Atlanta as the most miserable sports city? Guilty as charged

Been there, done that. Been there a lot, done it way too often. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Been there, done that. Been there a lot, done it way too often. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Take a bow, A-T-L. After an agonizing near-miss last year — we finished second to Seattle — we made it this time. We’re now No. 1 in Forbes magazine’s listing of America’s Most Miserable Sports Cities. Time for another ticker-tape parade down Peachtree!

Here’s the rationale of Tom Van Riper, who compiled the rankings:

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 postseason 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.

And what can we say in rebuttal? All of the above is, alas, true.

The Forbes “methodology,” to invoke Van Riper’s word, concerns “misery as defined by heartbreak — teams good enough to win a lot of games and advance through the postseason, only to disappoint fans in the end by falling short of a championship.” That’s not the same as being, say, the Cubs over the past century or the Cavaliers after LeBron. But it does describe Atlanta.

The Hawks were a hot ticket in the late ’80s, same as the Falcons were in the late ’70s, just as the Braves became in the early ’90s. But disappointment broke the Hawks’ and Falcons’ waves — our NBA club couldn’t close out Boston in 1988 and flopped in Round 1 against Milwaukee in ‘89; our NFL franchise couldn’t get past Dallas — and the players’ strike of 1994 cooled our baseball ardor more than any postseason defeat every did.

That’s the part outsiders don’t get. From September 1991 through the summer of ‘94, this city was as crazy for a team as any city has ever been. (Remember the rush to buy foam tomahawks?) The Braves could have sold two million tickets to the 1992 postseason, but after the strike and the washed-out World Series, demand wasn’t the same. In October 1995, even as the Braves were en route to winning it all, you could walk up to the box office and buy tickets to single games for both the NLCS and the World Series.

Attendance at the old stadium dropped from 3.88 million in 1993, the year before the strike, to 2.9 million in 1996, the year after the World Series was won. Even the bump that came with the 1997 opening of Turner Field waned by 2001. Not since 2003 have the Braves finished higher than 14th in home attendance. It’s not that we stopped caring altogether; it’s that we don’t care quite enough to pack the stadium on a nightly basis.

I know, I know. Every other baseball city suffered from the strike, too. But Georgia is a right-to-work state, and the distrust of unions is higher here. Besides, the Braves simply won too often to hold us through every game of the 14-year run of division titles. We came to bide our time until the playoffs, and the playoffs came to yield Round 1 exits.

And those, I submit, hardened our predisposition to wait and see. We’d gotten excited about the Falcons and then the Hawks only to have hopes dashed. Then the Braves, who were the best Atlanta pro team ever, started doing it, too. Leeriness became our default civic stance. Thus was the Braves’ epic September collapse met with the same cry that had greeted the Falcons’ blowout playoff loss to Green Bay: “See? Told you so!”

Is Atlanta the most miserable sports city?

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We’ve had major-league sports teams since 1966, and only once has an Atlanta major-league team hoisted the big trophy, and that came a year after some among us swore we’d never watch that particular sport again. Our teams have since been undone by Jim Leyritz swinging and Aaron Rodgers flinging and Eugene Robinson getting arrested, and we have become fatalistic. We’re kind of like Red Sox Nation before Dave Roberts stole second in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS: We expect the absolute worst, and we’re seldom disappointed.

But here’s the difference. Even if the Red Sox went 85 years between World Series titles, folks in Boston still had the Celtics, who won 11 NBA titles in 13 years, and the Bruins, who won two Stanley Cups in three years, and the Patriots, who’d started on their run of Super Bowl victories. We’ve had only the Braves in 1995, and we’ve come to see that as the exception — the clincher was the function of a 1-0 one-hitter — that proves the rule.

America’s most miserable sports city? By Forbes’ definition, we absolutely are. But I would offer one quibble: We’re not the worst sports city. Our pro teams aren’t nearly awful, and our fervor for college football is unparalleled. So there’s that.

If/when another Atlanta pro team takes a title, our joyful deliverance will be unconfined. Until then, we’ll remain skeptical. We’re Atlanta, and it’s what we do.

By Mark Bradley

247 comments Add your comment

Aaron

February 29th, 2012
12:43 pm

First miserable post.

J.J.M.

February 29th, 2012
12:44 pm

Rob

February 29th, 2012
12:47 pm

Can’t ignore the racial component. A lot of Whites won’t support the Hawks or the NBA in general. A lot of Blacks don’t support the Braves and deserted the Falcons after Vick left. Atlanta is more divided along racial lines than any other major city. Fans here look for reasons not to support the local tems, unlike say Cleveland who has been through just as much if not more hell.

Big D

February 29th, 2012
12:49 pm

And for all those who will point out ATL and GA are all about “big time CFB” let’s point out no National Champ in CFB for over 20 years. Unless you count Ga Southern. Which I do, so that makes it only 10 years.

zgoldatl

February 29th, 2012
12:52 pm

I’ll take Atlanta sports over most cities any day. Strongly disagree with the forbes article. Look at Cleveland or Cincinnati, or Charlotte just to name a few

PMC

February 29th, 2012
12:53 pm

WE WON SOMETHING!!!!!!!!!!

maharajiean shorts

February 29th, 2012
12:54 pm

I gotta be 8th at least

maharajiean shorts

February 29th, 2012
12:54 pm

Dang, I wish I could count.

ViningsDawg

February 29th, 2012
12:55 pm

I stopped going to a lot of games in Atlanta ( except the Hawks… Never seen a Hawk game at Phillips, and proud too)…. However, still go to Dawgs games here and on the road when I can…

maharajiean shorts

February 29th, 2012
12:55 pm

OK, 8th…..now I am happy.

DetroitBraves

February 29th, 2012
12:56 pm

You can go back and look at one play or another from just about every sport but for the Braves everything seemed to change when Leyritz hit that homer. They had won the year before. They had lost in the WS in years past too, some of those games as gut-wrenching as could be. But I don’t know. Those other losses as tough as they were just didn’t take away the feeling of inevitability that they would win it all one day. Which they did. But that Leyritz homer got everyone wondering if they would ever win it again, even though that just tied that game and that game just tied that series. I’m probably being overly dramatic but it just hasn’t seemed the same since.

Thrasher Fan

February 29th, 2012
12:56 pm

this is so embarrassing.

Mark Bradley

February 29th, 2012
12:59 pm

Kudos, Aaron.

Steve

February 29th, 2012
1:00 pm

I know it is pro sports but they should mention Georgia Tech for annually losing to UGA and annually losing their bowl game. That and they can’t fill their stadium and they only play at home 7 times a year.

reality Gator

February 29th, 2012
1:01 pm

This is history, for the first time M. Bradley I agree with you, but you journalist need to take some of this responsiblity in this state, you do not hold these sports teams in Atlanta to a higher standards like other sports cities, Ny, LA, Fl.
When these teams win a few games during the year, you sports writers in Atl start telling them how good they are and will win the championship before they even play for it, look at UGA 30 years with no NT and you journalist give Mark Richt a pass, for a sub par season, in Fl, Al LSU he would have been fired.

Neil

February 29th, 2012
1:01 pm

No NHL and no Major League Soccer. Poor attendance and results most years in NFL and NBA. Sadly, Georgia Tech the Braves aren’t enough to make ATL a decent sports town.

go-BRAVOS

February 29th, 2012
1:03 pm

“We expect the absolute worst, and we’re seldom disappointed.”
Great line MB. That says it all about living in Georgia and rooting
for the state teams, painful.

Hollywould

February 29th, 2012
1:03 pm

I agree with the report but look on the bright side. You can get a ticket anytime you want to!!! Still won’t buy anything that has to do with the so called (spirit)

Matt Ryan's Dad

February 29th, 2012
1:04 pm

Mark, can you save these depressing articles for maybe a Monday? I think our next closest option for holding a championship trophy will be the Atlanta Dream.

Not much to be proud of.

February 29th, 2012
1:06 pm

Atlanta is the Most Miserable yes, but it’s also one of the worst. The sports teams are an afterthought here to the majority, and the media. Each team has it’s fans, but no team is ingrained in the psyche of the area. Nobody cares, and that’s too bad. Being fans of College Football is not something to be proud of. There is a skewed perception of the importance of the FBS Championship here, and the only reason for that, is that Atlanta is a natural big city hub for the SEC. Nobody outside of the SEC, cares about the SEC. They care about what is local to them. That alone, diminishes the value of being the ‘best college football fans around’ .. and even that last statement, is subjective, and easily debatable.

Steven

February 29th, 2012
1:07 pm

Its more than just one championship. I have been an atlanta homer since my dad let me stay up to watch the 1991 Braves run through the playoffs. What has been really tough to take is all the disappointment. Hey at least the Pirates aren’t disappointed every year they miss the playoffs. There was Charlie giving up home run, jack morris out dueling Smoltzie’s amazing performance, the yankee collapse, the crazy strike zone vs the marlins. And those were just the braves, lets not forget the other pro teams. I will never forget the excitement over the thrashers having a budding super star in Dany Heatley all crushed in one joy ride. I will remember defending how good Vick was in the field to my friends, and then to be crushed by his betrayal.
Being an atlanta sports fan is tough, but I don’t give a damn. Its my home and my passion, and I will still get emotional when I hear the sid bream call, or watch my old recorded 98 championship game where the Falcons played above their heads (that game really was amazing). I will remember Chipper carrying us on his back beating the mets all by himself, and smoltz in obvious pain still giving it his all on the mound in the playoffs.
I believe because thats the joy of sports, there’s always next year.

Done

February 29th, 2012
1:07 pm

Braves misery goes back to the Mark Bradley editorial after game 2 of 96 World Series proclaiming the Braves a dynasty.

NUNNA!!

February 29th, 2012
1:08 pm

Tommy Maddox

February 29th, 2012
1:08 pm

HEY! What about my alma mater – Georgia State?

Oh never mind…

NUNNA!!

February 29th, 2012
1:10 pm

We need a bailout..
More money..Better people in the front offices..And……….OBAMA
LETS SEE IF HE COULD DO FOR US LIKE HE DID FOR THE AUTO INDUSTRY AND MAKE US NUMBER ONE IN THE WORLD..OF SPORTS!

GTBob

February 29th, 2012
1:10 pm

Our pro teams aren’t nearly awful, and our fervor for college football is unparalleled. So there’s that.

Yeah, but college sports are limited in national appeal compared to pro sports and none of our college teams have achieved anything to be proud of since GT made the final four. We just need some team to get behind. I am still hoping the Falcons can push to that next level.

Tommy Maddox

February 29th, 2012
1:10 pm

I am still excited for them however.

PMC

February 29th, 2012
1:10 pm

LA? Higher Standards? Have you seen the Dodgers??????

Stiffneck

February 29th, 2012
1:10 pm

Still miss the Atlanta Flames…..back then they were fun to watch. Better than the Hawks, Braves and even the Falcons. They had to go, they were winners….

boots

February 29th, 2012
1:11 pm

All true. I do think our professional teams fail too often, but we do have our college teams. I going to the UGA basketball game this weekend and am excited about it even though the team is young & not winning much at the moment. I would never dream of going to a Hawks game, much less dream of going to the Dream. (I don’t even know where the Dream play or when the season is.) I would much rather see the Dawgs play between the hedges than the Falcons, and I’d rather watch my kids play baseball than the Braves. Still, Atlanta is still a beautiful city, and I’d rather live here than Cleveland, Washington DC or Boston.

PMC

February 29th, 2012
1:11 pm

Steven (applauds)

Jim 70

February 29th, 2012
1:11 pm

Atlanta fan stuck here in Virginia where we have the Washington DC teams on tv all the time. Atlanta residents, consider yourself lucky. You could be watching the Redskins, Wizards, Nationals, and the Capitals – the only team to make it into a playoff game (although even as a 1 seed loses to an 8 seed).

This city has to be the worse ever for sports. How PTI with Tony and Wilbon can do a nationwide sports show is beyond me.

Steve

February 29th, 2012
1:12 pm

Well “Rob” is obviously a moron. Every time I go to Hawks games I usually see more white people then black people. As far as baseball goes, that’s their choice not to like the sport.

Walt Frazier

February 29th, 2012
1:14 pm

I agree with this assessment, however-that assessment doesn’t have to be permanent. Although it is based on historical facts, new effective winning management willing to spend money, and players that are sympathetic to the Atlanta fans could change that dynamic. Transplants who just arrived in this city are not able to see the suffering the Atlanta fans have undergone over the past 25 years to see the dissappointment and disgust with Atlanta teams. Yes, they may be entertaining and better than a lot of other teams, but they should be; this is Atlanta-you’re supposed to do big things here. Tony Gonzalez: I hope your reading this blog. I want this year to be the year you get a ring.

DetroitBraves

February 29th, 2012
1:14 pm

@Done, I remember that story. I think he concluded it with somthing along the lines of this is no longer a series, it’s a coronation.

That said, I don’t think the Braves misery is due to Mark Bradley, nor do I think the Atlanta sports teams have failed to win because Bradley, Schultz, and co. have failed to hold them to a higher standard.

boots

February 29th, 2012
1:15 pm

Not much to be proud of… “No one outside the SEC cares about the SEC.”

That is ok, because no one in the SEC cares about those outside the SEC. We are happy on our own, thank you, and we would just as soon the rest of the country and its pro sports teams go blow it out their ears. We even fought a war to prove the point long before our teams faced-off on the gridiron.

Walt Frazier

February 29th, 2012
1:17 pm

Where is my last post?

Jethro

February 29th, 2012
1:19 pm

One thing seldom mentioned is how hard it is to get in and out of the venues in Atlanta. I think a reason Atlanta has been ranked so high is the poor stewardship of the city.

Walt Frazier

February 29th, 2012
1:21 pm

Like a was sayin…I hope Tony Gonzalez gets his Superbowl ring. Tony was a loyal Chiefs TE for many years. I know he wants it bad and I felt bad for him, because of the blunders of the Falcons; they put themselves in a position to make it to the next level-and then they imploded-from being t-owe-n up to the floo r up on national tv and burst like a bubble.

Jeff

February 29th, 2012
1:26 pm

Outside of the Falcons the ownership of these franchises are just as guilty as the fans. The Braves made no moves worth mentioning in the offseason while watching the Marlins and Nationals make moves to upgrade their talent. Ted used to spend with the big boys but Liberty doesn’t care about the fans and just view the Braves as a part of their business portfolio.

The Hawks are in the exact same boat as the Braves. Why should fans go spend $100 dollars to see an average product?

Falcon’s fans have no excuse for not showing up though. Arthur Blank is doing everything he can to make them a better franchise. I wish he owned the Braves.

Until Atanta fans and Media (talking to you AJC writers) start holding the ownership accountable on a regular basis nothing will change. Liberty Media would not be able to pull this crap with a New York or Boston franchise because the papers would kill them daily and the fans would riot.

Rickster

February 29th, 2012
1:26 pm

One other thing to mention is the fact that it’s a miserable experience to get to games. Traffic stinks going and leaving. Parking at any of the downtown venues is expensive (if it’s even available.) Off site parking is in less-than-desirable locations where a Kevlar vest is a necessity.

While at the game… concession prices make convenience stores look like a bargain. Loud music between plays/innings is more annoying than inspiring.

“Cheer leaders” dress like hookers.

No wonder people don’t want to go to games.

dawgfan

February 29th, 2012
1:28 pm

“Nobody outside of the SEC, cares about the SEC.”

Sure. That’s why ESPN and CBS fork over millions upon millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast SEC football games to the entire nation, because nobody cares. Maybe you should write them a letter and tell them they haven’t done their research and are wasting their money. They probably need a good laugh.

Thanks Techie.

Rankin Smith

February 29th, 2012
1:29 pm

Atlanta has not had good ownership of any team since maybe Ted Turner. It’s hard to be excited by a team that you know is going to choke when it counts — and that includes the Braves. The Hawks are a joke; the Thrashers were a joke. Arthur Blank is a smart guy, and he obviously wants to win, but he hasn’t yet. Making the playoffs is great, but when you lose year after year the fans catch on.

Guy Bailey

February 29th, 2012
1:31 pm

Y’all are forgetting the ‘68 Chiefs, the first national championship team the ATL ever saw…http://www.wsc.co.uk/content/view/4749/29/

JPM

February 29th, 2012
1:32 pm

There are a lot of factors at play, least of which is that the recession has hit Atlanta very hard and that affects attendance. But, let’s put blame where it belongs. Th Spirit are directly responsible for the failure of the Thrashers. As a former season ticket holder, they were among the most expensive tickets in sports in their early years, and despite that goods crowds were found on most nights. The place could rock. (anybody remember the 1-0 shutout of the Flyers? The Thrasher fans were delirious that night…) I find the Falcons and Hawks to be the most disappointing, as one hardly ever hears really bad or really good things about them. They seem to just be there, but not a threat. In terms of the Braves, we collectively got tired of waiting for World Series Champs II. They consistently had the promise of winning it all, hence the decade plus of division titles. But the stress of waiting for the repeat seems to have worn everyone out. If I could only go back and bottle the excitement of ‘92 and ‘93. Those were truly magical years, and anyone here during that time would have said, in response to this article, that Atlanta was a world class sports town.

Mark Bradley

February 29th, 2012
1:35 pm

I’m not forgetting the Chiefs. I also didn’t forget the Atlanta Knights. But I don’t think either could be construed as a champion in a major-league American sport.

Birdman of Falcatraz

February 29th, 2012
1:37 pm

Nicely written piece that sums up the reality of the Atlanta sports fan. However, if and when the Falcons or Hawks win a title, the impact will much deeper and longer lasting than the Braves title ever could have been. Baseball may be a pastime, but Football is our passion. And we have proven to the NBA we are fan base interested in championship caliber basketball. Baseball does not draw out the fanatics that I know are here, as I am part of a small very loyal group of Falcons fans that watch every move they make with hope, but that overriding sense of doom you speak of.

Atl Teams = CHOKE

February 29th, 2012
1:37 pm

Atl Teams = CHOKE

February 29th, 2012
1:39 pm

Championships are for the other cities, never my city. I just want to feel what Saints fans felt in 09, what Packers fans felt last year, what Giants fans are feeling now.

GTBob

February 29th, 2012
1:39 pm

Sure. That’s why ESPN and CBS fork over millions upon millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast SEC football games to the entire nation, because nobody cares.

There is a small segment of the nation that cares about the SEC. Just like every other conference. That is why college sports money is dwarfed by professional sports. If the SEC really was huge nationally then their TV contracts would be much, much larger.