It's been quite a year for sports fans in Atlanta. Since last spring, the NHL Thrashers left town for Winnipeg, baseball's Braves blew a near-lock playoff spot on the final day of the season, and the NBA Hawks and NFL Falcons got bounced out of the post-season early yet again.
That was enough to push Atlanta, always among the top finishers in Forbes' annual ranking of America's Most Miserable Sports Cities, back to the top spot for the first time since 2008. Last year's "winner," Seattle, slips to No. 2. Phoenix, Buffalo and San Diego, as usual, round out the top five.
Our unique sports misery methodology isn't focused on long-term futility, as epitomized by such teams as the L.A. Clippers, Baltimore Orioles, and until recently, the New Orleans Saints. You know about all that. This is about misery as defined by heartbreak – teams good enough to win a lot of games and advance through the post-season, only to disappoint fans in the end by falling short of a championship. Which cities have endured that the most? No one tops Atlanta, a combined 1-5 in World Series and Super Bowl play, not to mention numerous post-season flops in earlier rounds.
Misery points are earned in the heaviest doses by poor winning percentages in the championship round (Super Bowl and pre-Super Bowl era championship games, World Series, NBA Final, Stanley Cup Final), and then get incrementally lower as you move down the playoff ladder to conference title games (and baseball's LCS) and then to earlier rounds (we also count second place, non-playoff baseball seasons, the rough equivalent of an early playoff exit in the other three major North American sports leagues – hence the Braves' collapse last September cost them on the misery meter). We round out the calculations by giving some weight to championship droughts (17 years for Atlanta, 33 years for Seattle) and to the ratio of total seasons to championships won (for example, the four teams in Phoenix sports history have competed for a combined 95 seasons with one title to show for them, won by the 2001 Diamondbacks). We also toss in a bonus misery point for losing a sport to relocation, such as the NHL in Atlanta and the NBA in Buffalo and San Diego.
Because we're taking each city's full sports history into account, not just recent years, we stuck with sports cities that have at least 75 total seasons of NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB play. That's to avoid including relative newbies like Charlotte or Nashville or one-team towns like Portland or Salt Lake City alongside traditional sports cities with multiple teams and long histories. Also, we count the ABA basketball and AFL football histories of those franchises that eventually migrated from those leagues into the NBA and NFL.
What we don't count: old leagues that weren't forerunners to modern ones, such as the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, a four-team league on the west coast from 1911 to 1924. Hence, the Buffalo Bills' 1965 AFL title counts, the Seattle Metropolitans' 1917 Stanley Cup doesn't. No offense to that club, but there's no reason to go down the slippery slope that could lead us to Triple-A baseball, Major League Soccer and the WNBA. Better to draw the line at the major sports leagues, i.e. those that significant numbers of people care about.
The "top" five:
1. Atlanta – championship round record: 1-5
2. Seattle – championship round record: 1-3
3. Phoenix – championship round record: 1-3
4. Buffalo – championship round record: 2-6
5. San Diego – championship round record: 1-7
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