Football at the NFL level is played coast-to-coast, in big metropolises and small cities. Los Angeles and New York City offer two teams apiece. California and Florida have three each. But there’s just something special about those smaller Midwest, Rust Belt and Southern football cities.
Many smaller markets support only one or two professional teams overall. Fanbases include neighbors you see at the grocery store and generational season ticket holders. It’s where the legends of Vince Lombardi, Barry Sanders, Jim Brown and Peyton Manning live. Teams are a part of the daily fabric, not just an entertainment option. The nation away from the coasts is football country.
But from Seattle to Kansas City to Miami, which are the best football cities? There are many ways to judge which are best. We’ve determined the most important best-ability factors both on and off the field. We crunched the numbers. And we uncovered the definitive ranking of best football cities.
Scoring the best football cities
To determine our top ten best football cities, we looked at a variety of data points from across the spectrum including:
• City affordability
• Cost of living
• Average ticket price
• Recent team success
• Super Bowl victories
• Stadium accessibility
These all-encompassing factors even the playing field, elevating many affordable Midwestern pigskin hotbeds over expensive coastal metro areas.
These are the 10 best cities for football fans.
10. Dallas, TX (Cowboys)
There are two kinds of people in the world. Those that love “them Cowboys” and those that loathe them. But in the Dallas Metroplex or nationally as “America’s Team,” the fanbase cannot be beaten. That’s why the Cowboys sit atop FanSided’s team fandom rankings.
That goes hand in hand with the play on the gridiron. The Cowboys are one of football’s most successful franchises with the league’s top all-time winning percentage, and three Super Bowl wins. And despite some very average years over the last decade, the ‘Pokes still hold the 11th-best record this millennium.
However, Dallas’ best football cities rank takes a hit from some mid-level costs. At $2,271 a month, rent for average two-bedroom apartments is middle of the pack among league cities. Similarly, average monthly mortgage payments of $1,263 are also middle of the road. Dallas’ cost of living is just 2.5 points above median and Cowboys ticket prices are just five bucks below the league average.
The distance from AT&T Stadium to the primary city downtown is the NFL’s third-longest. But at nearly 19 miles west of Dallas, the Cowboys stadium is purposefully equidistant between Dallas and Fort Worth, TX.
9. Denver, CO (Broncos)
Denver is one of the best football cities if you love football. But not so much for living cheaply. The Mile High City is one of the most desirable places in the nation to live. But it’s pricey.
Overall, Denver’s cost of living is nearly 15 points above the national median. That makes it the 11th-most expensive in the NFL. But actual living is a more expensive prospect in Denver, for both renters and homeowners.
An average mortgage payment runs $1,778 a month, the eighth-most expensive rate among league cities. And the news isn’t any better for renters. To lease a two-bedroom apartment, Denverites shell out a whopping $3,475 a month on average, good for seventh-highest. Denver is the only city in our top 10 that ranks among the most expensive in either housing category.
Denver’s best cities position comes down to the product on the field. Since 2000, the Broncos have made the playoffs nine times topped by a Peyton Manning-led Super Bowl title, amassing 94 victories on the way. That’s good for eighth-most among all teams. And that success has been in front of one of the league’s best fanbases. The Orange Crush brigade comes in ranked as the fourth-best fans in the game.
8. Cleveland, OH (Browns)
In years past, we would be talking about the poor fortunes of the Cleveland Browns on the playing field. We’d discuss a dozen straight losing seasons. We’d mention one post-season appearance since reactivation in 1999.
Then in 2020, fortunes may have started to turn. Under Baker Mayfield and Kevin Stefanski, the Browns won their first playoff game in a quarter-century. But despite an 11-win 2020 season, Cleveland has still only racked up just 53 wins since 2000, the second-fewest in the NFL.
Thankfully, Browns fans are a resilient bunch. That will happen when your 50-year-old franchise packs up and moves to Maryland. There are few game atmospheres like FirstEnergy Stadium. It sits right on the Lake Erie waterfront in the heart of downtown. And with an average price of $82.82, Browns tickets are the fifth cheapest in the league.
Average rents in Cleveland are ranked a rather pedestrian 14th among NFL cities. But homeowners are wind-falling in the Western Reserve. Average monthly mortgage costs in Cleveland are just $621. That figure is the second cheapest among any league city.
7. Charlotte, NC (Carolina Panthers)
In 1993, the year the Carolina Panthers were founded, the population of metro Charlotte was just over 500,000. Thirty years later, it’s ballooned to well over 2 million. Projecting that growth was the impetus for awarding the Carolinas an expansion franchise.
In that time, Charlotte has embraced the team like it was a century-old gridiron staple. The city built what is now the seventh-largest stadium in the league in the heart of Uptown. And in return, the fanbase mobilized, ranked in the league’s 10 best. That loyalty has been rewarded with seven playoff births since 2000 and two Super Bowl appearances.
Charlotte is one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities. And the population growth has been a boon for renters. A two-bedroom apartment leases for just $1,713 a month on average, a top 10 figure among all NFL cities. Average mortgage costs are $1,112 a month.
6. Detroit, MI (Lions)
You don’t have to be great at football to be a great football city. Look no further than Detroit. Their 77 wins since 2000 are the eighth lowest in the NFL. They have a single playoff win in 64 years. But for all the on-field woes, a day at a Lions game is a top-level experience.
Despite few victories, the Lions carry a top-half-ranked fanbase that sells out most games at beautiful Ford Field. The stadium ranked as one of the “Best Stadiums in the NFL,” and sits right inside the edge of downtown. That’s quite the improvement from the old Pontiac Silverdome, 25 miles outside the city.
This has allowed Detroit to grow one of the best bar-and-tailgate pregame experiences in the league. In turn, fans have been rewarded with the ninth most affordable tickets of any team, averaging just $92.
While the Lions are making strides towards a return to glory, the city is as well. Detroit is transforming with a revitalized downtown, a rise in population and improved housing. Motor City rents are on average for NFL cities as a whole, but its monthly mortgage payments average just $604 — the cheapest in the entire league.
5. Cincinnati, OH (Bengals)
When it comes to the best football cities. Cincinnati is a give-and-take. The Queen City is a wonderful place to live, a beautiful city along the Ohio River across the shore from Kentucky.
The city’s most famous exports may be “WKRP” and Skyline Chili 5 way. But its revitalized downtown and stadium district waterfront feature trendy bars, brewpubs and diverse eateries, loft apartments, hopping nightlife and walkable retail.
Overall, Cincinnati is an affordable Midwest city in which to live. Average rents for two-bedroom apartments are the third cheapest in the NFL, at $1,238 a month. And it’s good news for homeowners as well. Monthly mortgage costs in Cincinnati average just $805, the sixth lowest among league cities.
But the Bengals haven’t achieved much long-term success on the field. Cincinnati didn’t earn their top five best cities ranking on the backs of winning seasons, just seven since 2000. To which, attendance has been understandably sparse with the sixth-lowest ranked fanbase in the NFL, worst in the top 10. At least the fans that show enjoy the third-most affordable tickets in the league, under $80 on average.
The silver lining? Ask any Bengals fan: At least Cincinnati ranked higher than Cleveland.
4. New Orleans, LA (Saints)
Mardi Gras and Jazzfest. Shrimp po’boys and crawfish etouffee. Bourbon Street and Cafe Du Monde. There are many reasons people dream of living in New Orleans. But through parties and parades, The Big Easy is one of America’s underrated sports towns.
For decades, the Saints were one of football’s saddest franchises, suffering 20 straight losing seasons. But along came Drew Brees in 2006, who turned a 3-13 cellar-dweller into a division winner. The Saints went on to finish in first place seven out of Brees’ 15 seasons, winning Super Bowl XLIV. But on March 14, 2021, 15 years to the day he first signed with the Saints, Brees retired.
Brees was the main driver for on-field success. Since 2000, the Saints have had the fourth-most wins of any team in the league. But for the first time in a decade and a half, the Saints will be Brees-less. Nonetheless, fans are still hopeful for more team success.
With parties in the French Quarter and touchdowns at the newly-renamed Caesars Superdome, New Orleans is a place many wish to live. That demand drives up rent prices. At $2,769 on average, NOLA carries the 11th-highest two-bedroom rent of any city in the NFL. But on the flipside, monthly mortgages are ninth lowest.
3. Green Bay, WI (Packers)
Everyone knows the Green Bay story. The small Wisconsin town is home to one of the NFL’s most iconic franchises. But with a metro area population of just 318,000, it’s the smallest city in any of the four major sports, with about 800,000 fewer residents than No. 2 Raleigh, NC. But Green Bay’s diminutive size hasn’t kept the Pack from becoming one of the league’s most successful franchises on the field.
Over the last 20 years, the Packers have amassed 115 wins. That’s the most victories of any team not named the Patriots. That goes alongside four Super Bowl championships since the ’60s. The Pack also enjoys the league’s third-ranked fanbase, 360,000 of whom share ownership in the community-based team.
As well, small-town Green Bay also means a small-town economy. Mortgages are very reasonable, the league’s fifth cheapest. But renters see the biggest benefit. At just $842 monthly, Green Bay offers the NFL’s most affordable average two-bedroom apartments. It’s the only one under a grand a month.
Once rent is paid, savings don’t stop. Green Bay residents enjoy the cheapest cost of living of any city in the league. Titletown’s cost of living is nearly 10 points below the national median. That’s a lot of affordable beer and cheese curds!
2. Pittsburgh, PA (Steelers)
Many cities on this list feature the league’s most revered franchises. But near the top of the list is Pittsburgh, home to the storied Steelers. Terry Bradshaw kicked off the Steeler era, quarterbacking the team to the playoffs nine times in 10 years.
But believe it or not, Ben Roethlisberger has been throwing touchdowns in Pittsburgh for nearly two decades now. And he’s far surpassed Bradshaw, leading the Black and Gold to 11 playoff appearances. And Big Ben is poised to leap into the top five all-time passing touchdown leaders this season. Every time Roethlisberger is counted out, he rebounds with a monster year.
So what makes Pittsburgh one of the best football cities? It’s the team, and it’s the city. Rents for two bedrooms and mortgages land both inside the top five among all NFL cities. But what really makes the Steel City the place to be for football fans is, well, the football.
The Steelers know how to win, recently and for a long time. The Steel Curtain leads all teams with six Super Bowl titles between 1975 and 2009. And the team ranks third in the league with 114 regular-season wins since 2000.
1. Indianapolis, IN (Colts)
The Hoosier State’s largest city and state capital tops the list of best cities for football fans. Just don’t tell the old-timers down in Baltimore. Yes, it’s been four decades since the Colts packed up the Mayflower trucks and moved west. But believe it or not, the Colts have been in Indianapolis nearly a decade longer than they played in Baltimore.
Since their big move to Indy, the Colts have found major success. They’ve won the AFC South 10 times this millennium. The run began with Peyton Manning under center and continued under Andrew Luck until his retirement. Now the team is poised to start a new era with Carson Wentz taking snaps.
What makes Indianapolis the best city for football fans comes down to expenses. The city offers the second-best cost of living in the entire NFL at over eight points below the median.
As well, its average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is the third lowest at $1,348 monthly. And for would-be homeowners, its $841 a month average mortgage payment is the seventh cheapest.
Plus, the stadium is very accessible. Lucas Oil Stadium sits right on the edge of Mile Square, Indy’s downtown district.
Overtime: Ranking all 32 NFL cities
Below are the full rankings for all 32 teams in 30 NFL cities. Affordable Middle America towns rank very high on the list. However, large coastal cities like Los Angeles, Washington, New York and San Francisco, with expensive costs of living and suburban stadiums, drop to the bottom.
As well, recent newcomer Las Vegas finishes in the bottom five. The former Oakland franchise has the league’s highest ticket prices.
To determine the best football cities, we looked at the 30 cities where NFL teams are located.
New York was used for the Giants and Jets and Los Angeles was used for the Chargers and Rams. Phoenix, Boston, Nashville, Charlotte and Minneapolis were used for the Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings, respectively.
We then looked at the following metrics and gave them a score from 1 (the best) to 32 (the worst):
City affordability: The average two-bedroom rent price from Apartment Guide’s multifamily rental property inventory as of July 2021 and the median metro-area monthly mortgage rate with 20 percent down from May 2021 as calculated by Redfin.
Cost of living: The Q1 2021 cost of living index from the Council for Community and Economic Research.
Average ticket price: The 2020 average single-game price as reported by Statista.
Recent team success: The number of regular-season victories since 2010 as reported by the New England Patriots (individual team victories from 2010 to 2018) and the NFL (individual team victories for 2019 and 2020).
Super Bowl victories: The total number of Super Bowl victories through the end of the 2020 season is compiled by Statista.
Stadium accessibility: The distance from downtown to the stadium as determined by the shortest route option in Google Maps.
Fandom: The rankings from the 2021 NFL Fandom Report by Emory University professor Mike Lewis, which measures data on attendance, revenues, social media following and road attendance to develop statistical models of fan interest.
Each metric was weighted, and then we added up the scores for each city. The city with the lowest overall score was determined to be the best for football fans.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.