Sports Misery: The New York Times Is Late To The Party

Sad Cleveland Browns Fans

In April, we released our inaugural sports misery rankings, with the goal of quantifying the pain and heartbreak experienced by fans in North America’s most hard-luck pro sports cities. We crowned Cleveland — the city that hasn’t tasted championship glory in over 50 years — the victor, followed closely by that melting pot of misery, Toronto. Fans in Cleveland took the news in stride, knowing all too well that they deserve these dubious honours, while fans in Toronto bemoaned the fact that they couldn’t even win when it came to a ranking of the biggest losers.

So we were surprised last week to see the New York Times’ Upshot blog release its own eerily similar rankings of the most “cursed” sports cities in America. Sure, the format of the piece looks like ours, along with the imagery of fans’ heads draped shamefully in paper bags; the methodology section and metrics sounds a lot like ours too, and the language sounds disturbingly familiar (“we’re looking at you, Buffalo”). And they even came to the same conclusion mere months after we did: Cleveland is the worst!

But hey, we’re not ones to see conspiracy theories in coincidences (The Upshot talks about curses, not misery, after all!). So let’s dig into the rankings and see where and why they differ.

Who to Include?

In our ranking, we looked at all cities in North America with at least three pro sports teams in the big 4 leagues (NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB). This means, in particular, that we considered Toronto, which truly has some of the most miserable fans on Earth: the Raptors haven’t won a playoff series in 14 years, the Blue Jays have the longest playoff drought in any sport, and the Maple Leafs are one of the most dysfunctional franchises to ever exist. Toronto teams compete in the same leagues and are similar in every way to their American counterparts except for the anthem sung before games. The Upshot chose to look only at cities in the USA, because, well, America.

We also included some distinct fan bases from large cities that have many pro teams, like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. This allowed us, for example, to appreciate the grinding misery of fans of New York’s so-called “Little Brother” teams — the Mets, Jets and Islanders — who are linked by historical ties to Queens and Long Island, and a history of losing.

On the other hand, The Upshot decided to include cities that have just two major sports franchises, meaning sad-sack fans from places like Buffalo, Cincinnati and San Diego could be properly recognized for their years of hardship. While many of these championship-starved cities have definitely had a tough run in the past 30 years, we made the difficult decision to omit these from our rankings. It’s not that unlikely for two teams from one city to both be bad — that’s actually quite common. It’s only when a city has three or more such underperforming teams that people really start whispering about a sports curse (think Cleveland, or Boston before the 2000s).

Ranking Differences


The 10 and 3

NY Times

1 Cleveland Cleveland
2 Toronto Atlanta
3 NYC (Queens-Long Island) Buffalo
4 Houston San Diego
5 Minneapolis Washington, DC
6 Atlanta Minneapolis
7 Oakland Philadelphia
8 Miami Phoenix
9 Washington, DC Oakland
10 Philadelphia Kansas City

After Cleveland, our ranking disagrees with the Upshot’s for a few key cities, primarily because the Upshot’s metric focuses heavily on championships, while we consider the whole picture of a team’s success — playoff appearances and playoff wins — in addition to championships. The Upshot is really bearish on Atlanta, for example, ranking them in 2nd among cursed cities, while we drop Atlanta to 6th. Sure, Atlanta franchises have not won too many championships, but the Falcons, Braves and Hawks actually make the post-season on a regular basis, giving fans quite a bit to cheer for. Championships alone don’t tell the whole story.

On the other hand, the Upshot is considerably more bullish on Houston (11th place) than we are (4th place). Houston sportswriting pundits agree with us that despite some success in the 80s and early 90s, the past two decades have provided nothing but disappointment for H-town fans: the Rockets have moved past the first playoff round just twice in the past 18 years, while the Astros and Texans are rather hopeless, year after year. Similarly, Miami (which we rank 8th) doesn’t even merit an honourable mention by the Upshot. Despite the Heat’s NBA championship in 2013, their remaining teams — the Dolphins, Marlins and Panthers — each haven’t won a playoff series in at least 12 years. That’s a remarkably poor track record for the city’s franchises, and the Heat aren’t looking too promising themselves after Lebron took his talents back to northeastern Ohio.

Which Ranking Do You Prefer?

Let us know what you think, on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments section below.

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