Ken Jennings


May 7, 2008

It looks increasingly like the Oklahoma City Sonics will be leaving Seattle after forty-one years. The sleazy new owners may end up leaving the team name and history here if it makes for a quicker getaway, so the city may be able to resurrect the Sonics using an expansion team or the Milwaukee Bucks or something. But for a few seasons at least, Seattle will be NBA-less while a metropolitan area a third its size gets its franchise.

Which got me thinking: what large American cities have disproportionately small pro sports “footprints”? And what small cities have big ones? Here’s the list, based on 2006 Census Bureau population estimates and grouping teams with their market’s largest city.

Largest city missing a pro sports franchise: L.A., of course, which hasn’t had an NFL team since 1994.

Largest city with just one pro sports franchise: San Antonio, the nation’s seventh largest city, is the biggest with just one team, the Spurs. In terms of metropolitan areas, it’s Portland, Oregon, the 23rd most populous area in the country.

Largest city with no sports franchises at all: Austin, Texas (#16), if you for some reason think hockey is a major sport. Otherwise, it’s San Jose (#10). If you go by metropolitan areas, it’s Southern California’s “Inland Empire” (Riverside, San Bernadino, etc.) which the Census Bureau groups separately from L.A.

Smallest city with a sports franchise: Green Bay, Wisconsin (#257 among cities, #153 among metro areas) by a long shot. I think the closest runner-up among cities is Salt Lake City, #124, and among metro areas it’s actually New Orleans, #51.

Smallest city with multiple sports franchises: New Orleans, as above, is the smallest such city and metro area, now that it has the Hornets back full-time from their Oklahoma City time-share. (It just occurred to me that, therefore, you can blame Katrina for the Sonics’ exodus from Seattle.)

Smallest city with franchises in all four sports: Atlanta (#34 by cities) has all four. (If you’re a non-NHL type, or think of St. Paul as a suburb, Minneapolis at #47 has the other three.) By metro area it’s Denver (#21), or Cleveland (#25) for hockey skeptics.

When the Sonics head east, Seattle-Tacoma will be the biggest market in the country with teams in just two sports.

Posted by Ken at 4:42 pm