The lighter side of real estate

The Best SEC Cities for Sports Fans

Football season is closing in. With kickoff a month away, Movoto puts the cities in the SEC to the test to learn which college town is best for sports fans. Will your team score a touchdown?

David Cross

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232 articles, 24 comments

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It’s only a month before that glorious time of the year known as Football Season. If you’re like the football diehards in the Movoto Real Estate office, you’re already preparing for your season-opener party and staring at your grill longingly trying to wipe your mind of all those constant baseball highlights on SportsCenter. Thankfully, it’s almost here. That said, to get you through this hardest part of the year, we decided to give you sporting fans something to argue about.

What Did We Come Up With?

We ranked the best SEC cities for sports fans. And after all our data was tabulated, it was Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama, that emerged holding the football. Do you find this surprising? We didn’t. Alabama has quite a strong sports legacy. Here is our full list of the best SEC cities for sports fans ranked in order:

The Winners and Losers

  1. University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
  2. Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS
  3. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
  4. University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS
  5. Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
  6. University of Missouri, Columbia, MO
  7. University of Georgia, Athens, GA
  8. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
  9. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
  10. Auburn University, Auburn, AL
  11. University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR
  12. University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
  13. University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
  14. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

Now, before you rabid Vanderbilt fans start complaining, take a gander at our criteria and then jump down to the comment section to slug it out. (If you’re not an SEC fan, check out a similar post on the best city for ACC fans.) Play ball!

What Makes a Fan City

To come up with our Big Deal Lists, we look at various criteria and rank each city. In this case, each SEC city received a score from 1 to 14 across 10 criteria. We then took the average score across all 10 criteria. The winner, in this case the best SEC city for sports fans, was the city with the lowest average score. You can learn more about Movoto’s Big Deal Lists here.

Here are the criteria we looked at:

  • Tailgating
  • Sports bar per capita
  • Sports radio stations per capita
  • Total conference titles (football, basketball, baseball)
  • Total national championships (football, basketball, baseball)
  • Total number of students vs. a city’s population
  • Wins over rival (football)
  • Wins over rival (basketball)
  • Average fan attendance vs. arena capacity (football)
  • Average fan attendance vs. arena capacity (basketball)

Each separate category had its own winners and losers, which we’ll detail below along with why we chose that particular criterion.

Where to Go: Before, After, and During a Game

A true sports city knows how to tailgate. This means grills, large plates of cooked meat, and some type of backyard/asphalt friendly game—probably bean bag toss (also known as cornhole). For this category, we tapped sports writer and Movoto friend Rick Limpert for help. Last year, Limpert was the “Tailgate Fan” writer for CBS Atlanta. We asked him to rank each SEC city by its tailgates. The University of Mississippi easily came in first. Close behind were LSU and Auburn University.

“Why head inside the stadium when you have the sights, sounds, and tastes of The Grove?,” Limpert said of Ole Miss. “You have to see it to believe it.”

Drinking Buddies, High Fives Too

Oh, sports bars, those weirdly similar locations across the country, how we adore you!

The number of sports bars in each city made our list because they provide fans a location to watch their favorite team (home or away games) in the company of like-minded folk. According to our calculations, MSU has the most sports bars per person. Trailing behind were the University of Missouri and the University of Tennessee.

Dulcet Tones of Enraged Fans

If you can’t make it to the game or have prior engagements, you can always turn on the radio. It also doesn’t hurt that radio stations provide a near round-the-clock updates on your favorite sports team, regardless of whether it’s the correct season or not.

For this criterion, we found the number of sports radio stations each city receives. Once again Ole Miss scored a touchdown. Other SEC cities with plenty of airwave space devoted to sports include Auburn University and the University of Missouri, which placed second and third, respectively.

Our Team Is Better Than Your Team

One of the best parts of rooting for a team is watching your boys (and girls) trounce an opposing team. It’s even sweeter when the team that just got shellacked happens to be in the same conference.

For this criterion we looked at the number of conference wins across the Big 3—men’s football, basketball, and baseball. This included the conference tournament champions and regular season champions. The University of Kentucky dunked over every other school in the category. A distant second was LSU, and then Texas A&M came in third.

No, Really, We Are Way Better Than Your Team

What’s better than your team proving it’s better than its conference opponents? How about winning a national championship.

Again, we looked at the number of national championships across the big three sports teams. Who took home the gold? Far and away, the University of Alabama strolled off with this criteria. Right behind Alabama were LSU and Kentucky.

We Come Here to Learn—and Cheer

There’s no arguing that students of any particular school have a penchant for cheering on the home team. In this category, we looked at the number of enrolled students and compared them to a city’s population. We then figured out what percentage of the student body would make up the city’s population. In this category, Ole Miss took the top spot, followed by MSU, and Texas A&M.

Our Rivalry Is Better Than Your Rivalry

Every school needs a good rivalry. However, not all great rivalries are strictly inter-conference. In this section we looked at the men’s football and basketball teams and the number of times each school as defeated their rival. For simplicity’s sake, we used the same rivalry across the two sports teams. Here are the rivals we used:

  • Auburn University v. University of Alabama
  • Louisiana State University v. University of Mississippi
  • Mississippi State University v. University of Mississippi
  • Texas A&M University v. University of Texas
  • University of Arkansas v. University of Texas
  • University of Florida v. Florida State University
  • University of Georgia v. Georgia Tech
  • University of Kentucky v. University of Louisville
  • University of Mississippi v. Mississippi State University
  • University of Missouri v. University of Kansas
  • University of South Carolina v. Clemson University
  • University of Tennessee v. University of Alabama
  • University of Alabama v. Auburn University
  • Vanderbilt University v. University of Tennessee

Feel free to argue over our choices in the comments section. We did ask sports aficionados before we compiled the rivalries, though. We should also note this doesn’t take into account whether a team has a winning record versus their rival; we strictly looked at the number of wins.

Gridiron Showdown: Football

Who trounced their hated rival the most? When it comes to football, the University of Georgia came in first. Close behind were Mississippi State University and Louisiana State University, respectively. Note that we looked at wins over rivals not popularity of rivalry. Sorry Alabama/Auburn fans.

Razzle Dazzle: Basketball Rivalry

The team with the most wins over its rival was MSU, followed by a tie between the University of Mississippi and Louisiana State University.

Standing Room Only

In a somewhat similar criterion, we looked at the average fan attendance across the men’s football and basketball home games versus the official seating capacity of each school’s sports venue. Before we begin, realize that some schools having standing-room ticket sales. We’ll start with football:

Standing Room Only: Football

When it comes to a packed house, Texas A&M wins. On average, the Aggies stadium was literally standing room only last year. Our research showed that the average fan attendance in 2012 was 87,104 while the arena size was 82,589. This is about 105 percent of capacity.

First runner up was MSU at about 101 percent of its stadium’s capacity, followed by LSU at slightly over 100 percent capacity.

Standing Room Only: Basketball

The makeup of the schools with basketball fans hanging from the rafters is a bit different than in football. It’s understandable in some ways. Most schools are either football or basketball schools. Rare is the university that is both. The University of Kentucky walked away with a win in this category. Last year, UK’s coliseum held about 101 percent of its capacity. Placing second and third were Vanderbilt at about 96 percent and the University of Florida at 90 percent.

Next Year’s Ranking

With only a couple of months left to kick off, maybe now is the time to start planning how to help your city and team climb up our ranking for next year. Just remember that Tuscaloosa has one heck of a head start. Our suggestion would be to start with some practice tailgating.

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posted on: July 9, 2013
2,036 views, 35 comments


  1. Brandon

    Having been to most of these places I can stay I don’t agree with this at all.

  2. Tom Rowland

    Stupidest rankings ever. Makes absolutely NO sense.

    No homework was done. Poll absolutely worthless!!!!!!!

    Opinion based on no facts!!!

    • Nick in response to Tom Rowland

      Sounds like Tom goes to Vandy.

      • Tom in response to Nick

        No, I don’t go to Vandy. I also don’t go to MSU. Anyone cqn come up with a poll. Gosh, I didn’t realize the factors used were important. Not the criteria I would have used. Guess I didn’t realize the factors used were important.

        Baffling is Starkville Mississippi. Didn’t realize it was such a GREAT sports city!!!!!! Common sense would tell you Nashville is better than Starkville, Mississippi.

        Now that Grove must make Oxford quite a sports city too.

        • Johnny in response to Tom

          Sounds like some toothless Ole Miss fans are upset.

    • Chris Kolmar in response to Tom Rowland

      Hey Tom,
      The whole article, with the exception of tailgate score, is based on facts, and not opinions. That’s actually how we do all of these top lists here.

      However, you can debate the criteria we choose no problem. But we think it’s pretty good and fair. What would you have used instead?

      • Tom in response to Chris Kolmar

        I can find no criteria where Starkville, Ms can be ranked #2 in the SEC for a sports city.

        What makes College Station, Tx. Such a tremendous sports city? I’ve been there, and I failed to see tremendous tailgating, sports bars and radio stations. Lots of students? OK, good sports town, not so much!

        Anyone can cobble together a set of criteria and throw together rankings. I imagine not a lot of people would agree with this. Sure didn’t think Colombia, Mo. was such a swinging sports town either. I don’t disagree with all the rankings, but anytime Starkville, Oxford, College Station and Colombia, Mo. is ranked so high, it really causes one to wonder as to the credibility of the rankings.

        I guess Nashville isn’t the city I thought it was. Let me see, do I want to go to Starkville or Nashville. Tough choice!

        To me, actually going and seeing a ballgame and seeing the crowds, etc, is more important that the criteria used. I personally could care less as to the tailgating, radio stations, sports bars, etc. If that’s what you want to use, I still don’t agree, but will assume the accuracy.

        Baton Rouge on a Saturday night, exciting! would I want to be in the middle of that crowd, no thanks, especially if my team won. Food, great, excitement, sure, fan behavior–stinks.

      • Cooter in response to Chris Kolmar

        This is the biggest bunch of troll B.S. i’ve read in a while. You know how I know that? Because Starkville was listed as #2. Starkville is the absolute cesspool of SEC football. Starkville may not be hell, but you can dang sure see it from there.

        What a horrible, horrible article.

      • Norm in response to Chris Kolmar

        Well then explain how in the world UK is 14th in wins verses rivals in BASKETBALL. That is NOT a fact. If you say ONE year of data, then you have to admit this is a stupid poll altogether.

  3. dennis

    Wow…Starkville #2. Proof positive that your criteria is flawed.
    As for using Texas as Arkansas’ rival… Arkansas hasn’t played them yearly since 1992..that’s 22 years guys. Not much of a rival. Who the heck did you talk to, 60 plus year old football fans only who grew up watching the Hogs play in the old SWC? Kentucky has been our biggest Basketball rival and LSU and Ole Miss have been our Football rivals for years. Texas….Really????

  4. Jason

    Mississippi state record attendance for a football game is like 53,000

    Arkansas AVERAGE attendance last year was 68,000; yet you have MSU at 2nd and Arkansas at 8th.

    Also, if you want to be more credible; do more than just one years worth of data for your statistics. I highly doubt you will find A&M, Ole Miss, and MSU in your top 5.

    Just my two cents.

  5. MIchael

    I can appreciate your effort to measure something like this however I think any unbiased sports fan can look at the results of your criteria and immediately discount your formula. As posters above have said – who views Starkville, MS as a destination for a sports fan? Not anyone I know, even my friends that are Miss. St. fans.

    Given the output of your ‘facts’, there is something seriously wrong in how you weighted different criteria.

  6. zwr

    Wow. Poorly thrown together list. I know sports is slow right now but seriously. Starkville anywhere inside the top ten is a farce. In Columbia, the majority of the population is still unaware that Mizzou has a football team. The sporting world in that state revolves around the Cardinal and periodically the Rams. And stadium capacity is flawed. Which is more exciting, a 100% packed stadium that holds 50,000 or a 90% packed stadium that holds 100,000? And your about 20 years behind the times with the Ark-Tx rivalry.

  7. Jeff E

    Arkansas fans have gotten extremely quite the last 5-10 yrs at games. It’s like a bunch of billionaires moved in to NWA area and are waiting to be served caviar by a butler. It’s so quiet there these days, and the basketball games are ridiculously quiet these days. Need some real middle class, working people, to move back into the hills, get things back to the way they use to be.

  8. James

    Wow. Where do I begin? Best sports fans and STARKVILLE, MISSISSIPPI is ranked #2??
    Athens #7??? Gainesville #8??? Something is horribly flawed in either your criteria, your calculations, or your premise.
    By the way, in your list of rivalries, you don’t even include Florida-Georgia, one of the most heated rivalries in ALL OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL!! I guess that’s what happens when people in real estate try to trump up some foolhardy knowledge of sports.

  9. Bw

    Starkville, MSU, Has the best all around athletics in the nation, don’t be hatin’ and there’s no denying the truth! The absolute hands down most passionate fans in the country. Baseball team playing for a national championship, top 25 basketball program (although rebuilding presently) and a football program making 3 consecutive trips to bowl games. MSU getting tons of positive national exposure. GO DAWGS!

  10. Matt

    Bad, really bad. But opinions are like, you know what’s, so thanks for sharing. For future reference, FSU in not UF’s primary rival. We concider them to be our little sister from a different mother.

  11. KT

    Hail State

  12. Christina

    I am not so sure people read the article after looking at the rankings.. This was all done percentage wise based on population which is why Starkville is so high. I have been to about half the SEC stadiums and I have always had a good time. Whenever you compare SEC schools in anything there is going to be an argument. Truth is, it’s the SEC and we pretty much dominate no matter what!

  13. Migret

    Excellent article and list! Hail State!!

  14. Mark

    These rankings are based on “facts”, yes. But the list really does make y’all look uninformed and unintelligent.

    I went to Msu, and grew up in Starkville. I’ve also been to every SEC town besides A&M and Mizzou. First, Starkville isn’t number two, nor is most of the list accurate.

    The two best towns for enrolled college students are Athens and Oxford. A whole lot of bars, and really cool towns.

    The best tailgating is the state of Mississippi. The Junction and the Grove are the top two, with the state of Alabama pretty much even with them.

    The best stadiums to watch a game in: UA, USC, and LSU.

    You can debate a lot. And while this list may be based on stats, it could not be less accurate.

  15. Jordan

    The thing that tells me that this article crap, is the fact Athens is second to last in bar scene. The bars, which Athens has over 80 of, are the pretty much the only thing Athens is known for. Starkville only has 15 listed on Yellow Pages in the surrounding area. Athens’ bars are all located within 10 blocks of each other. I don’t really care about the subjective categories, but this one invalidates them all. Don’t mess with my bars man.

  16. Mason

    The bars per capita is really a profoundly problematic criteria. For example, Baton Rouge has 200K more people living in it than Starkville. 229,493 vs. 23,888

    That figure tips more in LSU’s favor even when the stadiums are filled up.

    Note: Vol fan, not an LSU fan but even I know that LSU is leaps and bounds a better place to experience college football on Saturdays than Starkville could even conceive of.

    Surely this article when through the editorial process? Doesn’t really matter, the selection of criteria, while they may facts does not absolve anyone of proper application of the criteria (see per capita nonsense) and sports writers aren’t really known to concede when these flaws are pointed out.

  17. Lawrence

    I stopped reading as soon as I saw Starkville came in at No. 2. That ranking alone invalidates the entire list for anyone who lives in the real world and has actually been to many of these towns. It’s kind of like looking at MPG, headroom and trunk storage to reach the conclusion that a Prius is a better car than a Maserati. I’ll take the badass $140,000 Italian sports car every day over the $30,000 Japanese economy ride.

  18. dustin

    This poll is absolutely crap! I hope your company is better at selling real estate. Your college football criteria is crap! There are better rivalries in the SEC then Texas A&M Texas. UT v. FL or take your pic. There is better tradition in Tenn, Ga, Sc then A&m. Ive been to alot of SEC stadiums and even other conferences.Your poll was trash. And hos it was gathered im having doubts other then web reading and poll watching! Lol MSU to funny!

  19. d

    Really Starkville no championship s! Missouri A&m first year in SEC what a crap poll! Ignourant people did this poll! Fl fans are biggest Fairweather fans on planet!

  20. Larry

    Why would you skew the results towards little towns with the per capita and population portions? Starkville for example, is a freaking mud hole… worst place to see a game ever.

  21. Jessica

    Obviously whoever wrote this has never attended a sporting event, or visited any of the cities in question… :(

  22. BK

    I love it when sec fanboys get in a tizzy over stupid shit like this, oh yeah uk and fla can suck it!

  23. Kata

    UK has 44 sec championships in basketball. We rank # 1 nationally in basketball attendance over last 10 years. We put 55,000 fans in spring football ranking us in top10 nationally. WE are number one in victories for basketball. We went to 6 bowls in a row in football which ended 3 years ago. We have 8 national titles in basketball, which ranks 2nd. We have basically owned the SEC in basketball since its inception. How can UK be ranked 13th?? I have been to starksville MS. That’s one redneck small po dunk town. Who made this poll.. Was he or she smoking pot ??

  24. O'Doyle

    Seriously, How did Starkville get a 1 ranking for Sports Bars? Does any establishment that claims to be a sports bar get to be counted as one? That’s the only explanation. I lived in Starkville for three years and I can tell you honestly that ranking is flat out wrong.

    Way to destroy your credibility.

  25. Scout

    Wow. There are a lot of haters on here. Chill out people. It’s not like the ranking is going to hurt the value of your home or something.
    I’ve not been to all of these schools, but I’ve had some great times in most (I think…. it’s a little fuzzy). And Starkville is a great place to enjoy a game (and gotten better over the years).

    If you disagree so adamantly, post your list instead of trying to beat up the schools or the guys who created the list.

  26. Bo Jackson

    Are you counting Alabamas real or make believe National Championship total? They added about 8 to make themselves feel better as humans.


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