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Best Football Cities

Which city produces the most pro football players?  Either all-time or the modern era, it’s the same place.

It may not be our national pastime, but football is probably the most-followed sport in America.  It’s certainly got the biggest single game – pigskin fanatic or not, chances are you’ll be watching the Super Bowl this Sunday.

Cities that can lay claim to the title of Super Bowl Champion change every year, but are there places where football excellence has been consistent for decades?

We wondered too, and thought about what it means to be a great football town. We decided it’s more than wins and losses, attendance, and championships. Heck, maybe there isn’t even an NFL team in town.  More importantly, it’s where there’s touch games in the street, an old tire to throw to in every yard, and families spend their weekends at the Pop Warner field.

We realized that every NFL player actually represents thousands of football-playing kids who once dreamed of going pro.

So to find the best football cities, we counted the home towns for every single NFL player who played since 1920. Then we took those raw figures and factored in area population to come up with a per-capita rate of NFL player production. The result is the Top American Football Cities of All Time. (note – we focused on the 50 largest metro areas, home to over half of all U.S. residents)

Here’s our Top Ten Best Football Cities:

NFL Players per 10 Million Population

Total Pros Since 1920

1. New Orleans, LA

26.81

235

2. Birmingham, AL

21.61

162

3. Pittsburgh, PA

20.71

475

4. Jacksonville, FL

20.68

115

5. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, FL

20.48

417

6. Houston, TX

19.80

420

7. Memphis, TN

18.98

145

8. Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX

18.24

423

9. Virginia Beach, VA

16.80

137

10. Cleveland, OH

15.93

273

(note: these are metropolitan areas, which include the primary cities and the surrounding suburbs, and the per-capita rate is number of players per 10 million population over the span of the study.)

Football City, USA is none other than New Orleans, where the big game is being played this year between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.

Ravens safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry are from St. Charles parish, a part of the New Orleans MSA.  Ravens linebacker Edgar Jones is from Monroe, LA; not a top 50 largest MSA but an area that nonetheless boasts a whopping 38.45 NFL players per 10 million population.

Forty-Niners Frank Gore, Isaac Bruce, and Ricky Jean-Francois are from the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area, which comes in at #5 on our list.  Electric Niner receivers Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn, Jr. are from Dallas (#9) and Cleveland (#10), respectively.

Have you ever noticed how people from the South seem to think their area is the football capital of the world?  Well, they might have a point – there’s only one non-Southern city on the Top 10 list.

And here’s a special gift to all our stat geeks:
Click here to download a spreadsheet of all 361 major metro areas. It’s already sorted on the results for the 50 largest metros, and you’ll want to re-sort it to see how your home town ranks overall. You’ll never guess which place is #1 overall, when you consider all the smaller places!

It’s interesting to note that at #49 of the top 50 is the New York area.  The Big Apple actually boasts the second greatest number of total pro players (843), but on a per-capita basis (6.23) it slips greatly.  Sunny L.A. has the most overall NFL players since 1920, with 913, which is good for a per-capita rate of 13 players per 10 million population.  Providence, RI brings up the rear at #50 with a total of 50 pro players since 1920 for a 4.22 per-capita rate.

The Modern Era

All-time stats are interesting, but what about the current generation?  Do the all-time trends hold up in recent times?  Turns out they do, and New Orleans is even more clearly Football City, USA when we look at NFL players produced since 1990.

The Big Easy has produced 111 pro players in that time period, for a whopping rate of 42.17 per 10 million population.  The rest of the Modern Era list looks similar to the All-Time list, with Atlanta, GA and Richmond, VA bumping Pittsburgh and Dallas out of the top 10.

The New England towns of Providence, RI (#50) and Boston, MA (#49) bring up the rear in per-capita production since 1990 (amongst largest 50 metro areas).

As you’re watching the Super Bowl this year, think about these results and pay attention to the unlikely heroes that emerge from the shadows to take their place in history. There’s a good chance they’ll be from one of the cities on this list.

Click here to see our ranking of Best Cities for Baseball.

 

7 comments to Best Football Cities

  • That’s a good point..Louisville (29) doesn’t have pro-ball, but is way ahead of Indy(43) and just passed St. Louis(28) Chicago(23) and Cincy(16). Very interesting, this could be a better indicator of best football cities ‘for athletes’. Best places to enjoy a football game, however could correlate to the number of ‘Bars & Grills’ with Sunday Ticket or better yet, how many subscriptions to NFL Sunday Ticket (plus) those with season tix ‘in real life.’

    • Hi Jason,
      I like the idea of measuring the concentration of “Sunday Ticket” subscribers. That would certainly be a good stat for the number of serious fans. I’d also like to know the amount of team merchandise sold, both by team and by city, to assess the popularity of the different teams.
      Best, Bert

      • Team merchandise would be interesting.. we have a very rich sports history in Louisville and we’re surrounded by some of the best Baseball and Football teams (and cities) around-but this town and State is Basketball country. When are you going to do a Best Basketball Cities? I’d love to see how Indianapolis, IN does in all categories-it would be a big hit around here.

        Did you know that Louisville, KY ranked #29 in Best Baseball Cities AND #29 in Best Football Cities-what’s the chances of that?

        • Hi Jason,
          Interesting fact about the #29 ranking for Louisville in both Best Baseball and Football Cities. Thanks for pointing it out.
          Yes, we’ll be doing a “Best Basketball Cities” list once the season gets started. Just for you, I did a quick initial analysis of our data and I think you’re going to be pretty pleased with the rankings.
          Stay tuned!
          Best,
          Bert

          • wow.. the suspense is killing me! Can’t wait to see how the ‘Hoosier State compares to Tobacco Rd in Basketball talent. ANy advance previews? ;) Thanks for reviewing, btw. -J

  • Shane Thomas

    A title like “Best Football” cities to me would imply the best places to enjoy a football game not what city produced the most football players. Some of the these cities would probably make that list as well but some don’t even have a professional or major college team. Jacksonville has the Jaguars, but they can bearly give the tickets away.

    • Hi Shane,
      Yes, there have been rankings which use the attendance at pro and college games, and the number of wins/losses and championships. I think those are fine, but my thought is that this ranking of home towns gives an insight into the importance of football at the grass roots level. For every player that makes to the pros, their love for the game started when they were barely bigger than the ball. They didn’t just go to games, they played in the street (my kids nailed a few taillights), at family picnics, on the beach, Pee Wee and Pop Warner leagues, in middle school and high school. There was no off-season for these guys, and their families. For the rest of us, football is a game, a diversion, some entertainment on a weekend. For the players that become pros, it is their life. And that’s what I’m measuring here, the places where football is a big part of the community, and not just on game day.
      Best, Bert

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