After the Golden State Warriors won their third NBA championship in four years a few months ago, I started thinking...Of all the cities to field a professional or college level team in the last 150 years, which is the winningest?
And now with the Red Sox’s recent World Series win, I’m wondering, could it be Boston? Or maybe it’s Green Bay, WI, a city literally called Titletown.
I dug through the data and came up with three ways to determine the winningest cities in North America, a.k.a. titletowns. But before we dive in, some ground rules: in this essay I look at 458 professional sports teams from the MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, and CFL, and 1,917 division one college teams. All told, these teams have represented 199 cities and played for 996 sports championships since 1870.
I get that not everyone will agree on what sports to include, or what time frame to look at. For those of you with strong feelings, you’ll have the opportunity to set your own parameters later on. Look out for these filters in the bottom left of your screen. When it comes to making a titletown, you define it.
There are many ways to look at titletowns. Metro area population, titles over time, dynasties and droughts, and performance above expectations are just a few. In short, though, it’s probably Los Angeles. The top ten in each case are listed below.
Again, we know not everybody agrees on the same ground rules (trust me, we couldn’t even all settle on what time period to look at), so try out some different parameters in the bottom left and scroll back up to explore for yourself. When it comes to making a titletown, you define it.
But for now, the debate continues.
Data was collected from Hockey-Reference, Basketball-Reference, Baseball-Reference, Pro-Football-Reference (NFL Superbowls), World Football (MLS), NCAA, Canadian Football Hall of Fame, All Brackets, and NFL, and then combined into a database of championships, in order, by league and sport. I listed the winning team, the runner-up, and the two remaining semi-finalists for each title, and cross-referenced this with a list of every franchise to have existed for each pro league and every college to compete in each NCAA sport. I then (sometimes manually) added city data to each entry and assigned a list of teams and their results to every city. Finally, I created a matrix including the cumulative title count for every city for every year, which led to the first chart above. The majority of this was done in Python and Google Sheets.
In early drafts of this project, I did not combine cities, opting to compare the sheer number of titles won by each, individual city. Newark was not part of New York, Anaheim was not part of LA, and Oakland was not in San Fran. After some feedback from the good folks here at the Pudding, we decided to make some changes, joining nearby metro areas like Cambridge and Boston, and Chapel Hill and Raleigh, to provide a clearer picture of what a titletown is. To do this, I used the United States metropolitan statistical areas to put each city in its corresponding metro area and manually edited for weird things like San Jose technically being part of the Bay Area — who knew, right?
All charts were developed using d3.js, using Susie Lu’s d3.annotations, Justin Palmer’s d3-tip, Font Awesome, jQuery, and jQuery Autocomplete.
For the purpose of this study, we looked at the four major pro leagues in North America, including teams that played at least one game in the MLB (including the AL and the NL, but only organized, modern World Series played since 1903); the NBA (and its direct predecessor, the BAA); the NFL (and the APFL, its original name, but not the AFL before its merger with the NFL, as these records are disputed); and the NHL. I also included the CFL (and its American expansion, and early iterations, which all competed for Grey Cup) and the MLS as the other two pro leagues that we have reliable records for. Teams that have relocated or transferred ownership are counted as one franchise and now-defunct franchises that played at least one game are included. ↩︎
We also looked at the NCAA’s Div I, which is considered by many to be (almost) comparable to pro sports and are (almost) always involved in titletown discussions. I limited this to the three most played sports by each sex, because, well, you’ve got to stop somewhere. These sports are men’s baseball, basketball, and football, and women’s basketball, soccer, and volleyball. ↩︎