“America’s largest city with no pro sports teams”

This Houston Press lamentation about the city of Austin contained the following tidbit that caught my eye:

Austin is America’s largest city with no pro sports teams (though some would debate the amateur status of the Texas Longhorns).

Well, that depends on how you define “city”, and on how you define “pro”. I presume they mean a team from one of the big four leagues – MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL (*) – as Austin does have an NBA D-league team, and until 2008 had a minor league hockey team that could restart operations again. One could arguably include the Round Rock Express as well, but I think the meaning of “pro” is clear enough, so let’s not belabor this.

It’s the definition of “city” where it gets complicated. The list of US cities by population confirms the Press’ assertion: Austin comes in at #14, with a population of 790,390, and every city ahead of it has at least one pro team as defined above. In fact, the next two largest cities without pro teams are also in Texas – #16 Fort Worth (741,206) and #19 El Paso (649,121). You have to go down to #27 Louisville (597,337) to find the first non-Texas example.

The reason why I hesitate to use this as the definition is that if you keep going down this list, you find some places that sure seem like they’re a lot bigger than that. Cities like #40 Atlanta (420,003), #44 Miami (399,457), or #58 Saint Louis (319,294), for instance, sure don’t seem like they’re half or less Austin’s size. What gives with that?

The answer, of course, is that nobody cares about the municipality in which a stadium is located, as any fan of the Arlington Rangers, East Rutherford Giants, or Auburn Hills Pistons can attest. Teams may be identified with a city, but it’s the wider area that actually supports the team. Austin is only the fifth-largest urban area without a pro sports team, trailing Riverside-San Bernadino CA, Virginia Beach VA, Las Vegas NV, and Providence RI. It’s the third-largest MSA without a pro sports team, trailing Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario CA and Las Vegas-Paradise NV. More to the point, those lists give you a much better representation of the true big population centers in the US. Having Atlanta at #9 makes a lot more sense than having it at #40, barely half the size of Austin. There’s a much larger discussion in all of this about how these large metro areas are governed and how that governance could be vastly streamlined and more effective if a bunch of otherwise arbitrary boundary lines were obliterated, but that’s way beyond my scope here. Point is, making that statement about Austin is technically correct but kinda misleading. Which shouldn’t stop you from reading the story, which would be blog-worthy in its own right if I had the energy for it. Just keep this in mind when you get to that sentence.

(*) – You can include MLS if you want, but a peek at their standings tells me that they do not have a team in any city that wouldn’t already be counted in the Big Four. And in case you’re wondering, Chivas US is in Los Angeles, and Columbus OH is also the home of the NHL Blue Jackets franchise.

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6 Responses to “America’s largest city with no pro sports teams”

  1. blank says:

    My family was in San Antonio earlier this week visiting my brother-in-law, who is working on a project down there. He told me that the San Antonio Airport boasts about San Antonio being the 7th largest city in US. I chimed in with essentially the same response you had in this post explaining MSAs. Also, when I went to college in Claremont, which is adjacent to Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, we used to make our way over to Anaheim to watch the Angels. I suppose we could have gone to watch the Ducks too, but I have never been much of a hockey fan. In high school, I did a summer program at Brown in Providence, and we went to a PawSox game, which at the time at least had a large following for a minor league team.

  2. Gary Bennett says:

    The arguments for placing pro sports teams get even more complicated than that. For example, in placing teams in Jacksonville, Nashville and Oklahoma City, all metropolitan areas significantly smaller (and slower growing) than Austin, it was assumed that fans would drive from rather large geographic areas to watch the teams play. And San Antonio is assumed to be too close to put another NBA team in Austin, but too far away to place any other team in either place (though San Antonio PLUS Austin MSAs would be bigger than, say, the state of Oklahoma).

    Riverside-San Bernadino is of course almost totally suburban/exurban in nature, the overflow as the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim coastal region filled up; you can argue that they can identify with LA and Anaheim teams as well as their own. The one city inarguably more eligible for a team than Austin is Las Vegas; both have burst out of previous identities as small cities, but images are slow to catch up.

  3. Linkmeister says:

    Honolulu, according to the footnotes, would be twelfth-largest with 907,000 if (for purposes of the list’s consistency) we weren’t considered as just the Honolulu Judicial District rather than the entire island of O’ahu, which is really the geographic area which would be the target market.

  4. Evan says:

    There are also CSAs.
    This is the one that really matters.
    Riverside-San Bernardino is essentially part of the Greater LA
    Any of the ones on this list that has 1,000,000+ should be able to have a pro sports team.

  5. w der says:

    why is Richmond VA not on the list it has a pop of 1,200+ and has large companies based there other areas are smaller and they have pro sports. VA beach is to militate families move a lot. Richmond is a business center. I don’t no what it should get but I think it should get something VA has money and is pore to. the I 95 area is well of for the most port. they can pay for the prices for pro sports. RVA aren’t you tired of driving to WDC BAL area to take in a game.

  6. Craig B says:

    why doesn’t the Hampton Roads area of Virginia without a professional sports team. This area can clearly support one, especially basketball. It’s at least a four hour drive from D.C., so it really wouldn’t effect the sorry Wizards to much, knowing the this particular team draws from all of Maryland and the most northern part of Virginia. I’m pretty sure that Hampton Roads have more than a million people in that metro(Virginia Beach, Hampton, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Williamsburg)

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