A statistical examination of the long-term sports successes and failures of the cities in this year's Super Bowl.
The Giants might have upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII and the memory of Bucky Dent’s three-run homer in the run-up to the 1978 American League playoffs is still enough to give some Bostonians hives. But Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have played four Super Bowls since 2000 and won three of them; during that same period, New York’s two football teams have played in two and won one.
So the question lingers: which is the best sports town?
It's a good question, and one that statistics should have more than a little bearing on. I asked Patrick Adler, MPI alum, UCLA urban planning doctoral student, and keeper of sports locational statistics, to take a quick look.
When it comes to total championships across the major professional sports leagues, the advantage is New York’s. The Big Apple's teams have won more in the long run, taking home 59 championships since 1903, nearly one in five of all championships (17 percent), compared to 33 for Boston, (or 9 percent).
But Boston has performed much better in the short-run. "Every Boston professional sports team has outperformed its New York counterpart over the last decade," according to ESPN’s Gordon Edes. "Even if you combine the Jets and Giants and Yankees and Mets, the Patriots and Red Sox have won more titles than all four of those New York teams combined since 2001."
Boston also comes out on top over the long haul when the statistics are controlled for population. Boston franchises have taken home 7.2 championship trophies per million residents, more than double New York’s 3.2 championships per million.
Of course, New York hosts more major league teams than Boston. It currently fields nine to Boston's four. To control for this, Adler developed a "success rate index" dividing total championships by the total number of franchise seasons played. On this measure, Boston and New York are indistinguishable, each having earned championships in roughly ten percent of the seasons they have competed in.
The rivalry between the two cities deeper than the Curse of the Bambino. It goes all the way back to their foundational rivalries as financial and political centers of the Republic. It's intensified by the fact that they are geographic neighbors.
In fact, the two are both part of the great megalopolis that stretches from north of Boston down through Philadelphia and Baltimore to Washington, D.C. The concept of the megalopolis dates back to the 1961 book of that title by the great economic geographer Jean Gottmann. Home to more than 50 million people and two trillion dollars in economic output, Bos-Wash’s economy is larger than France’s or the United Kingdom’s, and twice that of India and Canada.
Mega-regions are the key economic units in the world economy. The world’s 40 largest megaregions produce more than two-thirds of its economic output and account for nine in ten of its technological innovations, while housing less than one in five of the world’s people. But they aren't all created equal when it comes to sports.
Bos-Wash is a sports powerhouse. Its teams have accounted for a whopping 111 championships since 1903, nearly a third (31.2 percent) of the total. Chi-Pitts, which stretches from Pittsburgh through Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago, is America’s second-largest mega-region and Bos-Wash’s closest rival, with 106 titles or 30 percent of the total. The Tor-Buff-Chester mega is next, with 41 titles (11 percent), followed by So-Cal with 24 (7 percent) and Nor-Cal with 18 (5 percent).
Bos-Wash franchises are also quite successful on a per capita basis, being one of only two mega-regions, along with Chi-Pitts, to take home more than two championships per capita. And Bos-Wash teams also stack up well on the success rate index which controls for the number of teams and number of seasons. It takes second on this metric as well, with a seven percent success rate, behind only Tor-Buff-Chester with an 11 percent success rate (largely a result of the early success of the "Original 6" Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs).
Boston and New York are both great sports towns. And regardless of which city comes out on top this Sunday, the great Bos-Wash mega will put yet another win in its victory column.