Detroit Is the Worst American City to Be a Sports Fan

Mathematical data shows Michigan teams are mired in an unprecedented three-year run of failure

A Detroit Lions fan looks on with a paper bag on his head during a 2015 game
A Detroit Lions fan looks on with a paper bag on his head during a 2015 game.
Gregory Shamus/Getty

When Tom Brady led the Buccaneers to a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl in February, it capped a five-month run that saw all three of Tampa Bay’s top-level pro sports teams make it their league’s finals. The Lightning, who won the Stanley Cup Finals in 2020, went on to win again months later. The Rays, who lost in the 2020 World Series, are currently in first place in the AL East and have the best record in the American League. The Bucs, with Brady leading the way, won their season opener on Thursday night.

Tampa Bay, long known for empty seats and putrid play, could be the new Titletown. In Detriot, the home of the Pistons, Tigers, Lions and Red Wings, it is a completely different story.

After a prolonged period of sustained success at the start of the decade that saw the Pistons and Red Wings win championships, the Tigers win the AL pennant and the Lions, well, be the Lions, Detriot has seen its four major sports franchises struggle to find success on the field, ice and court during an unprecedented three-year run of failure.

While also including regular-season standings data from the WNBA, FiveThirtyEight used the finishes from all the teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB since 1997 in order to arrive at a metric for futility for a given city.

What the analysis found is Detroit collectively had the worst average regular-season yearly winning percentage among cities with at least one team in three of the five major North American sports since 1997 in 2020 with a -1.628 z-score. (Ironically, Tampa is third on the list with a -1.248 score from 1998.) Detroit also took home the fourth (2019) and 11th spots (2021) on the list. Although Tampa and Cleveland both also appear three times on the list, Motown is the biggest loser as no other city has seen a three-year spell of losing quite like Detroit.

“Pending the 2021 NFL season, the last three years of Detroit sports will have all ranked among the 11 worst for any city over the past two and a half decades,” per FiveThirtyEight. “The Pistons, Red Wings, Lions and Tigers have sputtered along to a series of bottom-feeding finishes. Only once did one of the four teams finish .500 or better during this stretch: the 2018-19 Pistons, who posted a 41-41 mark before getting swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks.”

The Bucks will be looking to defend their championship during the upcoming NBA season while the Pistons will simply be looking to finish above .500 for the first time since the 2015-16 campaign. At least the Lions were able to complete their comeback attempt against the 49ers in Week 1 of the NFL season. Oh, wait …

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