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Is Phoenix currently the worst sports city in America?

The 2016 season has been one of severe disappointment for Phoenix fans. How do the city's struggles compare to other places over the past few years?

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
  • The Diamondbacks were expected to contend in the NL West, but ended up escaping the cellar only by sweeping the Padres over the final weekend.
  • The Cardinals were predicted to reach the Super Bowl by quite a few, but at the half-way point have more wins than losses, with a tough road even to reach the post-season this year.
  • At the time of writing, the Coyotes sat at the very bottom of the NHL standings.
  • And the Suns are last in their division.

It's a pretty miserable time to be a local sports fan right now, make no mistake. But what about over the past few seasons? How does Phoenix compare against other cities, which also have representatives in the four main sports [sorry, Rattlers, Mercury and Arizona Roller Derby!], in recent history? Time to crunch some numbers...

The methodology

With different size league, playoff structures and calendars, it's not as easy as you'd think to compare performances between sports. In the end, I settled on a point-based system. If you win your sport's title, you get a basic five points. If you lose in the final e.g. Cleveland Indians, you get four points. Then every round before that gets one point fewer, until you get nothing at all if you don't make the post-season. We don't distinguish between just missing out and finishing last. You're either in the play-offs or you're not. The chart below shows what this looks like for the four sports we're considering, and this was done for each of the last five completed seasons, the campaigns which finished in 2012-16 for each sport.

5 Win Super Bowl Win World Series Win NBA title Win Stanley Cup
4 Lose Super Bowl Lose World Series Lose NBA title Lose Stanley Cup
3 Lose Conference Lose LCS Lose Conference Final
Lose Conference Final
2 Lose Division Lose LDS Lose Conference Semi
Lose Semi/ Second Rd
1 Lose Wild-card Lose Wild-card Lose Conference First
Lose QF/First Rd
0 Miss playoffs

The cities or metropolitan areas in question are the 13 which each have one or more representatives in each sport. These are Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Washington. This covers ten of the top dozen largest metropolitan areas in the nation: the exceptions are #5 Houston and #9 Atlanta. both of which are missing an NHL team. Also included here are Detroit (#14), Minneapolis (#16) and Denver (#19). For cities with more than one team, points were averaged across the franchises. For instance, Chicago this year gets five points for the Cubs, but none for the White Sox, so ends up with a 2016 score of 2.5 points.

Weighting. Two sets of weightings were then applied, one for recency and the other for sport. This year's score got a multiplier of 1.5. The 2015 score got 1.25, then it was x1, x0.75 and x0.5 for results in preceding seasons back to 2012. This gave a tally for each sport of between 0 (missed the post-season the past five years) to 25 (five-peated the sport's title). Another weighting was then applied, based on the sport. The behemoth which is the NFL gots a 4x multiplier; the NBA and MLB each get a 2.5x, and the NHL gets a x1 [#PleaseLikeMySport]. The total maximum score possible would be 250, but that would be near-impossible.

The sports

Let's break these down by sport. The figures given for each below include the time weighting (so more recent results are more important), but not the sports weighting, so a 10 in the NFL would be equivalent to a 10 in the NHL.

NFL. This was very much a head-to-head battle, between Boston and Denver, as the Patriots and Broncos have both won their divisions, each of the past five years, and triumphed in the two most recent Super Bowls. New England's success, always reaching at least the Conference game, just edges Denver's status as reigning champions, but their scores of 18 and 16.5 were the two best in any sport. Third, albeit a long way back, were the Arizona Cardinals (5.75), due to their success in the past two years, but that position could drop, if their current issues continue and they miss out on the play-offs this year.

MLB. Things are a great deal closer in baseball, without a clear leader. There are two distinct groups: eight of the thirteen cities score between five and seven, and the other five (Denver, Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Phoenix) end with nul points, their teams having missed the post-season since 2011 or earlier. The Giants' two World Series titles are diluted by the Athletics' failure to win a play-off series, but San Francisco are still top-ranked at 7.0, just edging out Boston (6.8). The White Sox streak of futility (eight seasons and counting) drags Chicago down. If it was just the Cubs, the city would be at 11.25, which would tie them with a Dodgers-only Los Angeles, as LA gets little contribution from the Angels.

NBA. Oakland makes up for any MLB shortfall here, the Golden State Warriors having lost and won the NBA Finals in the last two seasons (possessing an insane 140-24 record over that time). That powers SF to a 14.8 tally, and the only city which comes close are the Miami Heat (13.3) with two Finals wins and a loss in the past five years, albeit at the beginning of the time under consideration. As in the NFL, there's then a long drop-off to the third-placed town, in this case Chicago. Los Angeles again sees its position handicapped by a weak second team, the Lakers not having made the post-season since 2013. How the mighty are fallen - though that's still three years more recently than Phoenix last saw the play-offs...

NHL. No question about the top spot here, Chicago running away with it, it's 15.0 score the third-best in any sport, and the biggest margin of any first-placed city, finishing well ahead of Los Angeles (9.6). The Blackhawks have made the play-offs eight years in a row: the only longer streak here is the insane 25-year run of the Detroit Red Wings, but they haven't won the Stanley Cup since 2008; Chicago won in 2013 + 2015, which powers them to the pinnacle here. Interestingly, this is the only sport where all 13 cities scored points, perhaps indicating a greater degree of parity; 11 did so in the NBA section, 10 in the NFL, and only 8 in MLB. The Coyotes did get on the board here, but 2012 seems a long time ago.

The final scores

The table below combines the results for the four sports. The TOTAL column includes the weighting by sport explained earlier, while the SUM column is just a straight addition of the four individual sports' scores. I was somewhat surprised how little difference the weighting made, outside of lifting Denver from seventh in the unweighted standings to third.

1 Boston 18.0 6.8 5.0 5.5 106.9 35.3
2 San Francisco 3.8 7.0 14.8 9.0 78.4 34.5
3 Denver 16.5 0.0 1.3 1.0 70.1 18.8
4 Chicago 0.0 5.6 5.5 15.0 42.8 26.1
5 Washington 2.3 6.0 4.5 7.3 42.5 20.0
6 Dallas 2.5 6.0 4.3 4.0 39.6 16.8
7 Los Angeles 0.0 6.6 4.8 9.6 38.1 21.0
8 Miami 0.0 0.0 13.3 2.0 35.1 15.3
9 New York 1.3 5.0 2.6 6.4 30.5 15.3
10 Detroit 1.3 6.3 1.5 5.8 30.1 14.8
11 Phoenix 5.8 0.0 0.0 1.5 24.5 7.3
12 Minneapolis 2.3 0.0 0.0 6.8 15.8 9.0
13 Philadelphia 1.0 0.0 1.0 3.5 10.0 5.5

So, Phoenix isn't quite bottom - 11th in weighted, ahead of Minnesota and Philadelphia, but dropping below the twin cities in the unweighted rankings. It's Philadelphia who are resolutely bottom in both rankings, with the Flyers the only one of their four outfits to have won a playoff round in the last five years. However, they did at least get some kind of contribution from 3/4 of their franchises. Phoenix saw blanks fired by both the Suns and Diamondbacks; the only other cities to match that are Minneapolis (the Twins and Timberwolves) and Miami (Dolphins and Marlins).

It'll perhaps be interesting to revisit this in a year or so, and see if the numbers have changed at all. Things don't look good for the Valley of the Sun at this point; barring a turnaround by the Cardinals, I suspect Phoenix's tally in 2017 is likely to be less, rather than more.