No. 14 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: San Francisco Bay Area
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.
The Bay Area comes in at No. 14.
It's is loaded with sports tradition, legacies of success and eye-popping venues.
Of course, it's also home to some of the most inept teams and least appealing stadiums in the country. Such is life in the vast and varied Bay.
Where does Northern California's sprawling "city" rank among the top sports towns? We took a broad look at everything from Silicon Valley to China Basin to find out.
Number of Teams/Events: 20/20 Points
In terms of sheer sports variety, the Bay Area is a tough place to top.
You’ve got the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s for your MLB fix, the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders to cover the NFL angles and the Golden State Warriors to satisfy those NBA needs. Hockey fans are in fine shape too, with the San Jose Sharks perpetually competitive in the South Bay.
The Earthquakes, San Jose's MLS team, are also an option for soccer aficionados.
Plus, there’s an abundance of collegiate squads with devoted followings. Stanford and Cal are the region’s biggest rivals, squaring off on the gridiron every year for “The Big Game” and providing plenty of competition in NCAA hoops, baseball and, well, just about everything else. If you’re into mid-major athletics, the West Coast Conference also features Santa Clara, USF and St. Mary’s in Moraga.
If you can’t find a team or sport to follow in the Bay Area, you’ve got a problem.
Success of Teams in Last 5 Years: 15/20 Points
Aside from the Raiders, who haven’t finished a season above .500 in more than a decade, the Bay Area’s sporting success rate has been pretty remarkable.
The Giants collected World Series titles in 2010 and 2012, while the A’s have won more games than any team in baseball over the past three seasons. Golden State is enjoying its own modest renaissance since being purchased by Joe Lacob and is coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in decades.
On the ice, San Jose has made the postseason in 15 of its past 16 seasons, including a run of 10 straight since 2003-04. Though the Sharks have visited the Western Conference Final just three times in that span, the fact that fans have been able to count on remarkably consistent playoff appearances is a truly rare thing.
Oh, and the 49ers have advanced at least as far as the NFC title game in each of the past three NFL seasons.
Unless you’re a Raiders fan, life in the Bay Area has been awfully good lately.
Stadiums: 5/10 Points
The Giants are the region’s shining beacon of baseball gentrification, a first-class organization supported by a devoted fanbase that has packed AT&T Park with sellouts in every home game since Oct. 1, 2010—the longest such streak in baseball. Arguably MLB’s best venue, AT&T boasts picturesque views of the bay, splash hits and an old-timey facade with state-of-the-art guts.
Honestly, that’s pretty much where it ends for Bay Area sports.
O.co Coliseum (a name no self-respecting A’s or Raiders fan would ever use; it’s “The Coliseum” until its eventual, merciful demolition) is an utter wreck. One of the only remaining multiuse facilities in sports, the Coliseum is an ancient (built in 1966), crumbling relic—never full and always suffering from some embarrassing malfunction.
Just across the parking lot, the Warriors take the court inside Oracle Arena, the NBA’s oldest venue. While renovations have kept the venue from looking its 48 years, the fact that the Dubs have already purchased land in the Mission Bay area of San Francisco and are planning to build a brand-new building for the start of the 2018-19 season says plenty about Oracle’s viability as a long-term home.
The Niners will break the seal on the brand-new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara this season, and while it’ll feature all of the bells, whistles and exorbitant ticket prices befitting the NFL’s newest stadium, it’s far too new to say it has anything approaching character.
Fan Passion: 8/10 Points
Warriors fans are some of the most passionate in the NBA, and their support of an atrociously run franchise probably allowed former owner Chris Cohan to keep the team longer than he should have. Through dreadful decades, Dubs loyalists never wavered. Whether that’s the mark of insanity or admirable fandom is up for debate.
At any rate, Oracle Arena is always deafening, and the Warriors have some of the most devoted followers in basketball.
The same is largely true of the A’s and Raiders, and if the venue were passable, you’d probably see sellouts in Oakland as well.
As for the Giants, their posh digs have earned fans an unfair reputation as a “wine and cheese” crowd when, in fact, those followers are some of the most informed, dedicated devotees in baseball.
In San Jose, the Sharks have one of the loudest crowds in hockey.
To some degree, Bay Area fans may rightly be said to lack the kind of rabid intensity that exists in one-sport towns or, to put it indelicately, places with worse weather and less to do. But flip on sports-talk radio or log on to any of the myriad Bay Area-themed sports blogs and you’ll see no shortage of diehards.
General Fan Experience: 8/15 Points
As has been the case before, fan experience is a tough category to judge because of the variety of locations, venues and atmospheres Bay Area sports offer.
If you’re checking out a Giants game, you’ve got easy access by public transit, loads of bars and restaurants to hit in the revitalized China Basin neighborhood surrounding the ballpark and views of the bay all over the place. Aesthetically, hedonistically and gastronomically, a trip to a Giants game can’t be topped—if you’re willing to spend a little bit of cash and aren’t bothered by an abundance of bros in the area.
Frankly, there’s nothing worth doing in or around any of the Oakland venues, unless you’re into loitering in dimly lit parking lots that butt up against the perpetually gridlocked 880 freeway or braving the BART station.
Seriously, the only thing surrounding Oracle Arena and the Coliseum are parking lots and some neighborhoods that are literally on the wrong side of the tracks.
And if you’re into tech campuses and parking quagmires, get ready for the 49ers’ new stadium right in the middle of Santa Clara.
Basically, if you’re looking for fun things to do outside of the venue, you can check out a Giants game. Otherwise, maybe just flip on the flat-screen and enjoy it from home.
Media: 6/10 Points
This is an area I cannot address without some bias, but I think an objective view largely vindicates my positions. If you were to pump an A’s fan full of sodium pentothal, I think he’d admit the A’s TV play-by-play man Glen Kuiper is “the lesser Kuiper” when compared to his brother Duane, who calls Giants games and offers the smoothest delivery in the business.
The color commentator battle isn’t close either, as the Giants' Mike Krukow (while a massive homer) offers fun, on-point analysis and plenty of jokes and “inside baseball” colloquialisms. Ray Fosse, in contrast, is as humorless as they come. His mustache is serious, and so is he.
The G-Men also boast Ford C. Frick award-winner Jon Miller. Not bad at all.
Nobody listens to football games on the radio, and the NFL is always nationally televised, so we can move on quickly to Jim Barnett, shining beacon of old-timey wisdom, delightful overuser of the phrase “quite frankly” and the most beloved color commentator the Bay Area has to offer.
He’s been doing Warriors games on television for nearly three decades and is such a universally adored figure that fan outcry literally saved his job when ownership made it known they were seeking a new voice to replace the 70-year-old icon.
In addition, Barnett’s mustache is fuller, more lustrous and attached to a far less self-serious mouth than Fosse’s.
Star Power: 8/10 Points
Likable stars seem to have agreed the Bay Area is the place to be.
Stephen Curry is the NBA’s baby-faced assassin, blessed with a uniquely enjoyable game and squeaky clean image that has universal appeal. Seriously, try to find a subsection of NBA fans—even one whose team Curry has personally torched on his road to stardom—who doesn't like Curry.
You can’t do it. He’s too nice.
Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are a pair of “aw, shucks” stars for the Giants, with the former already in possession of an NL MVP trophy and the latter treating fans to ace-quality performances on the mound and always delightful overswings in his plate appearances (and with two grand slams in 2014 to date, it's working for him).
And those A’s, perpetual misfits and overachievers they are, represent what might be the most thoroughly enjoyable squad in baseball. Whether you like the Athletics or not, you have to enjoy seeing them band together, toss out individual projections that said they’d never amount to anything, grow beards and dominate the American League.
Colin Kaepernick’s jersey sold better than any other NFL player’s in 2013, and his breathtaking athleticism makes him a joy to watch. Curry is probably the biggest star in town, but if Kaepernick takes another step in his development, he could quickly assume that throne.
On balance, the Bay Area has tons of marketable gents, most of whom are genuinely good dudes. What it lacks, however, is a transcendent megastar in any sport...yet. For that, minor demerits are warranted.
Tradition/History: 3/5 Points
Any discussion of Bay Area tradition starts with the Niners who, in addition to their five Super Bowl wins, completely redefined NFL offense under Bill Walsh in the 1980s and boast names like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and Ronnie Lott.
The A’s were dominant in the early 1970s, winning three straight World Series titles. The Giants’ tradition of success in San Francisco is much younger, as they didn’t break through with a World Series win until 2010. The 1960s were good to the Giants, and legends like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda are highly revered.
There was also that Barry Bonds guy, who captured tons of interest and even helped San Francisco reach the World Series in 2002—though his impact on the team's tradition and history is mostly a mixed bag.
The Bay Area is not New York or Chicago or even Boston when it comes to tradition, which may stem from the fact that the Warriors, Giants and A’s all originated in other cities. The Raiders have gone from Oakland (1960-81) to Los Angeles (1982-94) to Oakland (1995-present), which doesn’t help either.
And the Sharks haven’t been around long enough to really establish anything like a legacy.
Final Tally: 73/100
The Bay Area has everything a fan could want in terms of variety, star power and fan passion, but a couple of critical areas get dragged down below average because of the sheer number of teams.
In other words, for every AT&T Park, there's an O.co Coliseum.
On balance, though, the Bay Area grades out pretty well. And if you're choosy about which teams you support or which stadiums you frequent, your own experience can be far better than the overall score above indicates.