Sunderland 2nd best sporting city in North East as Newcastle claims top spot

Adnan Januzaj in action for Sunderland against Middlesbrough.
Adnan Januzaj in action for Sunderland against Middlesbrough.

Sunderland has been leapfrogged by rival Newcastle in a league tale of great sporting cities.

According to research from ESPN and the University of Bath, Newcastle is now ranked first in the north east after rising seven places in the national ranking from 16th last year to 9th this year, overtaking Sunderland, which fell six places from fourth to tenth overall.

Newcastle United 4 Reading 1 Championship St James Park 16th August 2016. Picture by FRANK REID

Newcastle United 4 Reading 1 Championship St James Park 16th August 2016. Picture by FRANK REID

The cities were ranked on 12 factors which fans identified as key to a great sporting city.

Among the categories were value for money, success, atmosphere, history, venues, transport links and more.

Middlesbrough remains third in the North East, but was the region’s biggest climber, rising 14 places from 34th in 2015, to 20th this year.

The North East has the best average ranking out of all the regions – 13th place, and Newcastle and Sunderland’s strong performance contributes to a continued northern dominance in the top 10, with seven of the top ranked cities located in the north of the UK, up from six last year.

“We saw this year that Value for Money stood out as the most important factor, with Matchday Atmosphere coming in second, demonstrating that fans care about more than on field success.”

Steven Saunders

Leicester topped the national ranking and is followed by 2015’s top two, which have each moved down a place – Manchester in second and London in third.

Completing the top five are Liverpool in fourth and Leeds in fifth.

At the other end of the list, Blackpool came last for the second year in a row, behind York in 48th, Luton in 47th and Bournemouth in 46th.

This year, ESPN also divided the research into individual sports to reveal the best places to be a fan of football, cricket, rugby union and rugby league. On the back of Leicester City’s historic title-winning season, Leicester received the accolade of the best city to be a football fan.

Leeds ranked as the best city for both cricket and rugby league fans, while Cardiff is the top town for rugby union lovers.

Despite Leicester’s massive 17-place rise up the list, it is not the biggest climber, as Oxford jumped up 19 places from 40th to 21st.

Meanwhile, the biggest faller was Bournemouth, which dropped 24 places from 22nd to 46th.

As part of the research, ESPN asked fans to rank 12 factors that help make up a great sporting city, in order to provide weightings for each city’s results.

This year, fans ranked Value for Money as the most important factor, as it received 19% of the vote.

A city’s Matchday Atmosphere was ranked by 17% of fans as the most important, while Club Success for a city’s professional teams received 15% of fan votes.

Steven Saunders, senior editor of ESPN.co.uk, said: “In the second year of ESPN’s Greatest Sporting Cities research, it’s been interesting to see the changes, not only in the rankings but also in what matters most to fans.

“We saw this year that Value for Money stood out as the most important factor, with Matchday Atmosphere coming in second, demonstrating that fans care about more than on field success.”

Commenting on the research, Professor Thomas Curran, University of Bath, said: “The research we carry out for ESPN’s Greatest Sporting Cities combines the opinions of thousands of fans across the country, with rigorously researched third party data to really create a snapshot of what lies at the heart of the connection with fans.

“The results provide many fascinating things to consider for clubs and cities across the country that are looking to improve fan relationships.”