Jump Ball - Is Toronto the Worst Sports City in the World?


Some Friday/Saturday discussion as the HQ launches a long overdue "jump ball," where Franchise and D-Stance debate Toronto's recent ranking as the world's worst sports city...

Franchise:  So last week, Grantland presented us with this little piece about Toronto being the worst Sports City in the World.

What was your first reaction after you read it?

D-Stance:   My initial reaction was to brand this column as another piece of biased, lazy American journalism... until I realized that the author, Stephen Marche, is Canadian. However, when you consider that he originally listed the Blue Jays as one of the teams owned by Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, you have to call his sports acumen into question.

Sure the performances on their respective playing fields has been mediocre to abysmal. But a lot of the examples Mr. Marche used to bolster his argument work in the opposite direction. The fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs have stopped taking names on their season ticket waiting list and boast a 99 percent renewal rate would preclude Toronto from being named the WORST sports city in the world. Clearly, Torontonians are supporting their teams at the box office and elsewhere(results be damned).

But who would rank ahead of Toronto on the list of worst sports city in the world? I can think of several in North America alone.

Buffalo has to rely on Toronto and the Province of Ontario to support both their NHL and NFL franchises.

How about Kansas City? They've failed to lure an NBA or NHL team despite having a modern arena.

Cleveland? They have the second-longest championship drought of all cities with at least two major professional sports franchises, with their last championship coming in 1964. Hey, at least the Leafs won in 1967!

And we don't even need to pick on the markets that have lost or are in danger of losing professional sports franchises.

The list goes on...

Franchise:  I guess it depends on how you define "worst."  Does worst mean "bang for the buck?"  "Fielding winning teams?"  "Wealth of sporting options?"

The ESPNMag poll that they referenced had Toronto ranked as the worst sports city because of the return on investment fans get.  It's pretty hard to argue with that though right?

D-Stance:  I get the return on investment piece. It's easier to make a valid argument that Toronto is the worst sports city in the world in terms of the return on investment for fans. Leafs tickets are out of reach for the average family. The Raptors are one of the most expensive tickets in the NBA despite little in the way of playoff appearances or success. And the Bills go from the lowest season ticket cost in the NFL in Buffalo to charging outrageous prices for the handful of games played at the Rogers Centre. But that's what happens when you have a market the size of Toronto.

From an article on Foxbusiness.com:

"The second largest influence on ticket prices is market size. The four highest ticket prices for NBA teams are for clubs in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago. The fifth team on the most expensive NBA ticket list is in Toronto, the largest city in Canada, and fifth largest metropolitan area in North America. The most expensive tickets in baseball are for The New York Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Boston Red Sox. Football is something of an exception to the large market rule. Chicago and Dallas are on the list, but several of the other teams are primarily old franchises with storied pasts. These include The Green Bay Packers and The New England Patriots."

Despite what the American media would have you believe, Toronto is not a small market and its ticket pricing reflects that reality.

Franchise:  I think though that's part of the problem with the city's sports' scene.  The Toronto Raptors exist in one of the league's biggest markets, yet they are undeniably a small-market team in terms of their perception not only league-wide, but nation-wide too.  There's a reason curling outdraws Raptors' basketball in terms of TV ratings.

So to the author's point, are fans making things worse?  Because the city's sports teams know that fans will continue to support mediocrity, or frankly, less than even that, is this going to stay the same until the fans stay away?

D-Stance:  I don't think fans need to stay away in droves in order to bring about change... at least in the case of basketball and hockey. MLSE has shown a willingness to bring in big name executives with proven track records in Bryan Colangelo and Brian Burke. They're not exactly handing over the keys to the David Kahns of the world.

The Raptors, in particular, have handed out lucrative contracts to past-their-prime free agents like Hakeem Olajuwon and Hedo Turkoglu. So the money and the willingness is there - they've just made poor decisions with the money they do spend. Combined with the fact that their number one pick came from one of the weakest drafts in recent memory and you have a recipe for the current version of the Raptors.

The Raptors had a small taste of success during the Vince Carter years. They've seen what it takes to pack the arena, make the playoffs, sell lots of jerseys, get the U.S. television exposure, etc. They've just failed miserably trying to recapture that glory.

The only Toronto team that could be accused of not spending in line with their peers is the Blue Jays. And I think most people recognize that situation is lose-lose when you're going up against the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox.

What's your take on Toronto sports teams from a financial perspective? Do you think they are simply hamstrung by poor decision making? Or are they not spending enough money to be truly competitive?

Franchise:  I think by and large to your point, Toronto's teams spend enough money to be competitive, they've simply made poor decisions with said cash for the most part.  However part of me can't help but wonder if there's not enough pressure on management to make change because fans keep supporting losing.  The Jays though might be a good example of what happens when fans DO stay away.  After years of slumping attendance, ownership finally cleared house and brought in fresh blood - fresh blood that looks like it may eventually lead to the best version of the club that we've seen in years.

D-Stance:  So does an extended run of poor decision making by guys like Rob Babcock, Bryan Colangelo, J.P. Ricciardi et al translate into Toronto being considered the worst sports city in the world? I don't think it's enough. The teams definitely need to be more successful on their respective playing fields, but otherwise this city offers enough to its sports fans.

Franchise:  No, I agree that it's not been due to a lack of effort by management etc that the city gets this rep, but I'll leave you with one final thought:

Is sports ingrained enough though in the city's blood?  That's the one other factor that comes to mind when I see articles like this, or the annual ESPN Mag survey.  Is this REALLY a sports town? 

Or is it a Leafs town? 

To give you an example, I was just in Boston and I was blown away by the amount of Red Sox gear, Celts' garb, etc, etc and EVERYONE flocks to pubs and sportsbars to watch their respective teams.  You just feel it in the air when you visit places like that, and I'd say the same even for experiences with high school football in smaller, non "big 4 sport" markets like Alabama and South Carolina. 

I don't feel that in Toronto.  Perhaps with the Leafs, but other than that, the city seems more "fair-weather" than the majority of US cities when it comes to sports.  Is that just me?

D-Stance:  The Leafs (and hockey in general) are ingrained in the city's blood. When you get 100,000 plus watching Leafs games in Punjabi, you know it's captured the imagination of more than just a small group of puckheads. Toronto FC fans are passionate enough to fill the stadium with a sea of red and boo anyone who is not dressed in team apparel.

But Toronto definitely has some work to do in order to be considered on a par with sports towns like Boston and Chicago. I'll close with a few examples:

Several years ago, my brother wanted to watch a guy he knew who was playing ball for the Central Conneticut State Blue Devils. We drove to every sports bar and pub we could think of. And even though the bars and pubs had satellites clearly mounted on the roof of the buildings, no one could accomodate our request to show the game. If it wasn't hockey and it wasn't on TSN, they had no idea how to facilitate such a "bizarre" request.

The second example would involve anytime you and I and I have tried to watch a basketball game or NBA Draft in Toronto's sports bars. You end up dealing with the same small collection of businesses that can handle showing anything outside of hockey or baseball. Basketball is often relegated to the darkened corners of these places, if it's even shown at all.

The third example - and it's more of a critique really - revolves around the act of tailgating during the Bills in Toronto games. Tailgating is a vital part of the American sports experience, whether it's the NFL, NCAA football or NASCAR. The version that takes place in Toronto is an absolute abomination. Part of the blame falls on our liquor laws. The other part has to do with the complete lack of imagination on behalf of the folks putting on the event. You don't have to plaster sponsorships and make money off of every single activity. Some of the fan experience can be organic and happen in a parking lot with a cooler, bbq and some good friends. It doesn't always involve paying for overpriced beer and food.

Franchise:  So I think we're seeing eye-to-eye here.  Toronto isn't the worst sports city.  Perhaps it's got a ways to go record-wise considering the associated costs with attending games, but Toronto offers a much more robust experience than many one or two-team US cities.  And the Leafs, and hockey in general, inspire a very similar passion as sports' in US cities.

So worst?

Hardly.

But it's going to be a while before we can hold a candle to the Boston's and Chicago's of the US.

Oh...and I think we should start doing RaptorsHQ tailgate bashes if and when the NBA returns.

D-Stance:  Only if we can we bring a Bargnani pinata.

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