The 5 Biggest College Sports Towns in America

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Can you really determine which college sports town is the best in the country?

This is the question we tried to ask ourselves before we attempted to tackle this subject. The first thing we came to realize was that there would never be a definitive answer. There couldn’t be. No matter what you say, you will never convince a passionate college sports fan that their school or town isn’t the best in the land. And in a way, that’s what makes college sports so fantastic. It’s all about the pride.

Still, that didn’t mean we weren’t going to give this the old “college try.” This endeavor was alway going to include a bit of subjectivity. However, we realized that with the use of certain criteria, we may be able to find towns that distinguished themselves from the rest. As a result, the first thing we did was choose the athletic programs that would takes center stage in this analysis. For all intensive purposes, we decided to focus on men’s basketball and football.

It wouldn’t be fair to look at the residents of college towns and not take into consideration the success of the teams these folks support. Given the immense data available, we decided to only look at the final standings of this past year. On top of that, we then believed it was important to take things to the next level. How could one determine a town’s support of its sports teams? Merchandise sales and attendance at sporting events, obviously.

By looking over the 2014 attendance records for Division I teams in basketball and football, we were able to see which fans went out of their way to show their schools some love. With the data provided by The Collegiate Licensing Company, we could then see which universities collected the most royalties from merchandise sales. If you’re buying a school’s gear, then clearly you’re filled with immense pride. These factors had to be taken into consideration.

This may not be a perfect system, but that’s OK. By looking at team success, attendance records, and merchandise sales, we believed there was enough data to come to a proper conclusion. With that in mind, here’s a look at the top five college sports towns in the country.

5. Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With the success of the Alabama football program and the overwhelming passion of the Crimson Tide faithful, it shouldn’t be surprising to see the city of Tuscaloosa so high on this list. According to NCAA.org, Alabama ranked No. 6 on the list of FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) home attendance leaders in 2014, with an average of 101,534 fans showing up at Bryant–Denny Stadium each game.

The Crimson Tide did these fans proud by making the first-ever College Football Playoff, and receiving fourth place points in the Directors’ Cup standings for this achievement. On top of on-the-field performances, the love for this school can be shown through the Collegiate Licensing Company’s reporting of the top-selling institutions and manufacturers for 2014-15, where Alabama had the most royalties reported in each of the first three quarters. Unfortunately, because these fans don’t give as much love to the basketball program, Tuscaloosa only comes in fifth of top college sports towns.

4. Knoxville, Tennessee

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The Tennessee Volunteers may not have achieved the on-the-field success of some of the other programs in the country, but the people of Knoxville still came out in droves to show their school pride. And that’s how you can really prove your worth as a top-tier college sports town. In 2014, this university ranked seventh on the list of FBS home attendance leaders, with an average of 99,754 folks in the stands per game. This didn’t shock us all too much — Knoxville loves its football. What did give us pause, was how much these folks actually support the basketball program. According to 2014 attendance numbers, on average, 15,475 people showed up for each home basketball contest. This ranked as the 12th best in the country. Not bad.

We also have to give credit to the people of Knoxville for showing this school love by buying it’s gear. For each of the three quarters of the 2014-15 fiscal year, Tennessee was in the upper echelon of schools collecting merchandise royalties — 10th in the first quarter, 10th in the second quarter, and 12 in the third quarter. Based on these results, if you’re looking at the best college sports towns in the country, you’d be hard-pressed not to include Knoxville in the bunch.

3. Ann Arbor, Michigan

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Despite the recent shortcomings of the football and men’s basketball programs, the city of Ann Arbor still has nothing but love for Michigan Wolverines athletics. This university had an average of 104,909 people in attendance for each football game (third best in 2014) and an average of 12,698 folks sitting in the stands for each men’s home basketball contest (24th in the land). However, what puts this town and its devoted fans over the top, is the merchandise sales.

In terms of collecting merchandise royalties, the University of Michigan has done extremely well in each of the three quarters of the fiscal year 2014-15. According to the Collegiate Licensing Company, Michigan was No. 4 in the first quarter, No. 4 in the second quarter, and No. 4 in the third quarter. Given the overall support these programs receive, it’s clear that Ann Arbor was definitely deserves to be on this list.

2. Madison, Wisconsin

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

There are many who would suggest that Madison, Wisconsin is the top college sports town in the country. However, based on our criteria, we could only put this city as high as No. 2 on the list. The Badgers faithful came out to support the football team, with an average of 79,520 people (No. 18) in attendance each home game. The team rewarded these fans by receiving points for 13th place in the Directors’ Cup. This school also did well in merchandise sales, finishing No. 13 in the first quarter, No. 17 in the second quarter, and No. 18 in the third quarter. Of course, what made this university, and its supporting town, so special this year, had to be the basketball.

The people of Madison showed up in impressive numbers to be there for the Badgers basketball program — on average, 17,104 people packed into the Kohl Center each game. With Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker leading the Badgers to a second-place finish in this year’s NCAA tournament, folks had to have sensed there was something special going on with this team — and they were right. This was a group worth remembering, and certainly worth supporting. We have to give it up to Madison, Wisconsin. This is one of the ultimate college sports towns.

1. Columbus, Ohio

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

This year, the Ohio State Buckeyes came to play on both the gridiron and the hardwood. Despite the many setbacks, Urban Meyer to this program to the top of the football mountain — winning the first-ever College Football Playoff. The basketball team wasn’t nearly on the same level, but it did receive points for a 17th place finish in the Directors’ Cup. Since Ohio State is not a client of the Collegiate Licensing Company, we were unable to use this school’s merchandise sales as part of our evaluation. However, if the most important thing is showing up, then this town did its duty.

Out of all the Division I basketball programs in the land, Ohio State had the eighth highest average attendance (16,474 people) per home contest in 2014. Of course, in Buckeyes country, football is king. And the folks in Columbus made sure the rest of the country knew they meant business. This year, it was Ohio State that had the highest average attendance in all of FBS. With 106,296 people packing into Ohio Stadium, The Horseshoe was never without a sea of loud and excited folks, more than happy to sport the red and white. And while opinions will certainly vary, given our measuring stick, we couldn’t find a more impressive college sports town than Columbus, Ohio.

All data is courtesy of NCAA.org, The Collegiate Licensing Company, and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.

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