America’s State and Regional College Football Factories

The Band

This is part 2 of a 2 part post. The first part focused on where the (successful) colleges are.

One of the major attractions of college football – for players, schools, and fans alike – is that it serves a launching pad to the pros, particularly the wildly popular National Football League.

Using the list of ESPN’s list of players sorted by college, I examined which states’ colleges are producing the most players overall and per capita, and where the most successful ones are coming from.

States Whose Colleges Produced Most Current NFL Players
Unsurprisingly, many of the largest states show up atop the list, with only the football-mad southern states of Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina noticeably outperforming their size. The leading large states all have multiple programs feeding the NFL, while Ohio only has one (Ohio State). In California, Cal, USC, and Stanford all produce NFL players, while UT, TCU, A&M, and Tech boost Texas’ numbers. Florida places third in large part on the strength of Miami. I was surprised to find out that The U has provided the most players to the NFL this year (59), while no other school even reaches 50.

On a per capita basis, you see smaller states with successful programs rise to the top, with Nebraska, Idaho (Boise State), Utah (Utah and BYU), West Virginia (WVU and Marshall), and Iowa joining the southern schools. Lower down in the top 10, Oregon (Oregon and Oregon State) and Oklahoma (OU and State) are in the middle in terms of state size, but are boosted by two successful programs each, plus smaller schools such as Portland State and Tulsa, respectively.

Mega-Regions Where Colleges Produce NFL Players

Using the 11 Mega-Regions once again, we see the Atlantic and interior south (Piedmont Atlantic) and midwest-north (Great Lakes) leading the way. The Northeast, not known as a college football hotbed, falls into the middle of the pack despite its large population.

The Piedmont, 4th in population, holds its lead on a per capita basis, while Cascadia stands out as well. The Northeast falls back, along with Southern California – a surprise, given how successful USC has been over the past decade.

Where Do The Best Players Come From?
Colleges don’t just look to turn out players who go pro. A big selling feature is being able to produce future stars. I looked at players who have received accolades – Pro Bowl invitations, All-Pro Team recognition, and major awards such as Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Awarding points for each accolade, here are how states and region’s colleges fare.

Star-Powered States
Florida leads the way, behind former ‘Canes such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Devin Hester, and Andre Johnson. The state of California has produced stars such as Troy Polamalu (USC), Tony Gonzales (Cal), and Maurice Jones-Drew (UCLA).

Alabama shows up high on the strength of many ‘Bama and Auburn stars, while Tennessee boasts some guy named Peyton Manning, who starred for the Vols.

On a per capita basis, Idaho jumps out in front on the strength of Jared Allen (Idaho State), and Boise State stars Ryan Clady (All-Pro LT) and defensive back Quintin Mikkel New Mexico’s showing is entirely from standout LB Brian Urlacher. Oklahoma boasts a number of Sooners and Cowboys who have made the pros, while stars like Steve Smith (Carolina) and Eric Weddle (San Diego) launched their careers at the University of Utah. Oregon boasts Ducks like Haloti Ngata, and Beavers like Steven Jackson and Chad Johnson. Meanwhile, West Virginia can thank former Marshall player Randy Moss for their showing.

Mega-Regions and Star Players
On a regional level, the same trend plays out as when looking at the entire list of players. The Great Lakes and Piedmont lead the way, with Florida following suit.

The Front Range jumps out just ahead of the Piedmont on a per capita basis, thanks to stars like Vincent Jackson (Northern Colorado), and the aforementioned Utah and New Mexico players. Florida and Cascadia (Idaho, Oregon, Washington) follow closely.

What stars the Northeast does produce (Ray Rice of Rutgers, Matt Ryan and Matt Hasselbeck of Boston College) don’t perform nearly enough to pull up the region’s ranking. I was surprised by the per capita scores of both the Great Lakes and the Gulf Coast too. The former region, while the most populous of the 11, has many small schools that have churned out stars (Antonio Gates and James Harrison went to Kent State, Michael Turner to Northern Illinois, Ben Roethlisberger at Miami-Ohio) in adding to stars who went to big schools like Michigan (Tom Brady and Charles Woodson), Ohio State (Nick Mangold and AJ Hawk), and Pittsburgh (Larry Fitzgerald and Darrelle Revis). The Gulf Coast’s score is boasted by perennial Pro Bowler and All-Pro punter Shane Lechler (Texas Tech). Aside from him, none of the other active A&M stars, or players from schools such as LSU, have fostered many accolades. Without him, they would have ranked far worse.

The results here align in large part with those in yesterday’s post. Many of the suspected big players (Ohio, Florida, Texas) do well, with the schools of smaller interior west states like Utah and Idaho showing well on a per capita basis. If there is a single winner, it appears to be the Piedmont Atlantic area, whose success in both raw numbers and per capita shows that the south is king in college football.

I plan to repeat this analysis using the hometowns of NFL players instead, to look at which metros, states, and regions are producing the most players who eventually make the big league.


Where College Football is King

Marching Band

This is part 1 of a 2 part post. The second part will focus on which states, regions, and metros are sending the most players to the NFL.

College Football returns tonight, thus beginning a Saturday ritual through the fall for millions of people. The sport is big business, and commands incredible loyalty from alumni and fans of dozens of schools. It is also a big part of cities and regions, both in terms of attracting visitors, and drawing in economic activity, but more so in terms of providing a school or city or area with a big part of its identity.

With the season kicking off, I looked at where the big college programs – the 127 schools in the top division – are located, and which locations are home to the most successful ones on the field.

Which States Have the Most Programs?

Several large states, and football-mad southern states, show up on this list:

On a per capita basis, you see those southern states stand out again, along with midwest and interior west states.

What About the Big States?
Unlike most pro sports, College Football isn’t the domain of the biggest markets. Looking at the 10 largest states by population, you see a discrepancy in terms of how many major football programs are found, both overall and per capita.

It’s no secret that (college) football is big in Texas, and the numbers back it up here. Southern and midwest states like North Carolina and Ohio show well, while northern states like New York and Illinois much less so.

Which Metros Stand Out?

Only a handful of large metros are home to more than one FBS program, and none have more than three:

You can also see how the bulk of schools are found outside of the 50 largest metro areas, compared to its share of the population, with 40% of schools while being home to 53% of the country’s population:

Many of the biggest schools are found in traditional college towns or other small metros, rather than the biggest markets where you’d find the top level of professional teams.

What About the Mega-Regions?
College Football is very much a regional activity (if not national) as far as supporters and attendees go. I decided to look at the 11 Mega-Regions of the United States to see which parts of the country have the biggest presence:

And per capita sees the southern and interior states stand out, while the Northeast and Southern California lag:

Which States Are the Most Successful?
So far, I’ve looked at the number of programs in the top division. Now, I want to see where the successful programs are located.

I looked at the final AP Top 25 of each season since 2000, assigning an inverse valued point to each ranking (ie. 25 for 1st, down to 1 for 25th). Grouping the schools by state, you can see which ones have earned the most points overall and per capita.

And per capita:

Which Mega Regions Are The Most Successful?
Using the same metrics on performance:

And per capita:

Cascadia, behind Boise State and the Oregon schools, shows best per capita, ahead of Piedmont Atlantic – the overall points leader – and the Utah-driven Front Range.

Another thing I found interesting from this breakdown is that the most successful Texas schools are primarily in the Triangle, not the Gulf Coast. Texas, TCU, and Texas Tech lead the way for the former region. The populous Northeast region does the worst per capita, demonstrating that its wanting in both numbers and success.


Big Metros Don’t Necessarily Have Big Programs. The balance of top programs are found all over the country, but primarily in the south, midwest, and interior west. Many major northern metros do not have significant college football teams.

Smaller Places Perform Well Per-Capita Based On One Successful School. Idaho, for one, stands out based entirely on Boise State’s run of success. Similarly, small states with one strong program (West Virginia, Kansas, Iowa) stand out for their per capita success. Most states or smaller regions, though, seem to have one big program, and a few that see occasional successful years. It’s rare to find a state outside the big football states (Florida, Texas, Alabama) that have more than one perennial Top 25 team.

Power Mapped Would Form a Horseshoe Through the South. If you were to map the most successful states and regions, it would extend from the Piedmont (Virginia south), down the coast, then west across the Gulf, south of the Applalachians, through Texas and Oklahoma, and into the interior west. There are, of course, scattered successful programs and areas outside of that (USC, the state of Ohio), but the power base in terms of number of top programs and the success they’re realizing, can be found there.

College football reigns in the south, west, and pockets throughout the midwest. The next post will focus on which ones are producing the players you like to watch on Sundays.

Jasper Ave Blues: What Does $5 Billion Get You These Days?

In Edmonton, the Downtown Business Association released a new report about potential downtown investment. It outlines 36 projects that are approved, proposed, or rumoured to be occurring downtown or in the adjacent Quarters area. Most readers will recognize that not all of these will go ahead – some will be shelved indefinitely, if not permanently and some will be scaled back. Yet, it paints a picture of what downtown might become, maybe not in 5 years (as the report suggests), but perhaps in 15-20.

I’ve grouped the probable, proposed, and rumoured projects into five categories: Commercial (office, retail, service), Residential, Major Facilities, Infrastructure, Public Space:

This is the most problematic section. It proposes nearly 3.9 million square feet in commercial space (office, retail, and service), which seems…really high. For example, a City-commissioned report from 2009 anticipated that downtown would need an additional 3 million square feet in 2044, using baseline growth projections. In an alternative, and more positive, scenario, it projects demand to be about 4.5 million by 2044. All these projects going ahead would mean more than 85% of that would be available 5 years from now. This doesn’t add up, especially when – as our Mayor correctly points out – many businesses still don’t want to locate downtown.

(Update: DECL President Chris Buyze is more bullish on the commercial real estate market than I am. At this point, we have to agree to disagree, but he provided this Colliers report in support of greater growth).

In total, it proposes 2284 units, in addition to however many the Warehouse Incentive Program would contribute towards. Using the $10,000 per unit number from the Capital City Downtown Plan, that would mean an additional 1200 units for a total of 3484, which could translate to more than 5000 additional residents in five years (assuming roughly 1.5 residents per unit). Given that downtown grew roughly 130% in 15 years, growth of close to 40% in 5 years isn’t completely implausible. Note too that the region’s population grew by 124,924 residents from 2006 to 2011, and you can see demand for housing continuing to grow so long as the economy performs well.

Yet, the biggest threat to residential development downtown probably comes from its neighbours. Projects in Oliver continue to move ahead, drawing from much of the same pool of potential residents. Development on the City Centre Airport lands is also likely to start, providing further competition. For development in all three areas to go ahead as planned in the short term, Edmonton likely needs a huge economic boom, or a meaningful reversal of growth in the suburbs.

(Update: Buyze says the 10K grant isn’t happening. Not sure what the money will be spent on, but I can’t see this positively impacting my unit projections).

Major Facilities
The arena will go ahead, as will the Royal Alberta Museum. Based on estimated attendance, let’s say the arena will bring roughly 1,800,000 visitors; based on data from the early 2000s and accounting for growth, let’s give RAM 260,000 (if you think those are impressive, downtown Edmonton’s workforce would account for between 14,000,000 and 15,000,000 just by going to work regularly). In any case, all sorts of caveats apply when considering impact, such as that many attendees will go straight from the train or bus or their car to the venue and back, and many who do go out before or after an event already do so in the downtown area. The rest of the venues are still too much in the project phase to project well.

The changes to Jasper Ave and completion of Capital Boulevard will help with beautification. The proposed enhancements are all welcome, though dependent on CRL revenue, which wouldn’t begin to be collected until at least 2015 – assuming the arena goes ahead that year and ancillary taxable development is build at the same time.

Public Space
What I said about the proposed infrastructure projects applies here as well.

What It Means for Downtown
All these projects added up provide a window into a possible future for downtown. Yet, it’s by no means assured, and not the only possibility. Many of these plans are just that – plans, with no money attached. Others are just ideas at this point. It’s likely that civic plans will once again be updated before all of these projects (or replacements) go ahead, meaning priorities may shift, if the market hasn’t led a shift already.

Citizens have to think about what kind of downtown they want, and whether what’s being proposed meets that vision. In particular, because it’s estimated that at least $2 billion of this investment (including $1.5 billion of what’s probable) will come from public funds.

For me, I see many projects I like in the report (additional residences, parks, cycling and walking infrastructure). But I also see things that are missing, such as no mention of the LRT (the downtown portion connecting the West and Southeast legs of the unfunded new line).

I will continue to hammer the point about opportunity cost, and it needs to be said again here. In particular when dealing with the public investment side, we need to consider what the money can best be spent on in order to achieve the social, financial, and development returns we hope for. I hope citizens keep that in mind when reading this report and others like it.

The Inclusive City: On Language and Culture

Last week, I wrote about the importance of urban design in promoting inclusiveness, and helping people change their circumstances for the better. This concept can be expanded to other characteristics as well, in terms of putting forward a message of cultural – and linguistic inclusion.

On one of my first visits to Portland, I was struck by the fact that MAX Rail announcements are made in both English and Spanish. Don’t believe me? You can hear an example here (at Pioneer Square, a flagship stop and destination downtown)

Portland, unlike cities in the southwest, isn’t known for a large hispanic community, and sure enough, the census data confirms that, with 9.4% of residents of Hispanic or Latino origin. MAX Rail is regional, so if any suburbs contain significantly higher numbers, that may boost the regional share to the state level of 11.4%, but it’s unlikely. Nonetheless, the metro average does appear to be significantly lower than the national share of 16.7%.

The point, however, is not about at what share of the population does a linguistic group command service in its native language. I’m on the accommodation side (yes, I do support official bilingualism in Canada), and see a broader point behind the language issue. It speaks to how welcoming and open to diversity a city (or, at least, its decision makers) is.

Contrast this to the proposed approach of Quebec’s government in waiting. In a province where only one major city – Montreal – is really multingual, nevermind bilingual, it proposes to further restrict the use of English and other languages. Some stats on Montreal – 66% of Montrealais identify their mother tongue as French, 13% as English. Any arguments that other languages need restriction for French to thrive ought to be debunked as mere rhetoric. I covered the long-term threat this approach poses to Quebec’s cities in last week’s post.

Now, to end on a positive note. Edmonton has the fastest growing urban Aboriginal population in Canada, and may soon have the highest in total numbers (though not proportion). Zoe Todd has previously written about the Aboriginal marks on Edmonton’s urban landscape, how other cities like Winnipeg do, and how much more can be done to honour the area’s history.

I thought about this with the unveiling of Aboriginal art panels that will line the city’s South LRT line. It’s a small gesture, perhaps, but one that takes the city another step towards putting forward a more inclusive message. In today’s world, I think that matters a lot.

A photo of the panels, via Don Iveson on Twitter.

The Inclusive City: On Homelessness and Urban Design

In the summertime, I’m an early morning runner. As I pass through the streets, the city is still and quiet, making any activity stand out. One recent Saturday morning was oppressively hot. Passing through Ezio Farone Park the first time, I spotted a man sleeping on the park bench. An hour later, I made a loop back through the same spot. The man sleeping on the bench had moved too, 10 feet from the bench, now sleeping underneath a small bush, where he could escape from the run.

While walking to work, I pass a convenience store where most days, an elderly bearded man sits on a bench next to a shopping cart of belongings. I nod and say hi, and he reciprocates.

I notice these interactions ever since I started working in the housing and homelessness sector. I once took a vacation to Portland to combat burnout at work, only to find myself obsessed about the street homelessness you see everywhere in the city’s core. Similarly, while I seek to clear my head when out running, I’m always snapped back to reality by signs of homelessness or otherwise marginalized individuals.

My community has made great strides towards ending homelessness in a short period of time. As I think about the people I come across, I wonder if public spaces and urban design, among other things, can play a greater role in making this happen faster and more effectively.

You can hardly open a paper (or an iPad in my case) without seeing a case study of what not to do. While there are good news stories like Rhode Island’s Homeless Bill of Rights, and Denver’s efforts to use transit to connect affordable housing to jobs, good schools, and quality services, the bad can seem to outweigh the good. A restaurant owner in Montreal wants to chase homeless youth from the area (where will they go that is safe and appropriate, one might wonder?) Seattle debates whether to make a homeless encampment permanent (as if to say, this is the best we’ll ever do for you). A city in Florida removed all the benches in a park to discourage homeless people from gathering (can they not co-exist with others?), and other cities have installed benches with arm-rests in the middle or that are u-shaped, in order to discourage sleeping on them.

It’s becoming more common to talk about designing cities in a manner that promotes better public health, for one, which I strongly support. But I think we also need to talk about designing better for inclusivity, especially for the most marginalized among us.

Most important in this is talking about how we design not just to serve marginalized people, but to support changing their circumstances for the better.

Quebec’s Politics is Holding its Cities Back

Amid the heated debate around cultural issues in Quebec’s election, I’ve been thinking about how it will affect the province and its cities. In today’s Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson put many of my thoughts on the immigration issue into words. Political leaders are fighting the trend that has made so many places throughout the west more dynamic and successful in recent decades.


The Progress That Has Been Made
I previously wrote about how Quebec politics has shaped me. Quebec remains one of my favourite places, and I think I have some appreciation for it.

The shift in power that has resulted in greater Francophone participation in leadership roles (particularly in business) is the right thing, both from a social justice and human capital perspective. However, many measures that have been enacted, or are proposed, go too far, and prevent the province (or a given city) as a whole from prospering.

Immigration from Abroad
Last week, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the son of immigrants who arrived in Toronto before settling in Calgary, gave a speech in Prince Edward Island. There, he warned about traditional insular culture, and extolled the benefits that an open culture has brought to Calgary.

The point was made in respect to the Atlantic provinces, but it could just as easily be said about Quebec. With its restrictive rules around immigration, Quebec is closing itself off to potential future Naheed Nenshis, who will instead settle in Ontario, British Columbia, or (increasingly) Alberta. Ibbitson points out the lack of success Quebec is having in meeting targets, and keeping many who do arrive. The critique of Quebec’s immigration policy is not meant as a slight against people who do settle there. Rather, the point is that by effectively limiting your pool of immigrants, you’re excluding many who would enrich your community.

Migration from Across Canada
Montreal still attracts migrants from across the country, though it seems its permanent anglophone population is increasingly concentrated in industries where the French language is less central – arts and culture, media, English-language higher education institutions. Yet, it’s not the (permanent) destination that Vancouver, Toronto, or Calgary are. My generation is far more bilingual than previous ones, yet this hasn’t made us more likely to settle in Quebec. I’d strongly consider any opportunity to live and work there, but I’m not sure I can say that for most of my peers. Given the vibrancy and quality of life Montreal in particular offers, this shouldn’t be the case.

Looking Back Through History
It’s worth wondering whether the measures were necessary to allow French to flourish. I subscribe to the founding culture theory in Colin Woodward’s American Nations, which states that subsequent waves of migrants will tend to adapt to the norms already set out, not vice versa.

It’s also worth noting that if you go all the way back, Champlain envisioned New France being a pluralistic society. He actively sought cooperation and integration with the Indigenous populations, to an extent that New France stands out in retrospect compared to most Anglo-led settlements. That spirit has been lost, and Quebec is a less rich place than it should be because of this.

What Does This Mean for Quebec’s Cities?
A snapshot of the present shows good and bad news. Quebec City is home to a handful of large companies, and Montreal edges out Calgary for being home to the second most companies in the FP500 – though less than half compared to Toronto. Both cities can boast thriving arts and culture scenes, and Montreal is a leading center in the video game industry.

Yet, for much of the country, Quebec City is more of a playground. It’s a place you go to have fun, not a place you think about living or doing business.

Montreal, for its successes, is nonetheless on a 40-year (if not longer) trend of seeing its influence wane, as companies and people have exited to head west or south. It lags other big metros in productivity, and my initial rankings of Canadian cities last month saw it come in virtually tied with Ottawa, and noticeably lagging the other two biggest metros (and Calgary).

There’s no reason for this to happen. French is firmly established as the local lingua franca. Non-pure laine go there because of the vibrant culture and opportunities that want to exist. They do not wish to assimilate the former, and they have much to offer in increasing the latter. By all measures of what attracts creative, talented professionals, Montreal should be a magnet city, and it should be a hotbed of entrepreneurship. Provincial leaders are working against this happening. If they envision a pure laine society, they need to be ready to deal with the economic ramifications that likely means.

More to the point, though, there is no reason to believe they need to go in this direction. Has English culture dissipated as London has become more cosmopolitan? Did New York cease to be New York as it embraced being a global hub? Did people stop wearing Smithbilts at Stampede because of migration to Calgary? No, no, and no.

Quebec is home to great cities that could yet be so much more. Citizens and civic leaders would do well to see (im)migration as a benefit, and a way for their cities to further prosper, rather than a threat. The longer they put off doing this, the more likely it is their leading cities will fall further behind.

Sport Tourism (Part 2): The Urban Trail Running Frontier

At the end of my post on marathon participation in Western Canada, I noted that trail running is growing in popularity, and that a city like Edmonton – with its large parks and trails system – could be well-positioned to capitalize on this. To examine this further, I searched for urban(ish) trail races in Canada. Note that these are simply located near metro areas or major regional centres; the courses themselves are not necessarily urban.

Trail Races in Canada
I found four races centred around a metro area or major regional centre – the Yukon River Trail Marathon (Full and Half) in Yellowknife, the Manitoba Trail Marathon (50K, Full, Half) in Winnipeg, and two in Ontario – the Vulture Bait Trail Race (50K and 25K) in London, and the Sulphur Springs Trail Run in Burlington (Metro Hamilton – 100 Mile down to 25K). Unfortunately, the two Xtrail Asics half marathons near Sherbrooke, Quebec, don’t list hometowns for finishers (but the two races had 221 and 160, respectively).

Here’s the breakdown by origin for the aforementioned four races:

In addition, Alberta already hosts many ultramarathons and trail races. The Blackfoot Ultra (ranging from 25K to 100K) takes place just south of Elk Island National Park, about an hour east of downtown Edmonton. Here’s how it’s participants break down.

The Canadian Death Race in Grande Cache, north of the Rocky Mountains, is a world-renowned events. Information is only available for soloists, but an additional 1280 participants competed in relay teams. Comparing shorter distances in other races, you see the number of locals increase (for example, in the Sulphur Springs 10K and the Yukon Trail relay – both not counting in their race’s numbers above), but not by a substantial amount.

Some things that stand out for me:

Trail Running (Especially Longer Distances) is Still Very Much a Niche. The participation numbers are small, even compared to smaller road races. Many of the websites are also out-of-date, and hilariously low-budget. In other words, not the sign of a major enterprise.

Most Runners Stay Relatively Local. The vast majority of participants in every race are from the home province, though not necessarily the closest metro area. The Ontario races see a larger uptake in participants from outside the metro, but even races like the Blackfoot see a noticeable number. Again, like with Marathons, for a minimal to non-existent investment, your seeing a good return in what’s being spent on food, hotels, amenities, etc.

The Death Race is an Exception. It has both a slick, up-to-date website, and draws participants from around the world.

Trail Running and Casual Runners
The 5 Peaks series consistently runs 5-race seasons in metro Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto (their Ottawa-Gatineau series varies in number from year-to-year). Using 4-5 year trends – 2007 numbers weren’t available for Edmonton (Northern Alberta) and Toronto (Southern Ontario) – here are the participation numbers for all their races from 2007-11.

Calgary and especially Edmonton can show tangible growth in recent years, while the British Columbia and Ontario numbers are more consistent. The Alberta numbers are even more impressive when you consider that their local catchment area is roughly 1/3 the size of that of BC Coast and 1/5 of Southern Ontario. While I can’t speak to the quality and organization of other areas, Edmonton’s are top notch in this respect.

Trail Running and an Opportunity to Grow
Given the participation rates in the 5 Peaks series, and races like the Blackfoot and Death Race (edit: also, the Moose is Loose Half Marathon), there is reason to believe that Edmonton and its surrounding area have a thriving trail running community. It’s also evident, comparing participation rates and scale, that – in spite of a thriving road running community as well – Edmonton has not succeeded in translating this into a significant Marathon event. It’s also unlikely to catch up to the more popular ones, given their popularity and success. The event should, obviously, continue, but it can’t be counted on to be the draw that some marathons are.

The trail running field is, however, wide open. The Edmonton (road) Marathon started 20 years ago, with only 50 participants. It’s 19th iteration last year saw more than 1900 people finish the full or half; Calgary’s, while the longest-running in Canada, was a minor event until recently. It’s not implausible at all to think that trail running could follow a similar curve in popularity. The popularity of personalities like Scott Jurek, and the Born to Run book, will continue to contribute to its rise. As many road runners cope with repetitive stress injuries (case in point – I wrote most of this while resting due to shin splints), the appeal of soft terrain races will very likely grow.

For the time being, perhaps the ultra marathon distance crowd is well-served, but the medium-long distance (up to 50K) market has room to grow. Edmonton’s river valley and trails system is a competitive advantage – one the city could use more. An urban trail race, taking residents through scenic areas, would have appeal on account of its route, convenience in an urban location, and for the time-being at least, aspect of novelty (since most races are outside of cities). I also see an early adopter advantage in terms of working out the fine details (ie. most cities would need to do part of it on paved trail, or build temporary surfaces to deal with lack on contiguity), and build a following. Use the race as a launching point to build more infrastructure around trail running, and all of a sudden you’re working on something that contributes to the quality of life day-to-day for residents. If you’re a trail runner, casual or serious, it’s all of a sudden more appealing to live there.

I noted Edmonton, since that’s where I live, but it could just as easily apply to Ottawa (with areas like the Greenbelt) or Toronto (around areas like The Rouge). Any city with the natural landscape to do so would be well-served to get in on this growing market.

Sport Tourism (Part I): Why Cities Should Subsidize Marathons, Not Stadiums

Few cities in Canada or the United States have been immune from calls to massively subsidize professional sports teams. Over the past two decades, dozens of cities have shelled out 9 figure subsidies, usually in the form of publicly-funded stadiums, in order to keep or attract professional sports teams. Sold as a necessary element of being a “big city”, and backed by wildly exaggerated claims of benefits economic or otherwise, report after report nonetheless shows that pro sports adds little to no net economic impact to a region. When there are gains, they’re likely offset by the subsidies being provided.

I’m part of the small minority fans who do travel regularly to watch sports (usually once or twice a year to see baseball). I’m fully aware, though, that we are – relatively speaking – few and far between. In the past couple of years, I’ve started traveling for another sport – distance running, when I started running half marathons.

Marathons have become big business as running has grown in popularity. While the proportion of people who run (half) marathons pales in comparison to the proportion who are professional sports fans, I nonetheless noticed something anecdotally. Nearly every runner I know travels semi-frequently to compete in races, and often with family/friends coming along. Initiatives like Team in Training coordinate travel for large groups. With this, they are spending on hotels, entertainment, and other amenities and experiences at their destination. I started thinking more seriously about what economic impact this has after competing in the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon (I did the half) this June. Prior to picking up your race kit, you fill out an exhaustive survey covering the economic impact of your trip. I don’t remember every question, but I’m pretty sure they asked everything about my spending in the city short of how much I tipped my cab driver coming from the airport.

As the scholarly work shows (or any Google search would), there are many claims about significant economic impact from marathons. The consensus seems to be that the most profitable ones are found in the biggest cities (not a surprise since they have more capacity to put on big events), but even cities like Cleveland have claimed massive benefits.

I am inherently skeptical about economic impact claims, but when comparing these to reports around entertainment and sports, I see a couple of differences from experience:

1) For 99.99% of the participants, running a marathon is a conscious, deliberate undertaking. That is to say, it’s not a decision akin to “should we go to a hockey game or should we go to a movie?” It’s a decision to do a specific thing that requires weeks if not months of planning and training. Therefore, the substitution effect that applies to pro sports events doesn’t apply in the same way.
2) Related to this, many factors may contribute to a runner deciding to enter a given race (location, timing, other events that can go into a trip), it’s usually an either or proposition when comparing locations, not whether to do the event or not. When considering a race, I don’t usually think “should I run in San Diego or go to a resort in the Caribbean?”. I think “should I run in San Diego, Seattle, or Portland?” Surely runners would spend money on other hobbies and leisure activities if they gave up the sport, but I still see a key difference compared to spectator events.

With the Edmonton Marathon happening this weekend, I decided to look into where the Western Canadian races were drawing participants from, and what this might mean in terms of bringing activity to a given city. I looked at 6 races from across Western Canada in 2011 – Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan (Saskatoon), and Queen City (Regina), and broke attendees into where they listed their residence – CMA, rest of the province, regions across Canada, US, and international. You can see the full breakdown here.

The numbers in Western Canada show that people are willing to travel for marathons. I plan to repeat this down the road for events in Central and Eastern Canada to see how the trends compare across the country.

Marathons Across Western Canada – Breakdown of Participants

Here is a breakdown for each race of those from the CMA compared to those outside of it:

The Results
The British Columbia races draw the biggest number of out-of-town participants. Not surprisingly, as the two largest races, Victoria and Vancouver both claim large economic impact.

Victoria does very well in terms of participation for a metro of its size. Both it and the Okanagan race fall on Canadian Thanksgiving/American Columbus Day long weekend, which likely helps boost travel to the races.

The Prairie races are both smaller and more locally focused, yet even the smallest one brings in about 500 participants from outside the CMA (to say nothing of their friends and family). If you conservatively estimate the impact at 1-2 nights in a hotel, plus meals, incidentals, etc, a $500/person impact would add $250,000 to the local economy off of 500 runners. A drop in the bucket? Maybe. But for what the city has likely to put into the race (a small to non-existent investment), that’s a pretty decent return. Do enough events like this in different sports and leisure activities (such as arts and culture), and all of a sudden you’ve got a lot going on throughout the year and a steady injection of money into the local economy.

Key Considerations and Lessons
There is a Near Zero Sum Effect – Many of these races fall close to each other on the calendar – Vancouver and Calgary in May, Saskatchewan in June, Edmonton in August, Regina in September, and Victoria and Okanagan on the same day in October. This means that the vast majority of runners will be entering at most 2 of these races, maybe 3 (May-August-October). While there is room for races to attract new or lapsed runners, they are in a sense competing with the neighbours on the calendar to attract participants.

Cities Can Focus on Import Substitution – This Steven Cobb paper correctly points out that marathons can capture local runners who would otherwise travel to races elsewhere, and are now instead spending this money in the local area instead. For smaller marathons, this might be the best starting point to grow their race.

There is Room for Growth, But Only So Much – Nearly every city has at least one marathon by now, and more keep getting added. It feels very close to the point where the market will be oversaturated. Further, the smaller races are competing to catch up reputation-wise to the larger, more established ones.

What Can A City Do to Benefit?
There are lessons in this for cities. I see three major takeaways:

Make Your Local Marathon a Big Event – This goes without saying, but the most successful races are huge community endeavours, volunteer-wise, and in the attention they get from locals. In Edmonton, the Marathon barely registers. In part, it has the unfortunate timing of being the same weekend the popular Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off, but it still doesn’t command an attention (or participation level) commensurate with the size of our running community. There’s room to grow on the import substitution side, and making more of an event (and moving it back to a more central location) would help. Given how supportive Edmonton is of other major sporting events, I don’t think this is unreasonable.

Find A Selling Feature – What makes your city’s race special? Is it a great and/or scenic course? Do you have a killer after-party? Do you have a great race kit and medal? Are there tons of other things to do in your city? With everyone competing for runners’ business, the value proposition has to be strong in order to stand out.

Get Ahead of the Curve – Many of the most successful races are also long-running ones. Instead of playing catch up, it’s often best to carve out a niche or get ahead of the curve. I see trail running as the next big thing in the sport. It’s still largely a niche activity, but events like the 5 Peaks series are making it more accessible for casual runners. There’s a gap in terms of races that are accessible both in terms of distance/difficulty, and location (most are in mountainous or otherwise non-urban areas). For a city like Edmonton with its large parks and trails system, fostering an appealing urban trail marathon would very likely be a good bet, and offer an experience you can’t get in many other places.

I’m not arguing for massive subsidization like we’ve seen with pro sports. But I see plenty of reason to think that a city supporting a marathon, or other participatory events, in small ways – financial or not – can yield big returns. It’s these kinds of events that, with enough of them happening (in sports, arts and culture), can cumulatively add a big impact to a region at very little cost to the public.

College Towns and Destinations: Canada’s Small Indie Music Hotspots

Following up on my post on Canada’s indie music hotspots, this post looks at smaller centres in the country where large concentrations of artists are making and sharing original music. Once again, I’ve used artist information from CBC Music and data on Census Agglomerations from Statistics Canada.

Two Hours Traffic
Two Hours Traffic from Charlottetown, PEI.

Largest Census Agglomerations Per Capita

In addition Census Agglomerations, several towns that didn’t make this category due to size had high numbers per capita. The following list is what I call Destination Towns, popular locations for tourism or lifestyle choices.

Largest Destination Towns Per Capita

The list is comprised of (mountain-based) recreation centres, as well as college towns with a small permanent population (Wolfville and Antigonish).

Trends in Small Music Scenes
A few things that stood out:

The Atlantic and Pacific Reign Once Again: Atlantic and Pacific metros stood out in the previous rankings, and it’s no surprise that Charlottetown and Fredericton rank high here. The two Atlantic CAs rank higher in concentration than all but four CMAs (Halifax, Victoria, Vancouver, Guelph).

College Towns – Big or Small – Are Hotspots: Many cities and towns on the list boasts either a university with a strong presence – UPEI in Charlottetown, UNB and St. Thomas in Fredericton, Acadia in Wolfville, Mt. Allison in Sackville, St.FX in Antigonish.

Destination Towns Can Build a Scene: The places that are not college-oriented are invariably vacation or lifestyle destination spots. The British Columbia cities are clustered on the island or along the coast, or in the interior – opposite Alberta’s mountain towns. The Ontario cities are near mountain destinations, and/or have recognized cultural scenes (Stratford is famous for its Shakespeare Festival; Owen Sound has been named a cultural capital). Several of the cities – Salmon Arm, Canmore, Owen Sound, Yellowknife – also host relatively popular folk festivals.

Being a Regional Centre Matters: The CAs that showed up at the top of the list are all regional centres, and especially in Charlottetown and Fredericton’s case, share many functional characteristics with CMAs.

If You’re Serious About Your Career, It’s Best to Move to a CMA: New music is being created and shared all over the country, but few of the artists outside CMAs are recognizable, or seem to have large following (outside, perhaps, their immediate local community.

Charlottetown Deserves Recognition: It stands out amongst CAs, having produced nationally-followed indie acts such as Two Hours Traffic, Paper Lions, and Boxer the Horse. There are much larger metros that can’t boast even that many recognizable or popular names.

Canada’s Indie Music Hotspots

This is the first part in a series examining Canada’s music scene, with a focus on which cities have thriving scenes and where artists launch and sustain successful careers. This stems from my interest in music, particular Canadian (indie) work, and from many discussions with friends about which cities support good music scenes.

This also intersects with work I’m doing (and will write about) that identifies what makes a city amenable to young adults. A vibrant cultural scene is a key part of this, and the local music scene is a good bellwether for it. It’s more universal than theatre, more social than reading, and more local than television/film, which tends to be highly clustered. I believe it gives a good read of a city’s cultural scene more often than not. The focus on indie music does miss out on some genres (jazz, classical, country), but captures a vast array of different types of artists, with varying amounts of experience, repertoire, and popularity.

Canada’s Indie Music Hotspots
To start, I’m examining which cities are generating activity in their music scene. I used data from CBC Music (where you get everyone from Arcade Fire to A Tribe Called Red to Carly Rae Jepsen). It’s an open site that allows any artist to create a page and upload their music, so this captures everyone from well-known acts like Joel Plaskett (with over one million song plays on the site) to the artists just starting out who have yet to develop a following. It also captures artists creating and sharing original material, not ones just playing covers of Brown-Eyed Girl at local pubs.

Joel Plaskett
Joel Plaskett of Halifax at Edmonton Folk Fest in 2009.

This post focuses on Census Metropolitan Areas, using data on CMA population and municipalities from Statistics Canada. A subsequent focus will look at which – if any – smaller cities (defined as Census Agglomerations) are generating strong music scenes.

Metros with the Most Artists
This table shows the list of metros with most artists, in raw numbers.

Metros with the Most Artists Per 1000 Residents
This table shows the list of metros with most artists, measured per each 1000 residents.

HUGE Caveat
It’s apparent that Quebec artists are not signing up for CBC’s page in huge numbers, as you can see in the spreadsheet. Aside from Montreal (whose numbers I suspect are much higher), other CMAs in the province barely register. Anecdotally, and through research such as this Martin Prosperity Institute paper, we can be confident that this is not a fair representation of Quebec’s music scene. This is best looked at as an evaluation of Anglo Canada’s indie music scenes.

Danny Michel of Kitchener-Waterloo at Wakefield (Ottawa-Gatineau)’s Black Sheep Inn.

The Results
You can see the full data for artists and artists per 1000 residents for Canada’s 33 CMAs here. I found a few trends:

Bigger Metros Have More Artists
This was expected. Toronto, by far the biggest metro, produced the most artists (and narrowly missed the top 10/1000 residents, ranking 11th). The rest of the top 10 followed the population rankings as well with slight variance. Only Halifax (7th vs. 13th in population) and Victoria (9th vs. 15th) stood out as outliers.

Matthew Barber
Matthew Barber, originally of Hamilton, residing in (and credited to) Toronto. Here he’s playing at Edmonton’s Haven Social Club.

The second tier in population (Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary, Edmonton) have near identical numbers. They’re all within 200 artists of each other, and 0.11 per capita. The ranking does go Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary, Edmonton – in that order – in both categories, though.

In the next group down, only Quebec City (as noted) and Kitchener-Waterloo – amongst the 10 biggest metros – miss the top 10 overall. However, of those 10, only Vancouver and Winnipeg – often noted for a strong arts scene – make the top 10 per capita.

The Atlantic and Pacific Reign
Vancouver and Victoria rank high both overall and per capita, and 3 of the 4 CMAs in the Atlantic provinces finish in the top 10 per capita. Given the prominence of live music in the latter’s culture, this shouldn’t be a big surprise, but it does confirm that local artists are generating original content, not just playing cover songs in pubs.

College Towns Often Have Thriving Scenes
College towns in the United States are often known for fostering thriving music scenes, and you see evidence of this in Canada as well. Halifax, of course, is well-known for its music scene, and the 6 colleges and universities in the city play a key part in supporting it. The smallest CMAs that showed up in the top 10 per capita all have a university that’s a prominent part of their community – University of Guelph, UniversitĂ© de Moncton, Trent University in Peterborough, and Queen’s University in Kingston. This will be elaborated on in the post on smaller cities, but two Atlantic Canadian cities outside of CMAs but with a strong college presence post a per capita score of over 1.6, better than all but 4 of the CMAs.

Halifax and Victoria Look Like They’re Punching Above their Weight
Related to an extent – they did well in these rankings, and noticeably outperformed their metro size in my ranking of Canadian cities as well. Halifax’s music scene has also been noted for outperforming its size by MPI, amongst others.

Musical Hotspots
What this post measures is activity, not success. Many of the metros that scored high are producing large numbers, but not necessarily large numbers of successful ones (though Victoria has produced artists like Nelly Furtado, it’s light on recognizable indie acts). A future post will look at where the most successful artists are coming from. In other words, there’s no reason for an artist to think that Toronto and Montreal are not two of their best options for launching a successful career.

Yet, this does identify cities that are producing – or attracting – large numbers and/or proportions of creative people. They’ve fostered a scene where someone gets to a point that they are not just creating music – they’re recording and sharing it. It’s a sign of creative and artist activity, and a music scene that contributes to a vibrant city.