The Biggest Rivalries in Sports

121 teams. 128 connections. 6 pro sports.

Author’s note: this piece is on its way to becoming a fully interactive editorial on how sports rivalries stand the test of time and how they affect their respective games. For now though, scroll on to read about the project as is.

Intense rivalries have played an integral role in professional sports since professional sports began. While the competitive pressure affects players, coaches, and managers, it is perhaps felt most by the fans. Although often manifested in friendly competition, matchups occasionally lead to serious violence in the game and also in the stands.

As part of William Bevington’s Data Visualization and Information Aeshetics, I created a map of 128 rivalries (shown as thin lines) between 121 teams (shown as circles placed almost geographically) in six major professional sports, both as a print piece and as a completely interactive site built with D3.js.

The Biggest Rivalries in Sports
December 2016
Adobe Awards 2017, Semifinalist

Any Given Team

Rivalries can begin for many different reasons; indeed, some rivalries don’t even have a clear beggining - they just sort of are. For the purposes of this map, I’ve categorized all 127 matchups into one of seven types. The first two are based on location: Territorial, occurs between two teams (usually) playing in the same city, often across town from each other and occasionally in the same venue. Geographical rivalries, often known as a battle or derby, or based on the close geographical proximity of two teams.

Again and Again and Again

Three types are based on scheduling: Divisional rivalries are characterized by familiarity between two teams that face off often in the regular season, Playoff, League, and Superbowl matchups are based on games played when it matters, and Original Six rivalries are between two of the NHL’s original teams who have played each other regularly. Manufactured, a rivalry created to increase ticket sales and attendance, and historical, often based on competition between two cities off the playing field, round off the types.

Head to Head

The final print is 48"x48" in fine art paper, while the interactive piece is available at and updates automatically once weekly. A colour is assigned to each league (CFL, MLB, MLS, NFL, NBA, NHL), which is the average of all team primary colours in that league. Each team is given a circle which is sized by the number of wins against the team it’s connected to. Online, you can search for a team (by city, state, country, nickname, or mascot) and click on a matchup to see the stats.


Created with by Sam Vickars.
© 2016. All rights reserved. All trademarks property of their respective owners.
Accuracy not guaranteed. Rivalry intensities based on number of head-to-head matches, number of games won between teams, number of goals scored against opponent, and fan ratings on Data sourced from,,,,, the official website of each league (,,,,, and

Notes: The territorial rivalry between the Boston Bruins and Hartford Whalers, known as the Battle of New England, existed from 1979 to 1997, when the Whalers relocated to North Carolina. The Battle of Quebec, between Les Canadiens de Montreal and the Quebec Nordiques existed from 1979 to 1995, when the Nordiques relocated to Colorado. The expansion rivalry between the Calgary Flames and original Winnipeg Jets (not to be confused with their current incarnation) existed from 1980 to 1987 when the Jets relocated to Phoenix (now known as Arizona Coyotes). The expansion rivalry between the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota North Stars existed between 1981 and 1993, when the North Stars were spun off into the Dallas Stars and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (now known as the Anaheim Ducks). The rivalry between the Edmonton Oilers and the original Winnipeg Jets existed before the two teams entered the NHL in 1979 and lasted until 1996 when the Jets relocated to Phoenix. The territorial Battle of Montreal between Les Canadiens de Montreal and the Montreal Maroons existed from 1924 to 1938, when Maroons folded. The territorial rivalry between the New York Rangers and the New York Americans existed from 1925 to 1942, when the Americans folded to World War II. The rivalry between the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots is based on the individual rivalry between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers/San Francisco Giants stems from the former two being located in New York, as the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, respectively, until the move in 1957. The Florida Derby existed in the MLS between the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny until 2001, when both teams exited the league. It continues to exist outside of the league between the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Tampa Bay Rowdies. The Cascadia Cup has existed (unofficially) as part of the MLS since 2011, but has existed since 2004 and is awarded to the best of three teams after the season ends. The SuperClasico existed between the LA Galaxy and the now defunct Chivas USA between 2005 and 2013, when USA Chivas folded.

Fonts used: Skolar Sans Latin, designed by David Březina and Sláva Jevčinová of Rosetta Type Foundry, courtesy of Adobe Typekit. League colours based on the average of the primary or secondary colour of all teams in the respective league.

Giants - Dodgers

Major League Baseball

Historical Rivalry (2485 games played) - San Francisco Giants (1237W) vs Los Angeles Dodgers (1202W)

These two teams orginally played across town from each other in Brooklyn and New York City beginning in the late 1800s. Their ability to remain foes after a cross-country move and keep the balance has led to this being called one of the greatest rivalries in sports.

Leafs - Canadiens

National Hockey League

Original Six/Franco-Anglo Rivalry (732 games played) - Toronto Maple Leafs (338W) vs Les Canadiens de Montreal (293W)

The oldest in the NHL, the Leafs-Habs rivalry is symbolic of a country divided: the Quebecois Francophones against the Anglophones of the remainder of Canada. The two largest Canadian cities have won the most Stanley Cups of any team, facing off for the cup five times.

Celtics - Lakers

National Basketball Association

Historical Rivalry (358 games played) - Boston Celtics (199W) vs Los Angeles Lakers (159W)

While not the most contested in the NBA, this rivalry involves two of the league’s most storied teams. They have met a record twelve times in the championship series, while their combined 33 trophies account for almost half of the 68 in NBA history.

Bombers - Riders

Canadian Football League

The Banjo Bowl (221 games played) - Winnipeg Blue Bombers (126W) vs Saskatchewan Roughriders (91W)

Known as the Banjo Bowl (when played on Labour Day) since 2004, this rivalry is older than the Canadian Football League itself and extends far beyond the field, fueled by traditional competition between the two prairie provinces.

Bears - Packers

National Football League

Historical Rivalry (187 games played) - Chicago Bears (94W) vs Green Bay Packers (93W)

The longest-running in the NFL, this rivalry began in 1921 and is characterized by the balance between the two teams. The mutual Chicago- Wisconsin hatred has sparked similar rivalries in the MLB and NBA, as well as at the collegiate level.