseball this year, but at this point he's probably the team's best trade chip. Dominic Brown has been a bust. The growing notion around the city is that it's time to blow things up and start over.
Giroux leads a talented cast of characters for the Flyers that includes Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, though outside of Giroux the team doesn't have the bevy of big names that they've had in the past.
And then there's the Eagles. LeSean McCoy‘s name rings out for the team, but the star power has been greater in the past. Jeremy Maclin is having a breakout season, however, while lovers of great offensive line play must be giddy watching the Eagles when Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce are healthy, as they along with Jason Peters represent three of the top players at their respective positions.
Finally, Villanova continuously brings in top recruits, but these Wildcats aren’t exactly Kentucky when it comes to manufacturing stars.
This was by far the trickiest to determine, because Philadelphia has a long and storied sporting tradition, but it has never been a town that has possessed an extremely successful organization like the New York Yankees, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Celtics or Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Phillies are one of the oldest organizations in American sports, but they also have registered the most losses. Still, you can't ignore that players like Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Pete Rose, Jim Bunning, Robin Roberts, Curt Schilling or Richie Ashburn have played in the city.
The Eagles have never won a Super Bowl, but boy, they've come close. Donovan McNabb did everything but win them the Super Bowl and finished his career as the best quarterback in franchise history. And history buffs of the team will quickly point out that Chuck Bednarik led the team to the 1960 NFL championship, or that Reggie White spearheaded the fearsome defenses of the late 1980s and early 1990s, one of the best defenses to ever step onto the field.
The Flyers and Sixers have had championships, though neither organization has won a title in over 30 years. Still, the history of the Broad Street Bullies cannot be ignored, as the team not only won two titles behind Bobby Clarke and company but also forever changed the way the game was played with their physicality and intimidation tactics.
And who could forget the Legion of Doom line formed by Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg, the devastating trio who terrorized opposing goalies in the mid-90s?
Finally, the Sixers have played a major role in basketball's history. The teams in the 1980s led by Julius "Doctor J" Erving and Moses Malone aren't remembered with the same reverence as Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers or Larry Bird's Boston Celtics, but they were truly a force to be reckoned with in basketball's golden decade and the 1983 championship team was as talented as any in history.
Charles Barkley would excite the city until he departed for the Phoenix Suns, while Iverson won the MVP and led the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 2001, thrilling everyone along the way with his exciting and fearless style of play.
Oh, and Wilt Chamberlain not only played for both the Philadelphia Warriors and Sixers, but he also played his high school basketball for Overbrook High in West Philadelphia. Add in the historical rivalries between the basketball colleges and the national championships the area schools have won (La Salle in 1958, Villanova in 1985), and Philadelphia's basketball history is strong all around.
Final Tally: 83/100
So there you have it. When it comes to Philly sports, there is indeed more than meets the eye (or more than the traditional narrative about the rowdy fans). Philadelphia is an amazing town if you have a passion for sports.
In fact, if you don’t have a passion for sports, you’re in the minority. Because there’s nothing quite like chomping down a cheesesteak or roast pork sandwich while watching the Iggles. And if you don't think that sounds like a great time, well, I only have one thing to say to you: