California Pro Sports Roundup: Which City Has the Best Fan Culture?
For the average sports fan, moving to California would be a dream. The state is known for its sunshine and Walk of Fame, but it’s also home to over a dozen pro sports teams. Across the Big Four leagues alone, including the MLB, NHL, NFL and NBA, the state is home to 15 teams. That number jumps to 18 if the state’s three MLS teams are added—and then to 21 if WNBA and NWSL teams are counted as well. No matter what sport interests a fan, they’ve got options to choose from in California.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to know which team to cheer for—especially for Paso Robles natives who live smack in the middle of the state. The rivalry between NorCal and SoCal is a passionate one. Choosing a team requires picking from either San Francisco or San Jose in the North, or Los Angeles or San Diego in the South.
With sports betting becoming a more ingrained part of sports culture, fans can also back their favorite team. This is especially true when it’s time for a crosstown or cross-state faceoff. A free bet offer from DraftKings sportsbook, for example, can be used to wager on the outcome of the Freeway Faceoff between the Anaheim Ducks and the LA Kings, or even between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
When it comes to the state’s sporting rivalries, it’s a battle between fans as well as between teams. Each city, regardless of its crosstown rivalries and whether the team was founded in California, has its own unique culture. Some cities, in particular, tend to glom onto a certain team or sport. Others have a more casual approach to fandom, especially where there are moving franchises involved. Let’s take a closer look at each city’s reputation as sports fans.
San Francisco: A Look at the Data
San Francisco has one of the most complex reputations in sports fandom. After a long and bitter battle, the city lost its Oakland Raiders NFL franchise. Many fans won’t be jumping ship to support the 49ers anytime soon. Meanwhile, the 49ers are on the up and up only a few years after gaining a reputation for empty seats at Levi’s Stadium.
Some publications—namely the San Francisco Chronicle—are attempting to use data to prove that SF is the best sporting city in the nation… which sounds about right for a city engrossed in a tech boom. Using stats from FiveThirtyEight and a scheme called Elo rating, San Francisco rates highly for three of its teams. The NFL’s 49ers, the MLB’s Giants, and the NBA’s Warriors contributed to a total rating of 1612.
The Elo rating combs through historical records dating back to the 1950s based on win-loss ratings. Viewed through this lens, San Fran’s teams come out on top. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this relates to each team’s performance and is designed to rank franchises—not fanbases.
San Jose: Enter the Shark Tank
In 1991, when the NHL expanded into the Bay Area, San Jose hit the pro sports scene. Since then, it’s become one of the most unique and memorable fandoms in the US. Much of that points back to its proximity to SF and being the only NHL team in NorCal. In other words, it benefits from a surplus of hockey-starved fans. Plus, it’s got a fantastic rivalry with the LA Kings, which enlivens the division.
But being a Sharks fan isn’t always easy. The team has a reputation for slipping in the playoffs, which is one of the most devastating issues a team can have. There’s even a motto used by some fans, ‘Choking since ‘91’.
Still, the team has a great fanbase and more than a few amazing celebrity die-hards. These include the entire Metallica crew and Steve Wozniak. Plus, the SAP Center, aka the Shark Tank, has a reputation for being incredibly loud and exciting—which is a key ingredient that many fans look for.
Los Angeles: The NFL is Back—and it’s Big
Anyone living in Los Angeles has options when it comes to choosing a team to support. Basketball fans can pick between the Lakers and the Clippers; football fans between the Rams and the Chargers; NHL fans between the Kings and the Ducks; and MLB fans between the Angels and the Dodgers. Each team has a legacy worth pointing out and following.
But, at the moment, it’s paying off to be an NFL fan in the city. The Rams moved back to the Coliseum in 2016, then the Chargers followed in 2017. In their very first year back on the West Coast, the Rams brought home a Super Bowl title. While they don’t look likely to repeat this anytime soon, fans were treated to the second-ever Super Bowl win at a home stadium. It doesn’t hurt that So-Fi is brand new and one of the world’s most cutting-edge homefields.
San Diego: Holding Out Hope
Similar to San Jose and SF, San Diego fans can easily cross over and root for an LA team given the proximity of the cities. But that’s not likely to happen considering the rivalry between the SoCal hubs—and the fact that the Chargers jumped ship to LA in 2017. But there’s another reason fans in San Diego back their teams with passion, especially its sole remaining pro team, the MLB’s San Diego Padres.
It all goes back to an alleged curse. Even when San Diego was home to an NFL and NBA team, they failed to bring home championship titles. In fact, it’s the only city in the US to have hosted an NFL team that didn’t win a Super Bowl. To this day, the Padres have yet to bring home a World Series title.
While this might seem to make the city’s sporting culture a bit gloomy, it has instead created a vibrant fan base around the city’s other pro and amateur teams. This includes the NWSL’s San Diego Wave FC and the IFL’s San Diego Strike Force. In other words, whether or not there’s a curse on the city, fans are still holding out hope.