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The Next Biggest Loser

What city takes over Cleveland’s mantle as the longest suffering?

Getty Images
Getty Images

Cleveland is demanding our attention. From the Republican National Convention to the Cavaliers’ NBA championship, the Indians’ recent dominance to a surprising tech scene, we’re thinking about the city more than ever. This week,​The Ringer ​is exploring why Cleveland matters.

History is written by the winners, we’re told. No one mentions what the losers write but, in my experience, it’s poetry (some of it very good) and Yelp reviews. Winning means parades. Everyone loves parades. Winning means immortality. It means writing names in record books and honoring heroes with bronze statues. It means the luxury of wearing an athlete’s jersey unironically. But we can’t all be winners. And by “we,” I mean “various cities throughout North America.”

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ historic seven-game exorcism of five decades’ worth of demons — Ted Stepien, Art Modell, the Drive, the Fumble, The Decision — delivered the city’s fans out of the valley of the shadow of losers. Many still remain, consigning generations of geographically unlucky sports fans to years, even entire lives, without a championship (in one of the four major sports).

With Cleveland off the tortured sports metropolis list, the question is this: Which cities are suffering the most now?

We arrived at our results for Worst Suffering Sports Cities by taking into account how long each has been without a title, the respective sizes of the affected populations, how much those populations are paying for tickets to sporting events, and just how devastating each team’s notable devastating losses were.

Combined Years Suffering

Source: Data USA and Canadian census
Source: Data USA and Canadian census

Combined years suffering (CYS) is our population-adjusted pain-of-losing statistic. New York City’s last title was the Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl win, while Buffalo’s last major title was the Bills’ pre–Super Bowl AFL championship in 1965. Since the population of New York City’s metro area is nearly 20 times that of Buffalo’s, the suffering, like nuclear fallout or bird flu, affects more people.

Our CYS winner in losing: San Diego, with 3.3 million people who have been waiting 53 years for a major sports title.

Level of Joy

Source: Sports-Reference sites
Source: Sports-Reference sites

Level of joy (LoJ) is simply the number of championships each city has won divided by its number of sports teams. The Crying Jordans speak for themselves.

Percentage of Life Spent Suffering

Source: Data USA and Canadian census
Source: Data USA and Canadian census

Percentage of life spent suffering (PLSS) takes the length of each city’s title drought and divides it by the median age of the population. The people of Vancouver, Portland (at a median age of 37, most people were not alive to see the Trail Blazers’ 1977 title run), Buffalo, and San Diego have never experienced their team winning a championship.

Crushed Dreams

The Crushed Dreams-o-Meter ranks each qualifying city’s notable losses according to Bill Simmons’ 13 Levels of Losing. The LoL scale progresses from the relatively innocuous “just lucky to be here” defeats of Levels XIII-X to the increasingly soul-destroying variations the Stomach Punch (Level III), Tailspin (Level II), and the tragic and thankfully rare That Game (Level I). For a full list of games considered for this precise calculation, click here.

Economic Impact

Source: ESPN and Team Marketing Report
Source: ESPN and Team Marketing Report

The cost of losing is measured in many ways: tears, smashed remote controls, having to wear the opposing team’s gear because you lost a bet, childhood dreams destroyed. And, of course, losing is measured in money. This graph shows the hits the citizenries’ wallets have absorbed by measuring the cities’ average total sports attendance by average ticket price. No wonder Vancouver rioted after losing the 2011 Stanley Cup.


Our winner in losing: Buffalo. The city’s résumé of bad beats includes four consecutive Super Bowl losses from 1990 to 1993 (a streak of almosts so impressive, improbable, and weird that The X-Files blamed it on the machinations of the Smoking Man) and Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup, when Buffalo lost on Brett Hull’s infamous skate-in-the-crease goal in triple-overtime. As we said above, Buffalo’s last major sports title came in 1965, when the Bills won the AFL Championship Game. The majority of the city’s denizens were not alive to see it. Not to mention, Buffalo pays more for tickets on average than Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, Portland, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, and Ottawa.

Congratulations, Buffalo. Or, well, you know what we mean.

Research by Ringer intern Zach Kram.

An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that the Yankees’ 2009 World Series win was New York City’s last championship; the Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl win is the city’s latest championship.