Sure it may not be Lord Stanley’s Cup, but it is nice to see Pittsburgh ranked as the #1 city for hockey in the U.S. according to a study by WalletHub (thanks to my good friend Will Hirsch over at Sports Journey for turning me on to this study).
The study identified and ranked 74 of the largest cities in the U.S. with at least one NHL team or at least one Division 1 NCAA hockey team (the definition of “largest city” is pretty loose in the study since it included places like Durham, New Hampshire and Bemidji, Minnesota, which both check in with populations of just over 14,000 people).
The study used 18 different metrics, broadly broken down into two equally weighted categories -“Teams & Performance” and “Costs & Fan Engagement” – to rank the 74 cities.
According to these metrics, Pittsburgh, PA finished #1, followed by Chestnut Hill, MA at #2, St. Louis, MO at #3, Tampa, FL at #4, and Boston, MA at #5 (Pens fans will be delighted to know that our cross state rivals in the City of Brotherly Love don’t make an appearance on this list until #30).
Admittedly, some of the metrics seem a little off for me – like awarding points for the lowest cost NHL tickets. That metric, which was won not surprisingly by the home of the Florida Panthers (Sunrise, FL) who literally can’t give away tickets, seems to me to be a better measure of a lack of fan support or interest – given that ticket prices are largely the result of supply and demand (the Pens ranked in the bottom five of this metric).
I specifically asked WalletHub about my concerns that this metric was more a metric about lack of fan interest than value and the response from Jill Gonzalez, their analyst, was “[w]hile that may certainly be the case from a standpoint of view, we looked at it more from an affordability standpoint.”
While I may quibble with some of the metrics and some of the “cities” included in the study, I found the results overall to be fascinating (and as a Pens fan, to be satisfying as well as fascinating).
In addition to finishing first overall, Pittsburgh also finished first in the metric used to measure the “Friendliness and Engagement of NHL fans” – something that Caps fans and Flyers fans might find hard to believe. It is worth noting that this metric was based on Twitter followers and Facebook likes per capita, which more accurately measure interest and engagement and not so much “friendliness.”
There were two metrics that were mentioned but that the results weren’t given in the study that I thought would be interesting to Pittsburgh hockey fans, which Jill Gonzalez was happy to give me the details about:
On franchise value (take note Mario), Gonzalez said, "Pittsburgh ranked 7th in the nation with an estimated franchise value of $565 million. Chicago ranked 1st with an estimated franchise value of $825 million."
And as for sports bars per capita (we need to up our game here folks), Gonzalez told me, “Pittsburgh ranked 11th for the number of sports bars with 15.68 sport bars per 100,000 residents. 1st place was attributed to Big Rapids [Michigan] with 37.99 sports bars per 100,000 residents. College towns tended to do better for this category. For large cities, St. Louis ranked 1st with 25.40 sports bars per 100,000 residents."
Overall, the authors of the study had positive things to say about the state of hockey in the U.S. and the game’s future:
America’s obsession with hockey seems only to be growing. It’s currently the fourth most followed sport among U.S. adult fans and has climbed one spot in the top 10 every year since 2012. The NHL is in fact so popular that it sold out more arenas than the National Basketball Association this past season. Equally surprising, Americans are willing to pay, on average, 15 percent more to see a hockey match than an NBA game.
The study didn’t just rank the best U.S. cities for hockey, it also ranked the best cities for football, basketball, baseball, soccer and overall. Overall the city of Pittsburgh ranked 4th (Boston was ranked #1 overall). Sport by sport Pittsburgh ranked #3 in football (how they weren’t #1 mystifies me), #85 in basketball (Yinzers don’t give a damn about basketball), #2 in baseball (God that made me happy to see), and #95 in soccer (sorry Riverhounds fans).