So ESPN.com has one of their ubiquitous lists out on Page 2, this time purporting to rank and measure the degree of suffering of various fan bases around the country. It is, like a lot of Page 2, mildly amusing. The list itself was totally subjective, with a quasi-mathematical formulation that boils down to “how much we feel the fan base has suffered”. The list is 46 teams long.
But I got to thinking: can this list be used to prove or disprove allegations of ESPN’s east coast bias? Since numbers are the only thing which can resolve “bias”, I decided to do a statistical check of the list to see if they were rating the suffering of one particular region or another more severely, and thus betraying where their sympathy lies.
Here is my theory: if there is no bias, then the average ranking of each geographical area would be roughly the same. If there is bias, then the east teams (or wherever) would have a lower average rank, because ESPN is inclined to be more sympathetic to them than to teams from other regions.
First I simply split teams at the Mississippi. Any team east of the river (or its imaginary vertical line to the north) was East, to the west was West (Vancouver was west, Toronto was East). The average East ranking was 22.8, West average was 24.2. Conclusion? If there’s bias, then it’s slightly to the East, but the list looks fair when viewed like this. I will make the caveat, though, that 3 of the top 4 teams are from the East (Buffalo and Philly twice), but that doesn’t itself give any evidence of bias.
Then, I split the list into a more geographically diverse group, by East, Midwest, Southeast, and West. This gets more subjective: is Houston in the Southeast or the West? Is Detroit in the East or Midwest?
Ultimately I put teams in New York, Pennsylvania, Toronto, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC in the East. In the Midwest I put the Ohio teams, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Kansas City. In the Southeast there were all teams in Texas and the traditional SEC states (KY, TN, FL, etc). Everything else went into the West: Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, California, and Utah.
The results here were surprising: West average ranking was 20.1, and East average was 20.5. So there’s no bias between the two. The Midwest, though, ranked at 25.6, and the Southeast a very happy 31.4.
There’s clearly a bias here, and it exists on the coasts. I don’t believe that somehow the average fan in the Southeast or the Midwest is that much more significantly happy than the fans in the East or the West.
Worse, I forgot to mention the main reason that they built the list: to tell Chicago Cubs fans to shut up, because their suffering isn’t nearly as bad as other fans around the country. The Cubs did not make the list; presumably they are 47th. What this ultimately says about ESPN, their attitudes towards sports fans in the Midwest and Southeast, and their opinion of Chicago in general, I leave to somebody else to judge.