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Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Atlanta ranks as NFCS's top sports city

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Seems like it’s a big day for lists. We already showed you the Harris Poll that ranks the NFL teams in order of popularity. Now, we’ve got the annual rankings of the best sports cities in North America by The Sporting News.

This one has some surprises (some pleasant and some unpleasant) when it comes to the NFC South cities. The rankings are based on a bunch of categories that include won-lost records, postseason appearances, number of professional and college teams and attendance.

Atlanta, which doesn’t often get labeled as a great sports town and just lost its hockey team, comes out on top among NFC South cities. I’m a bit surprised that Atlanta made the top 10, but am even more surprised Tampa Bay also did.

The Tampa Bay region came in at No. 10 and as a resident of the area, I’d argue that this is a much better sports town than Miami, which came in at No. 9. Monday night was a classic example, when the Bucs were hosting the Colts and the Rays were hosting a playoff game. Even in a brutal economy, both games sold out. When the Lightning were in the NHL playoffs in the spring, there was a definite buzz in an area where hockey doesn't have deep roots.

Atlanta and Tampa Bay were the pleasant surprises. Now, let’s flip over to the other side. New Orleans came in at No. 22. That’s one spot behind Cincinnati. Really? I guess Andy Dalton is bigger than Drew Brees. Listen, I know New Orleans has only the Saints and Hornets as pro franchises, but I think the hold the Saints on this city should count as bonus points. Outside of Green Bay, I’d argue the Saints have the most dedicated fan base in the league.

Speaking of dedicated fans, I’m also surprised to see Charlotte at No. 47. Yeah, I know last year’s 2-14 record by the Panthers didn’t help the point total. But the Panthers have sold out every home game since George Seifert’s finale in 2001. I lived in Charlotte for just about nine years. It might not be the best sports city, but it deserves to be ahead of cities like Montreal and Calgary, which are on the list ahead of Charlotte.