Pseudo-wild card: American metro areas & the Big Four

If you’ve seen several of my other posts, you may have noticed a little trend developing. Confession time: I like maps. And not just your usual, “Lemme check with Google to see how long it takes to get from point A to point B.” I used to enjoy just flipping through atlases for no reason and may or may not have, one more than occasion, opened Google’s Maps app on my phone just because. They’re also, to me at least, an interesting & appealing way to represent data or facts, no matter how simplistic. It’s one thing to look at the groupings I’ve compiled below in a table, but another to see it spread out across a given swath of land.

Here in good ol’ America, we’ve got ourselves quite the diverse array of professional sports available to us: NASCAR, MMA, soccer, skateboarding, rodeo, and so on. There are four leagues, of course, that outdraw all others, thanks to their long histories and widespread availability and appeal to the public: Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League.


Of course, not every major city gets to host a team (or more) from each of these leagues. I was curious as to just how it broke down, as to how many cities field teams in one, two, three, or all four of the leagues. To help standardize the list just a tiny bit, I defined teams based on the location of their home stadium; the cities designated in the table and on the map are the primary or most populous city in Metropolitan Statistical Areas as defined by the US Office of Management and Budget.

The table and map, therefore, are simplified. For example, even though the New York Giants and Jets don’t actually play in NYC, East Rutherford, NJ is still a part of the New York MSA, so I’ve counted New York as having at least one NFL franchise. Furthermore, you could name any number of teams who technically play in a suburb of the city after which they’re named (e.g. Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, sort of).

Then there’s the bizarre case of the San Francisco 49ers who, in 2014, began playing in Santa Clara which, despite its inclusion as part of the “San Francisco Bay Area,” is actually part of the San Jose MSA. Luckily for the San Francisco MSA, they’ve got the Oakland Raiders, and therefore can claim a franchise in three of the Big Four.

One other note: I didn’t include Canada, partially because the NFL has yet to invade our neighbors to the north on a permanent basis–that means I’d have to represent the Canadian Football League teams out there, so as though it didn’t appear that only Toronto has any semblance of professional sports culture and Montreal, Vancouver, and Ottawa are relative backwaters with nothing going on when the Stanley Cup isn’t being contested. But then that would be five leagues, and I would suspect that about 99.999% of Americans don’t care about Canada’s version of football. So, no orange dot for Toronto, and no green dots for all the other Canadian franchises in the NHL.

The table

Some observations:

  • Overall, there are 42 MSAs that host at least one franchise from the Big Four. Eleven of these host all four leagues; eight metro areas are home to three; 12 enjoy the play of two leagues; and another 11 get only one
  • Going off the list of MSAs on the ever-reliable Wikipedia, among the top ten based on 2014 population estimates, Los Angeles (#2, 13.3 million), Houston (#5, 6.5 million), and Atlanta (#9, 5.6 million) each only have three sports represented. Of course, LA claims six franchises in the NHL, NBA, and MLB, and will likely have an NFL franchise (or two) to call its own soon, as well
  • Not on the spreadsheet, per se, but nine teams play in the New York MSA
  • Fifteenth-largest Seattle (3.7 million) has as many of Big Four represented as does fiftieth-large Buffalo (1.1 million)
  • Among the thirty largest MSAs in the United States, only Southern California’s Inland Empire (Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario, #13) and Las Vegas (#30) don’t host any teams from the Big Four
  • Portland (#24) is the largest metro area with a single league represented, but is followed immediately on the list by San Antonio, Orlando, and Sacramento–all four solely represented by the NBA
  • Speaking of the NBA, on top of those for franchises, the league as an additional three teams (Memphis, Oklahoma City, and Salt Lake City) who are the only Big Four teams in town. MLB, NFL, and NHL have four such cities between the three of them: Columbus, OH; Raleigh, NC; Jacksonville, FL; and Green Bay, WI
  • Among three-league areas, St. Louis is most akin to Pittsburgh and Tampa, in that they are all home to MLB, NFL, and NHL franchises. Houston, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Cleveland all host MLB, NFL,  and NBA teams. Only poor old Los Angeles lacks the NFL team
  • Charlotte (21) is the largest MSA without an MLB franchise; Seattle (15) is the largest missing from the NBA; Houston (5) is the largest without an NHL team
  • Cleveland (31) has had at least two leagues represented for practically forever; Columbus (32), which is now poised to surpass it in terms of metro population, hosted its first Big Four franchise a mere fifteen years ago
  • For all its population, none of California’s MSAs have teams in all four leagues (though, as I pointed out near the top, the colloquial Bay Area does)
  • California has five MSAs with pro teams; Florida has four; Ohio and Texas have three; Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin all have two.
    • Those ten states account for 27 MSAs with teams, which leaves fifteen MSAs whose dominant city is the only city in that state (or district, as in DC) with a team.
    • That leaves a full 26 states without any MSAs centered there without a team.
    • Since Cincinnati’s stretches in to Kentucky; Kansas City’s, in to Kansas; Charlotte’s, in to South Carolina; New York’s, in to New Jersey; Philadelphia’s, in to New Jersey and Delaware; Washington, D.C., in to Virginia and West Virginia; and Boston’s, in to New Hampshire; that leaves 18 states without any local (as defined by the OMB) rooting interest in the Big Four of American professional sports: AL, AK, AR, CT, HI, ID, IA, ME, MS, MT, NE, NV, NM, ND, RI, SD, VT, and WY
  • If you turn on the “avg. location” layer in the map, you’ll see the location corresponding the MSAs featuring all four leagues is easily the farthest east by nearly 400 miles. This likely has a great deal to do with the origins of each league.
    • As I’ve discussed elsewhere, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago all had (or currently have) at least two MLB franchises at some point in their respective histories
    • Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Boston are counted among the NHL’s “Original Six” franchises
    • Given the expansion trends in all four leagues, generally from the northeast on westward, it should come as no surprise that the more entrenched ones might tend to reside in the northeast
    • Of the twelve MSAs located north and east of the pink, er, pale red dot, five enjoy the presence of all four leagues

So, yeah… nothing earth-shattering. Some cities have more teams than others. Some states have no teams. Three cheers for new findings!



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