In an article that is becoming an annual occurrence, Tim Tucker notes that Atlanta had the 11th highest TV ratings for the NBA Finals out of 56 metered markets. The ten markets that finished ahead of Atlanta, you ask?
Miami-Fort Lauderdale (33.7), Dallas-Fort Worth (30.7), West Palm Beach (17.7), San Antonio (15.9), Cleveland (15.8), New Orleans (15.1), Memphis (14.5), Houston (14.5), Oklahoma City (14.4) and Chicago (13.7).
You have the markets that had finalists, followed by the home of the West’s #1 seed, the market rooting for LeBron to humiliate himself (and who says that Cleveland never wins anything?), the beaten conference finalists, a beaten conference semifinalist, and then Houston and New Orleans. Interestingly enough, Boston, the greatest sports city in the universe (is the sarcasm coming across here?), and Los Angeles are not on the list, but the other beaten conference semifinalists – Atlanta and Memphis – are.
This raises a point that is often missed in the discussion about “best sports towns,” which is that the discussions almost always focuses on support for specific teams instead of sports or leagues in general. Atlanta is not super-supportive of the Hawks. Maybe we have a right to be lukewarm on the local professional basketball collective because the team has delivered so little over the years, but the team was certainly good enough that they should not have finished 22nd in attendance this year. That said, this is a very strong NBA market, as Atlanta consistently out-performs other NBA markets when it comes to ratings for the later rounds of the playoffs. In short, we’re not great at supporting our own team, but we are interested in other teams. Boston, for example, is the opposite. Personally, I’d attribute this difference to the fact that Boston is a provincial city and Atlanta is not, but I’m a little biased in saying that.
Atlanta as a college football market is somewhat similar. The one major program in the city limits – Georgia Tech – gets good, but not overwhelming fan support. However, there is tremendous interest here for teams all over the Southeast, as well as a number of Big Ten programs with a large number of transplants. (Cough.) Thus, this is a great college football market (the TV ratings consistently back this conclusion up) without being hogwild over the Jackets. If people outside of the market could differentiate between support for home teams and support for sports in general, then this city would have a better reputation as a sports town.