The “most winningest” team in sports

Rob Boudreau
April 7, 2009

A recent conversation I had with Chris Pope included the phrase “most winningest”. Despite the grammatical tornado that this phrase is, I put it into Google. The results were astounding. “Most winningest” is used all over the sporting world,¬†and not just by our editor Austin Kent when talking about his best fantasy basketball league performances either.

With 26 championships, baseball’s New York Yankees can be considered sports’ “most winningest” franchise. No other professional sports team has that many. This seems a bit unfair. There are over a dozen teams that haven’t even existed for 26 years. So, based on the length of their existence, who is the real most winningest franchise in sports?

With 26 titles in 108 years, the Yankees have a 24.07 championship per cent win rate. The mark to beat is set. Before diving in to find a new winner, let’s establish some ground rules.

First of all, there is an overwhelmingly large amount of sports teams in the world. This study will stick to the four major North American leagues, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball.

We’ll focus only on the 122 sports teams that currently exist in the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB. Defunct teams will have no impact. For example, the Montreal Maroons won Lord Stanley’s Cup twice during their 14-year existence before financial trouble caused them to fold in 1938. That percentage puts them ahead of a large majority of the existing teams today, but let’s give those teams some credit for enduring.

Team relocation is acceptable. Hockey’s Dallas Stars began in Oakland in 1967. Since then, the franchise has moved to California to Cleveland to Minnesota and finally to Dallas in 1993. So while the Dallas Stars have one championship in 16 years, we’ll consider the franchise to have one title in 42 years.

Championships won by a franchise as part of a previous league are recognized only if the existing league recognizes them as well. Here are two examples:

1. The Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League won consecutive titles in 1946 and ’47 before the league merged with the Basketball Association of America to form the NBA. The Royals then won the NBA title in 1951. After several relocations, the team settled in Sacramento to become the Kings we know today, and by our “moving is okay” rule, the Kings have three championships to their name. If it is good enough for the NBA, it is good enough for us.

2. The now-deceased World Hockey Association was home to four current NHL franchises, including the Winnipeg Jets (now Phoenix Coyotes). The Jets won three WHA championships, none of which are recognized by the NHL. These totals will not count in our study.

We now have our ground rules. So let’s take a look at some of the numbers, shall we?

The team with the most championships in each sport also happens to have the highest championship winning percentage (CWP) of each team as well.

Of the 14 teams with double-digit CWPs. only the Florida Marlins have existed for less than 37 years. This small sample size shows that the Marlins’ two championships in 16 years is good for a 12.5 CWP. By our standards, if the Marlins win the World Series for the next three years, they could become the new “most winningest” franchise in sports.

The most successful NFL team pales in comparison to every other league’s top-prize winners. Sitting in first with just 13.33 per cent, the Green Bay Packers have 12 championships in their 90-year history. Right behind them with eight titles in 63 years (12.70 per cent) is the Cleveland Browns. Here’s where things get interesting for the NFL.

The Browns were “inactive” from 1996-99. After the ’96 season, the Browns moved to Baltimore. So although this is relocation, existing Cleveland records would remain in Cleveland, while Baltimore would begin fresh. Cleveland, as originally planned, was revived in 1999.

If we don’t count these inactive years, the Browns would have eight championships in 60 years, tying them with the Packers at 13.33 per cent for most winningest NFL franchise. However, if you make this adjustment, you would also have to make adjustments to reflect work stoppages, such as the NHL lockouts and the MLB players’ strike.

So, who is the most winningest? The Boston Celtics in the NBA have 17 championships in 63 years, good enough for a 26.98 CWP; 2.91 per cent better than the Yankees. As defending champions, they have only managed to increase their lead. Without it, they are still more successful than the Yankees at 25.39 per cent.

So it looks like the Red Sox aren’t the only Boston-based franchise to have a rivalry with the Yankees. Congratulations to the Boston Celtics for being the real most winningest franchise in sports.

For more, check out the rest of Rob Boudreau’s “Most Winningest” series at

The “most winningest” team in hockey

The “most winningest” team in football

The “most winningest” team in baseball

The “most winningest” team in basketball


The Author:

Rob Boudreau