Skepticism Abounds Over Recent “Basketball City” Study

A recent WalletHub study set out to rank the best and worst U.S. cities for basketball fans in 2023. Their ranking for New York City? Eighth overall, and seventh for “large cities.”

Are they right? And what does ranking 8th even mean? Did the New York Knicks‘ recent playoff run affect the rankings?

We wanted to get a deeper understanding of how the study works. After all, WalletHub has released similar studies with results that experts strongly called into question.

One glaring problem with this one? No WNBA. For a study that evaluates basketball fan culture, leaving out the WNBA with its massively devoted fan base seems like a major oversight. Another issue is that the list claims to be “for 2023,” but came out before the NBA playoffs even started.

So, let’s dig into the numbers and find out how they came to their NYC results.

Worst, best cities for basketball fans in 2023

Basketball is second only to football in popularity in the United States.

A typical NBA franchise is worth an average of $2.86 billion. New York has two such teams, plus a WNBA team that’s making headlines and 22 Division 1 college basketball teams.

WalletHub compared 296 of the most populous cities with NBA and NCAA teams (as we mentioned, no WNBA). They say they used 21 “relevant metrics,” each weighted differently and graded on a 100-point scale. The metrics include things like:

  • The number of NBA teams and their performance (championship wins, hall of fame head coaches, franchise value, average ticket price, attendance, etc.)
  • The number of college teams and their performance (championship wins, hall of fame head coaches, fan engagement, etc.)

They used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, ESPN, NBA,, Forbes, Facebook, Twitter, Sports Reference, and more.

The method by which these criteria are valued is a bit arbitrary, to say the least. For example, “fan engagement” is calculated by adding a franchise’s Twitter followers and Facebook likes per capita. Their average ticket price for an NBA game includes “one general admission ticket, two beers, a hot dog and parking.”

The overall winner of the study? Los Angeles. Here’s how the top 10 best cities for basketball rank in the study.

  1. Los Angeles
  2. Boston
  3. San Francisco
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Salt Lake City
  6. Miami
  7. Washington, DC
  8. New York City
  9. San Antonio
  10. Atlanta

Last on the list? New Britain, CT.

How does New York City basketball measure up?

Okay. So how did NYC fare in this study that is absolutely not peer-reviewed?

They gave the Big Apple a total score of 40.72 points out of 100. (LA, which ranked 1st, had 62.3.) For the NBA, NYC ranks 17th, and for the NCAA, 12th. In large cities, defined as over 300,000 people, NYC climbs up one spot.

There’s not much more you can discover in the study. It doesn’t show how they got to 40.72 points for NYC or how the city fared in each category. You can scan some of the metrics for the top and bottom five in each category. New York landed in a few of those:

  • 2nd highest average ticket price for NBA games (behind San Francisco; but remember, this number includes, inexplicably for a city as reliant on public transit as NYC, parking)
  • Dead last for accessible NBA stadiums
  • 2nd-to-last for accessible college basketball stadiums
  • Least-engaged NBA fans (I guess they’ve never been to a Knicks game at MSG!)

The study is not clear on how these specific rankings were calculated.

And what about the WNBA?

The study bafflingly doesn’t include any assessment of WNBA franchises, games, or fans. While the WNBA is far behind the NBA in popularity, it is one of the fastest-growing sports in terms of fan engagement and overall popularity.

The WNBA is seeing an average 16% year-over-year increase in viewership across ABC, CBS, and ESPN. Viewership for the first WNBA finals game last year was up 171% over the prior year.

Specifically in NYC, the WNBA is making massive strides. The New York Liberty is one of two “superteams” in a new era of the WNBA. They are oddsmakers’ second-favorite to win the WNBA 2023 Championship, trailing just behind the other super team, the Las Vegas Aces.

In their home opener on May 21, Liberty forward Breanna Stewart drained 45 points. That’s a franchise record for the Liberty and only eight points off the league record.

The Liberty’s average attendance per game was up 184% year over year, from 1,874 in 2021 to 5,327 in 2022.

Did New York City get a raw deal?

One thing we did enjoy about the WalletHub study was the added commentary and quotes from basketball industry insiders. For New York, they spoke with David Hollander, an Clinical Professor at the Tisch Institute for Global Sport. When asked what he thinks is the best city for basketball fans, Hollander said:

“New York City. Why? I was in the Garden last Sunday for Knicks-Cavs, Game 4. Wow. If you were there too, you know why. Still the best place in the world to see a basketball game.”

New York is famous for its basketball teams. The New York Knicks are an iconic if oftentimes cursed franchise, and Brooklyn Nets games are often star-studded events. Their respective home courts, Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center are two of the biggest and most popular venues in America. Both teams made the playoffs this year.

We’ve already discussed the Liberty’s rising popularity, and New York has 22 D1 collegiate basketball teams.

Perhaps New York City’s greatest strength? It’s a welcoming space for fans of any basketball franchise. A city full of travelers and transplants, no matter what team you rep, you can find a sports bar that celebrates it and fanatic fans to share in victories and losses with.

About the Author

Hannah Vanbiber

Hannah Vanbiber is one of our writers for NY Sports Day. She started her journalism career in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as a reporter covering local sports, entertainment, and business in the East Tennessee area. She is now a full-time freelance writer, editor, and reporter, covering women’s sports and sports betting in the New York metropolitan area.

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