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Baseball Cities 2013: Where Major Leaguers Come From

Jose Bautista, from the baseball factory of Santo Domingo.

In March, the Dominican Republic won the 3rd ever World Baseball Classic, becoming the first club to go through the tournament undefeated. That they have become a baseball powerhouse is not news, but the small, 10 million person island’s prowess becomes evident when you look at the hometowns of more than 800 Major League Baseball players on opening day rosters in 2013.

A couple of thousand miles to the north, an equally rabid fan base has enjoyed success. Red Sox Nation has celebrated two World Series titles in the past decade, and has grown to be a business empire to rival its long-time rival the New York Yankees. Yet, for all the club’s success, it has precious little opportunity to cheer for home-grown players. The Boston metro area, 10th largest in the nation at 4.6 million strong, produced a mere 2 players on opening day rosters. The entire 14.5 million population of Red Sox Nation/New England – including the disputed (with the Yankees) territory of Connecticut – produced 21 players.

The tiny Dominican, in contrast, produced 83 players; the capital, Santo Domingo, 26 – 2nd most of any metro anywhere. Contrast that with the New York City metro, twice the Dominican’s population, but home to just 15 players – less than 1/5 the tally of that country. Cities of just a few hundred thousand produce more ballplayers than some of North America’s biggest baseball cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto.

This is just one illustration of the shift southwards, beyond the U.S. border and into Central and South America, of where big league ballplayers are coming from today. The big states along the southern U.S. border – California, Texas, and Florida – produce the bulk of major leaguers, with the odd pocket throughout the north. The Dominican Republic and Venezuela punch above their weight in delivering players to the majors.

Boston (and New England) is home to a passionate fan base, but sends relatively few of its own to the majors.

In the United States, Southern California rules. Los Angeles produced more than twice the number of any other metro, and San Diego (2nd per capita behind Santo Domingo) and the Inland Empire also show well.

Looking at metro areas of more than 1,000,000 residents, here are the top 10 overall:

Baseball Metros Overall

And the top 10 per capita:

Baseball Metros Per Capita

The overall rankings see the northern metros of New York and Chicago – 1st and 3rd largest in the U.S. – crack the Top 10, but no place further north than Northern California or Virginia shows up in the per capita rankings.

Here are how the 26 metro areas with Major League clubs rank. 7 of 8 Sun Belt markets are in the top 11, and cold weather places dominate the bottom half:

Baseball MLB Markets

That warmer weather cities dominate shouldn’t be a surprise. It makes sense that kids growing up in cities with warmer weather, more conducive to outdoor ball, would be at an advantage in terms of development. However, just how weighted the player pool at the top level is towards those cities was a shocking to me.

A city like Boston or Philadelphia may yet see a World Series before any of the baseball factories on these lists, but the odds heavily favour the fact that their players will come from California, Florida, or Latin America, not from their backyards.


How Cities Can Help Take Back the Stanley Cup

Three months into a lockout, NHL labour talks appear to have hit another impasse this week. I think the differences are exaggerated – more negotiating tactics than anything – and we’ll have labour peace by the new year. That said, on the chance that this is a serious blow, it’s time to revisit the idea of awarding the Stanley Cup to a non-NHL club.

Colby first raised this in an excellent column this summer. Stop, read it, then come back to this. He provides justification, both legally and morally, for the Cup to be contested, and a roadmap to secure it as a public asset should the Cup’s trustees not comply.

I strongly support this idea, and here is my idea for what a Cup competition, sans NHL, could look like.

The Cup Before the NHL
It’s likely not well appreciated that the Stanley Cup precedes the NHL (or organized professional hockey, for that matter). In the early years, amateur or semi-pro clubs contested the Cup through a Challenge series, or were awarded it for winning their league.

In fact, 3 organizations who played for The Cup in the Challenge era still exist – unsuccessful challengers Queen’s University and the Winnipeg Rowing Club, as well as Club Sportif MAA (Montreal Amateur Athletic Association), parent organization of the 5-time champion Montreal Hockey Club.

The Stanley Cup Challenge
Running a parallel league is impractical, and would deter both NHL players from participating, and owners/supporters from jumping on board due to a large commitment. What I suggest instead is a one-time challenge tournament, with the winner being awarded the Stanley Cup.

Between 8 and 16 teams (or 24, on the high end), would compete in either a round-robin or a group stage, followed by a 4-8 team knockout round. Think of the format used in soccer tournaments like the World Cup or the UEFA Champions’ League.

This could span 2-3 months, depending on format, and at the very most a team would play 25-30 games in that period of time.

The old Montreal Hockey Club. Is it time they reform and challenge for another Stanley Cup?

The old Montreal Hockey Club. Is it time they reform and challenge for another Stanley Cup?

The City Connection
Now, this would face many challenges in getting off the ground. Chief among them are buy-in from the players, and resources. The former could be won over by communicating the opportunity to play for the Cup against serious competition, and the money they stand to gain through being granted the vast majority of the revenue (which would be drawn from ticket and merchandise sales, and PPV or other TV rights to games).

The resources side is where municipalities come in. Not just civic governments, but civic institutions, and their well-heeled members/supporters, would be crucial for organizing start-up funds, and providing logistical support. In many cases, municipalities would be key for negotiating access to arenas.

More importantly, they would provide legitimacy to any effort to reclaim the Stanley Cup. Legitimate governments and civic institutions would be standing behind the effort to hold a Cup competition.

To further the local connection, teams could be organized around players suiting up for their hometowns (either birth or established residency prior to their junior or college career). Similar to how the CFL allows a certain number of imports, teams could also be allowed to carry a handful of players who do not qualify, but also do not have a hometown club of their own. This would ensure opportunity for those players to participate, while retaining the local character of clubs. Few cities would be able to ice a full 20 of established NHLers, so minor leaguers, other professionals, or juniors would round out the rosters.

Who Would Compete?
Using this map of 2011-12 NHLers by city of birth, we find 18 metro areas in Canada with at least 6 NHL players.

15+: Toronto (62), Montreal (35), Vancouver (27), Edmonton (26), Ottawa (22), Calgary (17), Winnipeg (16)
10-14: London (14), Regina (11), Niagra (10), Saskatoon (10),
6-9: Windsor (9), Kitchener-Waterloo (8), Oshawa (8), Kingston (7), Quebec City (7), Thunder Bay (7), Belleville (6)

Toronto could conceivably field multiple teams; Montreal, Vancouver, and Edmonton too.

If you invite American cities to compete, you’d add another 10 possibilities in Minneapolis-St. Paul (29), Detroit (22), Boston (15), Chicago (10), New York City (9), Pittsburgh (9), Anchorage (7), Buffalo (7), Madison (6), and St. Louis (6).

All of a sudden, we’re looking at a potential pool of 20-35 teams, depending on if American cities are included. Out of these, surely 8-16 could get their act together.

How Would Teams Get Organized?
The start-up cost, compared to buying a franchise, would be low, so private investors would be key, though not the only possibility. Thinking back to the Challenge era gives some other suggestions. It would be unlikely that universities like Queen’s would enter a professional team, but private athletic clubs such as the Winnipeg Rowing Club and Club Sportif MAA would have the infrastructure and well-heeled membership to bring resources together, and provide logistical support. These types of organizations exist in every city.

Some cities also have community-owned sports franchises, like the Edmonton Eskimos Football Club. They could resurrect a hockey cousin, which existed in the previous incarnation of the Esks early in the 20th century and played for the Stanley Cup three times between 1908 and 1923.

Civic leadership in government could support these organizations, or step in where no one else can. In return, a share of the revenue could return to charitable initiatives in the city (say, supporting youth hockey for kids in need).

Arena access would be the most difficult thing to achieve. Many cities only have one pro-caliber arena, and it’s either owned by or fully leased to the NHL club (Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal). About half of the NHL cities listed above have a second arena in the metro or nearby, while the Junior Hockey cities would all have (smaller) arenas. Vancouver has the Pacific Coliseum, Toronto could use the Ricoh Coliseum or the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. Ottawa has the Civic Centre. There may even be potential to play a few outdoor games early in the tournament. Add in ~15K seat arenas in Saskatoon and Quebec City, and while not perfect, you have an infrastructure that could easily support this format.

South of the border things look much better. Detroit has The Palace of Auburn Hills, St. Paul has the Target Center, Boston has the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Chicago has the Allstate Arena, and New York City has the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

How It Would Play Out
The group stage would see teams split into groups of 4, playing 2 games against each opponent (6 in total). This stage could be compressed (2-3 games per week) or spread out to allow players to keep up a minor or junior league schedule too. The top 2 finishers in each group would advance to a 4-team (out of 8) or 8-team (out of 16) best of 5 or 7 elimination rounds. Games could either be neutral site, or arranged so that teams have a designated “home ice” in a nearby city, if one isn’t available in their own. My ideal schedule would see designated match days, like the Champions’ League, where every team plays Tuesday/Wednesday and Saturday for three weeks.

Following this, 4-5 weeks of the playoffs would ensue. With the Cup removed from the throes of the NHL, a former All-American college hockey player would award the Cup to a deserving champion. This would be the culmination of a 2-3 month period where the Cup challenge captivates the country Tournaments like the Canada Cup have done this for a shorter period. I think that enthusiasm can be replicated on a scale to support this tournament.

Imagine some of the following, all of which would be possible in this scenario:

– Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter convince NHL teammates like Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick to sign up with for their London club so they play for a second consecutive Cup together.
– Jarome Iginla finally lifts the Stanley Cup, as captain of an Edmonton team.
– A Regina team, lead by Ryan Getzlaf and Jordan Eberle, challenges bigger markets in front of a rabid home crowd that resembles a Riders game.
Montreal HC is resurrected, and goes for a 6th Stanley Cup, which would tie them with the contemporary Montreal rival, the Boston Bruins.
– Torontonians team up to create a super-team, like the Miami Heat in the NBA, assuming the role of villain throughout the tournament. Nash, Stamkos, Cammalleri, Spezza, Tavares, Skinner, Seguin, and Subban are just a few of the names that would be eligible.

The Cup challenge would serve players well by providing a revenue source, and allowing them to compete for the sport’s greatest prize. It would serve fans well by providing a competitive tournament with some of the world’s best players. It would serve communities well by creating clubs that they could identify with and rally around. A Cup Challenge would reclaim the Stanley Cup as the domain not of private interests, but that of public good. Government, cities and civic institutions can help make that happen.

Baseball’s Best Month: 2012 Edition

Under the Lights

The baseball playoffs are underway, with the first ever Wild Card games going today, before the League Division Series commence the first proper round tomorrow afternoon. The wild card play-in is an innovation I quite enjoy. Not only does it add two more games, but it adds an incentive to winning your division. Do that, and you’re guaranteed entry into the best-of-five division series. Come up short, and instead be forced to go through a single-game elimination, where anything can happen.

I love playoff baseball (as I do with nearly every form of baseball). Rarely does a year pass by without at least one or two signature, memorable moments. Last year gave us the Chris Carpenter-Roy Halladay duel in Game 5 of the NLDS, the unforgettable Game 6 of the World Series (with David Freese’s heroics), and other great moments. We don’t know what this year holds, but there are many exciting players and teams involved. Here’s what I’ll be watching for in October.

Before that, a word about the teams that just missed the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Dodgers accomplished two things that I appreciate. First, they took a bunch of bad contracts off the Red Sox’s books. Second, they rehabilitated Hanley Ramirez’s fantasy value after acquiring him at mid-season. Yet, I’m glad they missed the playoffs. With an ownership group that’s willing to spend a ton of money, they’ll likely be a regular playoff team for the foreseeable future. So, it’s nice to see some different faces, as we’ll soon get tired of seeing the Dodgers every October.

Across Orange County, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are another perennial playoff team, so seeing them miss out isn’t too disheartening. Yet, after what must be the greatest rookie year of all-time, I would have loved to see Mike Trout get a chance to continue that effort in October. Trout was also a part of one of my personal favorite moments at a ballgame.

At a Rangels-Angels game in Anaheim at the start of June, Trout managed to steal the show. He hit a triple that keyed the Angels’ comeback win, and when taking his spot in center field the next inning, our section in right-center gave him a standing ovation. Love little moments like that that won’t show up on the TV broadcast.

I do, however, feel bad for the Tampa Bay Rays. Despite finishing 2nd in the AL in run differential (and 3rd in MLB), they finished 3 games out of a playoff spot, behind the Orioles, whose run differential was 113 runs worse. There’s talk they’ll lose James Shields from the rotation, and while they’ll still have key players like Evan Longoria and David Price, their window to win on a small budget narrows every year they miss out.

Now, for the playoff teams:

Wild Card
As a child of the ’90s, it’s nice to see the Atlanta Braves back in the playoffs, and the Ted rocking at playoff home games. Closer Craig Kimbrel has had an outstanding year, after he looked burned out by Manager Fredi Gonzales’ poor handling of the bullpen down the stretch last year. It’s also Chipper Jones’ last season, and I’ll take as many bonus Chipper games as I can get. He’s been one of the best players I’ve seen, and one of the first I’ve been able to follow for his entire career. Seriously, I even had his Score rookie card as a draft pick in 1990 draft (I remember also having Mike Lieberthal, Steve Karsay, and Todd Van Poppel ones that summer in 1991). Suffice to say, he was on my radar even before he cracked the big league club. I’d love to see him go out on a high note.

On the other hand, I’ll be happy with St. Louis, one of the game’s great franchises, moving on as well. It’s nice to see them thrive after letting Albert Pujols go, only finishing 2 games of their 2011 pace.

In the American League, it was great to see the big spending Texas Rangers pushed into the wild card playoff after getting swept by Oakland in the season’s final series. I hope we see lots of shots of a frustrated Nolan Ryan in tonight’s playoff game.

Baltimore, with a +7 run differential, has to be one of the luckiest playoff teams ever. As an underdog, they’re hard not to like. Any vitriol I had against them for eliminating the Red Sox last year has since been redirected towards loathing the Sox themselves. That said, putting a finesse pitcher like Joe Saunders against a right-handed heavy, mashing Texas Rangers lineup is asking for trouble. I’d love to see an upset (tonight, then against the Yankees), but I’m not counting on it.


Division Winners
The New York Yankees never seem to go away. If they win, I’ll be happy for Ichiro, and that’s it.

The Detroit Tigers are star-heavy, with Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and ace Justin Verlander leading the way. Cabrera’s triple crown is a remarkable feat. It hasn’t happened in 45 years, and a batting triple crown is roughly twice as rare as a pitching one, which speaks to its difficulty to achieve.

It’s hard not to cheer for the Oakland A’s. They’re in the playoffs for the first time in 6 years, with their first true post-Moneyball playoff club. Still strapped with a small budget, they no longer have an underappreciated statistic to exploit (as far as we know). Instead, Billy Beane is exploiting the oldest market inefficiency in the game, general manager decision-making ability. He got Yoenis Cespedes for $9M/year, accumulated loads of young pitching talent in return for the old core of his rotation, and poached 30-homer Josh Reddick from the Red Sox for closer Andrew Bailey. While Reddick broke out, Bailey’s highlight (as far as Sox fans go) was his extended stay on the DL. Seriously. He posted a negative WAR in his brief appearance post-DL.

On another note, your heart has to go out to this A’s club. Brandon McCarthy was in life-threatening condition after taking a line drive in the head just over a month ago. Then, on the day the A’s clinched the division, he tweeted this photo and note about his dad’s terminal illness, which will probably make you cry at least a little bit. Then, that night, horrible news that Pat Neshek and his wife lost their son less than 24 hours after he was born.

In the National League, the San Francisco Giants are back two years after winning the World Series with a very similar team. They have a strong starting rotation, and Buster Posey, a successful rookie in 2010, is now a bona fide star. His recovery after a leg injury has been remarkable.

The Cincinnati Reds have finally cracked the playoffs, behind young stars like Joey Votta and Jay Bruce, and their pitching staff led by Johnny Cueto’s breakout year, and lights-out Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen. I’m happy to see them doing well after so many tough years. Mat Latos has been an excellent addition to their rotation, and it’s nice to see that his trade worked out for both sides exactly as it should. He has helped them to the playoffs, while the Padres are building around the young talent they got in return, such as Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal.

However, I’m rooting for the Washington Nationals. I have an affinity for them as the zombie Expos, and I got to see perhaps their most exciting game of the year in person (like Trout, Harper hit a key triple that was absolutely thrilling to see in person). They have an exciting young team, and are building a following in what has been a tough market for baseball (they lost the Senators twice, and had few bright spots when they did have a team). Bryce Harper has started to break out in the past month (too late to save my fantasy team!), and even with Strasburg shelved, their rotation can compete with anyone. A World Series run from this team would be exciting for the sport as a whole, in my biased opinion.

Whoever wins, though, I think we’re in for an exciting month of baseball. It will be a great finale, then the wait for the first day of spring training will begin.

Orioles and Game Theory

Camden Yards

Derek Thompson of The Atlantic makes a great point:

Should Orioles throw tonite’s game? Tying Yanks to force a rotation-busting 163rd game will hurt them going forward, no matter what.

They’re using Chris Tillman (the de facto ace) tonight in a game where they don’t control their own destiny, in hopes of being thrown into the randomness of a one-game playoff at home against New York that would win them their division, thus avoiding the wild card game and getting home field in the playoffs. They would then play the wild card winner in round one (New York or today’s Oakland/Texas loser).

However, if they lose, or if both Baltimore and NYY win tonight, Baltimore gets today’s Oakland/Texas loser on Friday in the randomness of a one-game playoff (at home if Baltimore wins today, on the road if they don’t). If they win that, they’ll play New York/Texas/Oakland without home field. MLB.com breaks it down.

Based on their rotation, if Tillman goes tonight, they’d start Tommy Hunter and his 1.40 WHIP tomorrow against New York (if necessary). Hunter or Joe Saunders are the likely starters Friday if they don’t win tomorrow’s hypothetical game.

Sportsmanship aside, it strikes me as a fascinating bit of game theory. Would they be better off using a spot-starter tonight and saving Tillman for a hypothetical one-game playoff tomorrow, or a certain one Friday? Either way, they’re playing the Yankees, A’s, or Rangers in round one or the Wild Card/round one if they win, and playing at least one one-game playoff to get there. So, in a sense, their strategy is built around how you put your odds of both you and the Red Sox winning tonight, then how much you value playing on your home field in the playoffs.

Football States and Mega Regions: Where the 2012 NFL Players Come From

On Wednesday, I looked at the metro areas that produced the most NFL players at the start of the 2012 season. This post looks at the states and mega-regions that have done so.

The Top 10 States Overall

Many of the most populous states dominate the top 10, with only one state (Louisiana) ranking below 12th overall in population. California and Florida, home of the top two NFL-producing metros (LA and Miami) finish 1st and 3rd. Both have several other metros that also produce many players. Sandwiched between them is Texas, home of Dallas and Houston – two of the top 5 metros.

New Jersey’s inclusion, while New York state doesn’t show up on the list, is a reflection of the fact that most of the New York City metro area’s players actually come from the New Jersey counties that are part of it.

Top 10 Per Capita

The southern states, like the colleges, dominate this list. 7 of 10 states are from the south and/or sun belt, with only Ohio (the best performing northern state by nearly every metric), midwest powerhouse Nebraska, and the island state of Hawaii cracking the top 10 from outside those areas. The deep south states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina) atop the list are home to only one NFL team (New Orleans Saints, though part of South Carolina is included in the Charlotte MSA – home to the Carolina Panthers); however, many college football powerhouses play in that region.

Mega Regions Overall

Going back to the 11 Mega Regions, the most populous regions, the Great Lakes, is first, followed by the Piedmont and Florida. Southern California does well on the strength of Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.

Mega Regions Per Capita

The Piedmont, whose colleges lead the way in producing players, shows up atop this list, edging out Florida. Cascadia, whose colleges do well, is one of the two worst performing regions, a sign that it imports players at that level.

The final post will focus on the metros where star players are bred.

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.

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.

American Futbol: How Soccer is Breaking Through in America, and What We Can All Learn from It

Tonight, Major League Soccer holds its All-Star Game in suburban Philadelphia. A team of MLS stars team up to take on Chelsea, the reigning European Champions. The proverbial sport of the future in America (and Canada) has started to see significant breakthroughs in recent years. MLS is experiencing steady growth, summer tours of big European clubs are a smash hit, and TV ratings for major international competitions often impress. The question is, how did this happen? Soccer may or may not be the sport of the future, but for all the ridicule, it is clearly in the process of breaking through to the top tier of sports in North America. While still lagging football, baseball, and basketball, it is basically on par with hockey, considered the fourth big sport.

Even more encouraging is the support among a younger demographic. “Pro soccer” is slightly ahead of the NBA in second place amongst 12-24 year olds, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as “avid” MLS fans has grown 250% since 2000. That graph also shows that more people are avid fans of international soccer, which is no surprise since that’s where the world’s best (Landon Donovan excluded) spend their peak years.

The trend for both domestic and international soccer in America is positive, which begs the question of how it happened. Below are a few factors I see contributing to its rise. There are lessons for all of us in our work from how the sport is making its presence felt.

Preparing for the MLS All-Star game kickoff event outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art last Friday.

The Fan Experience
As an underdog taking on the established leagues, MLS has had to focus on creating a positive experience for fans, most of whom do not have the same loyalties to franchises or the sport itself as the big four enjoy. Aiding this has been the development of soccer-specific stadiums for 14 of 19 clubs, which optimizes the live viewing experience. Clubs like Sporting Kansas City are at the forefront of developing interactive, fan-friendly amenities at their home park.
It is the only major sport that embraces supporters’ clubs, which help drive support, and as Roger Bennett’s excellent feature explains, promotes rivalries like no other league.

Outside the park, it uses social media aggressively and effectively, and its MatchDay App features live streaming, and extensive highlights posted shortly after games finish, among other features.

Kids Play Soccer
As of 2010, more than 4 million kids under 14 played organized soccer, double the number from 1990. This creates a natural awareness and interest that doesn’t exist among someone whose never played – and may have a harder time understanding – the game. Events like hosting the 1994 Men’s World Cup and 1999 Women’s World Cup have further helped catalyze interest in the sport, both playing and watching.

Related to this, demographics have helped significantly, in particular the growth of America’s Hispanic population, who has long embraced soccer (both in the US and abroad). Soccer is by far the preferred sport among that demographic.

Technology and Globalization
The growth of cable and satellite television, and the internet, has facilitated being a fan of teams and leagues that are played outside your region, or abroad. Viewers can get up to the minute information over the internet, and watch games on a live stream, or on cable channels ranging from ESPN to Fox Soccer. Outside of the logistics of getting to watch a game in person (and the different times they air on TV), there’s very little difference between following Manchester United and the New York Yankees, for example, if you live outside each’s home market.

It also can’t be understated how little connection there actually is between being a fan and seeing a game live. At the 2011 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Dallas Cowboys COO Stephen Jones noted that less than 5% of declared NFL fans see a game in person in any given year.

The Local Connection Has Helped
Paradoxically, the local appeal of MLS clubs has also helped. The league’s creation happened to coincide with a period of time when the big four leagues were aggressively chasing additional revenue, often through relocation and/or building new stadiums. These new stadiums inevitably came with a greater focus on corporate clientele through features like hospitality suites, and a price increase for everyone’s ticket. This made it harder (and more expensive) for the average fan to attend a game.

I believe that with many fans priced out, an alternative like MLS became more appealing. Features like Supporters’ Clubs and soccer-specific stadiums have helped create a sense of community among fans.

The Minor League Experience
It’s undeniable that the quality of play (and players overall) in MLS lags behind the major European leagues, and will continue to for a long time (if not indefinitely). Yet, on some level, I see this working to MLS’ advantage. This, combined with passionate fans and cozy (~20,000) seat stadiums recreates the feeling one gets at events like minor league baseball. You feel a connection to the local club, and get to see a combination of up-and-coming stars (who will usually end up in Europe) and famous stars winding up their career (Thierry Henry, Alessandro Nesta, and David Beckham – to name three – all have decorated European careers).

Soccer – in particular MLS – has succeeded by carving out a niche (through careful expansion and the cultivation of friendly stadiums and strong fan-bases), gaining exposure and familiarity (largely through greater youth registration), and catering relentlessly to their fan/consumer base. It may not be the sport of the future, but it’s a big part of the sporting landscape in the present, and there’s no reason to think it won’t continue to be for a long time.