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What makes a titletown?

And how does your city compare to the winningest cities in North American sports?

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.

Case 1

The Winningest Metro Areas by Title Counts

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Actual Titles

Our first way to determine titletowns is to simply look at the numbers — total championships won by a metro area. And in this case, looking at all sports between 1870 and 2018, Greater Los Angeles, CA is the winningest city in North America.
This makes sense, considering Greater Los Angeles teams have played a combined x seasons . Based on that, should we expect 74 titles?
Actually, no. We’d expect them to have won a lot fewer. By giving each team in a given season an equal chance of winning its respective championship, and adding those odds up over time, we can get an expected number of championships. Combining these for each metro area to field a team, we can compare the expected to actual wins differential for every city in our dataset. Greater Los Angeles should have won 24.

Expected Titles

So is doing better than expected. What other metro areas are overperforming? How about underperforming?

Sort by:
Title count

Show me:
Use the filters in the bottom left to explore the data for yourself.

Case 2

The Winningest Metro Areas over Time

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Conversion Rates

But what about a metro area’s performance over time? How has the idea of a titletown changed over the past 150 years?
Let’s consider a metro area’s conversion rate — that is, how well a city’s teams perform when given a real shot at winning it all. Between 1870 and 1920, in all sports, the best teams came from New Haven (the Yale Bulldogs competed in 47 seasons, winning 17 times, or in 36% of their attempts).
Between 1920 and 1970, however, New Haven falls off the map, replaced by New York, whose teams won a title in 35 of 51 combined seasons (a 69% conversion rate!), and Toronto, which won in 23 of 51 for a 45% conversion.
In the last 48 years though, it’s all Los Angeles. As a city, LA has won 50 championships since 1970 — a conversion rate of 104% — and finished in the final four or better 131 times.

So where’s the real titletown here? The winningest city in North America has changed over time. Let’s look at metro areas that have been good (or bad) for a long time.

Dry Spells and Dynasties

If we look at streaks of final four appearances, we can see how long a city has been good. And if we look at dynasties — championships in a row, — we can see how long a metro area has been great. Maybe more importantly though, we can look at dry spells. Every city goes some time without making the top four, but for me, a metro area that can avoid that as much as possible is a real titletown.
Show me:
Longest Dynasties
Longest Final Four Streaks
Most Dry Seasons*
Fewest Dry Seasons*
*No final four or finals appearance. Minimum 25 seasons played (except for MLS, CFL, and women’s soccer and volleyball).
Use the filters in the bottom left to explore the data for yourself. Hover/tap on a dot to view winning teams.

Case 3

The Winningest Metro Areas by Population

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Home Field Advantage

A bigger metro equals a bigger market, and a bigger market can translate to bigger payrolls. Teams in these places can spend the big bucks on superstars, tempting them away from smaller markets, their cost spread out across more fans (read: consumers).
So how does this relationship factor into the makings of a titletown? In our first case above, we looked at how many championships we’d expect a city to win based on the number of seasons its teams had played. Now we’ll look at how many we’d expect based on its population.
We do this using a location quotient. This compares a metro area’s titles per capita to the overall. This graph plots number of titles vs. population size, with circle sizes representing a metro area’s TLQ, or its performance above expectation. The more green the circle is, the better a city is doing; the more red, the worse.

The Overperformers

The biggest cities may win the most titles, but they aren’t necessarily very well. LA, for instance, has won just 1.4x what they should have, while NYC has won 30% fewer titles.

Take a look for yourself:
Los Angeles
New York
Bay Area

Show me:
Population vs Titles
*Minimum 25 seasons played (except for MLS, CFL, and women’s soccer and volleyball) and one title won.
Use the filters in the bottom left to explore the data for yourself. Hover/tap on a dot to view winning teams.

So what makes a titletown?

And how does stack up?

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.

Above Expectations

Actual vs expected title differential, based on number of seasons.

Conversion Rates

Titles vs attempts over time.

Metro Area Size

Actual titles vs expectations based on population.

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.

  1. 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. ↩︎

  2. 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. ↩︎

All-Levels / All-Leagues / 1870-2018
Big 4