The Top 25 Most Passionate College Sports Cities

Published on: March 25, 2013 | Written by: Clay Travis

Every city's sports culture is a little bit different. Some like football more than basketball, some like hockey more than both, even in an increasingly homogenized country, sports still makes us unique. We may all watch the same television shows and eat in the same fast food restaurants, but we sure as hell don't root for the same teams. 

Sports is a uniquely provincial aspect of American culture in a time when everything else seems to be becoming the same. For the past few years ESPN has released its top 25 television markets for both college football and college basketball. This year OKTC decided to dive into those rankings and answer the question once and for all -- which city loves college sports more than any other?

It's a point of debate without a clear answer. 

Until now.   

Outkick combined the television ratings of football and basketball to determine the top 25 most college sports crazed markets in the country. (I also included the number of pro sports teams in these cities since I found that many of the top markets also support pro sports. In fact, 13 of the top 25 college sports markets in the country have pro sports teams so the argument that these cities have nothing else to support in sports really doesn't stand up to reality. These cities just love pro sports more than any others).

So how did your city rank?

Let's dive into the top 25.

1. Birmingham, AL 5.2

Football #1 (8.9)

Basketball #13 (1.5)

Birmingham loves college football more than any city in America loves any sport. With an astounding 8.9 rating for college football games, Birmingham crushes all other college sports cities, nearly doubling Louisville's insane affinity for college basketball. Birmingham's love for college football is so amazing that college sports are more popular in Birmingham than any other city in the country.   

Pro sports: none

2. Louisville, KY 3.3

Football #20 (2.1) 

Basketball #1 (4.5)

This proves my thesis: Kentucky is just Alabama with a winter coat. Louisville and Birmingham are separated by just 367 miles on Interstate 65. The states of Kentucky and Alabama, perpetual laggards in most other standings, have chosen to specialize in basketball and football, respectively.

It's what they do.

The similarities are uncanny -- you have a massive state school that takes up the majority of the rooting interests -- Kentucky and Alabama, spunky state schools that have a vibrant minority of fans -- Louisville and Auburn, nearly identical populations 4.8 million in Alabama vs. 4.4 million in Kentucky, limited population growth from outsiders, and no pro sports in either state. 

The result?

Birmingham and Louisville are mirror images of each other.

Pro sports: none 

3. Knoxville, TN 3.15

Football #3 (4.6)

Basketball #10 (1.7)

One of three cities on our list to be in the top ten for both football and basketball, Knoxville is also the only community in the country with top ten football and basketball attendance. Toss in the number one ranking for women's basketball and there's a strong argument to be made that Knoxville is the most college sports crazed town in America.

Pro sports: none

4. Greenville, SC 3.0

Football #2 (4.7)

Basketball #15 (1.3)

If I had to pick a smaller Southern city to live in right now, Greenville, South Carolina would be my choice.

If you haven't visited, it's an outstanding trip.

Pro sports: none

5. Columbus, OH 2.85

Football #6 (3.6)

Basketball #6 (2.1)

The third city -- Knoxville and Nashville are the other two -- to be in the top ten for both football and basketball, Columbus, Ohio is the Knoxville of the Big Ten, a massive college sports hotbed thanks to the location of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the middle of the city.

Pro sports: (1) NHL's Blue Jackets

6. Greensboro, NC 2.55

Football #22 (2.0)

Basketball #2 (3.1)

There are three states in the country where basketball is more popular than football: North Carolina, Kentucky, and Indiana.

That's it.

Everywhere else football is king.

Pro sports: none

7. Nashville 2.5

Football #9 (3.3)

Basketball #10 (1.7)

Nashville is directly between Louisville and Birmingham on Interstate 65 and, perhaps not surprisingly, it ranks in the top ten for both football and basketball. Given that Nashville also ranks as a top ten NFL television market, the Nashville Predators are currently in the midst of 25 straight sellouts for hockey, and the city has the highest rated sports talk station in the country there can be no doubt that Nashville one of the most sports-crazed cities in the country.

Pro sports: (2) NFL's Titans and NHL's Predators

8. Atlanta 2.25

Football: #7 (3.5)

Basketball #20 (1.0)

Atlanta is a college sports melting pot, featuring teams from the SEC -- Athens counts -- and the ACC. I was actually a little surprised that basketball wasn't more popular.

Pro sports: (3) MLB's Braves, NBA's Hawks, NFL's Falcons 

8. New Orleans 2.25

Football #4 (3.7)

Basketball (NR)

New Orleans finished just outside the top 25 for basketball and is a huge football market. Like Nashville, New Orleans is also a top ten NFL market.

Pro sports: (2) NFL's Saints, NBA's Hornets

10. Memphis, TN 2.2

Football #10 (3.1)

Basketball #14 (1.3)

The state of Tennessee has three different cities in the top ten most college sports crazed markets in the country. This means it's fair to say that the state of Tennessee cares more about college sports than any state in the country.

Pro sports: (1) NBA's Grizzlies

10. Oklahoma City 2.2

Football #8 (3.4)

Basketball #20 (1.0)

Oklahoma City is a college sports hotbed despite having no major university located inside the city limits.

Pro sports: (1) NBA's Thunder

10. Jacksonville, FL 2.2

Football #5 (3.6)

Basketball (NR)

Every year the World's Largest Cocktail Party comes to football crazy Jacksonville. Every year it's the most well-attended event in the city.

Pro sports: (1) NFL's Jaguars

13. Charlotte, NC 2.15

Football #12 (2.5)

Basketball #9 (1.8)

Charlotte and Memphis both came close to finishing in the top ten for both basketball and football.

Pro sports: (2) NFL's Panthers, NBA's Bobcats

14. Raleigh-Durham 2.1

Football: NR

Basketball: #3 (3.0)

Remember how I said North Carolina was one of three states that loves basketball more than football? Here's your evidence, look at how much more popular basketball is than football. Given that three cities in North Carolina rank in the top 14, Tennessee and North Carolina are the two most college crazed states in the country.  

Pro sports: (1) NHL's Hurricanes

15. Indianapolis 2.05

Football: NR

Basketball: #4 (2.9)

Indianapolis loves its college basketball. College football? Not so much. Although, to be fair to Indy, the city also ranks as one of the NFL's top ten television markets. 

Pro sports: (2) NFL's Colts, NBA's Pacers 

16. Kansas City 1.95

Football: NR

Basketball: #5 (2.7)

Kansas City is a basketball and football hotbed, located amidst conflicting loyalties. Mizzou and Kansas hate each other with a fervent passion, meanwhile Kansas State fans argue that they're constantly overlooked. 

Pro sports: (2) NFL's Chiefs, MLB's Royals 

17. Austin, TX 1.95

Football #10 (3.1)

Basketball NR

It's surprising that Austin doesn't rank higher in basketball, but football is, not surprisingly, very popular.

Pro sports: none

18. Las Vegas 1.85

Football #12 (2.5)

Basketball #20 (1.2)

Anyone think gambling might have a bit to do with the popularity of college sports in Las Vegas? Shhh, don't tell the NCAA.  

Pro sports: none.

19. Richmond, VA 1.75

Football: #15 (2.3)

Basketball #20 (1.2)

Richmond clocks in the top twenty for both football and basketball. I'll confess, this one came as a bit of a surprise to me.

Pro sports: none

19. Norfolk, VA 1.75

Football: #16 (2.2)

Basketball: #14 (1.3)

Norfolk and Richmond's television watching patterns are nearly identical.

Pro sports: none

19. Tulsa, OK 1.75

Football: #12 (2.5)

Basketball: #20 (1.0)

Oklahoma loves college sports as well, that's two cities ranking in the top twenty for both football and basketball.

Pro sports: none

22. Cleveland, OH 1.65

Football: #24 (2.0)

Basketball #14 (1.3)

Given that Columbus, Dayton, and Cleveland are all ranked in our top 25 for both basketball and football, it's probably fair to say that Ohio is the third most college sports crazed state in the country.

Pro sports: (3) NFL's Browns, MLB's Indians, NBA's Cavs

23. Cincinnati, OH 1.65

Football: NR

Basketball: #6 2.1

The Cincinnnati-Xavier rivalry game isn't just for show. College basketball is really popular in the Queen City. I was kind of stunned that football wasn't ranked higher. Then I remembered the Bengals crowds.

Pro sports: (2) NFL's Bengals, MLB's Reds

24. Dayton, OH 1.6

Football: NR

Basketball: #8 (2.0)

While a basketball hotbed, football did not finish in the top 25 in the market.

Pro sports: none

25. Ft. Myers, FL 1.55 

Football: #22 (2.0)

Basketball: #21 (1.1)

Surprised that Ft. Myers beat out Miami, Tampa, and Orlando?

Me too.

Pro sports: none

...

* When a city did not rank in the top 25 for football, I assigned a 1.2 ranking to the city. That's probably lower than the city actually ranked, but I wanted to be uniform in my rankings. When a city did not rank in the top 25 in basketball, I assigned it a .8. In general, football television ratings are much higher than basketball rankings. Indeed, of the top 10 highest college sports ratings, nine of them were football.

*Some might quibble with using ESPN's television ratings, but since ESPN/ABC carries by far the most college games, this is the most objective method. Sure, CBS carries the SEC game of the week and Fox carries some games as well, but objectively, this is the best data possible for football and basketball. Yes, we left off women's basketball and baseball, but the ratings there are so low that they wouldn't really change any of the outcomes.

*Similarly, any criticism about using television ratings as opposed to actual attendance doesn't really make sense. All of these markets have robust in person attendance as well. If people watch it on television in large numbers, then they also go in person in large numbers. Television is a much better gauge of interest than gate attendance since in person attendance represents a tiny fraction of the actual number of people who watched a game. 

*These are top 100 markets. So if your city isn't one of the top 100, it's not ranked.