It's a common belief in Philadelphia that local fans are the most passionate in the country, especially because of crazed Eagles fans.

Findings from a major national survey paint a somewhat different picture.

Philadelphia does rank high in big-league interest, but it's not even No. 1 in Pennsylvania, according to Scarborough Research.

And Phillies fans stand out much more in their sport than Eagles fans do in football, suggesting that the baseball team may be the difference maker in comparisons with other cities.

Over the next week, we'll roll out some of the surprising findings, but first let's focus on how Philly fans stack up nationally.

About 210,000 people across the country, after being phoned by Scarborough, agreed to fill out detailed questionnaires about all sorts of consumer interests and habits. The results became available in February, though the process lasted from August 2011 to September 2012.

One question asked people if they were "very," "somewhat" or "not at all" interested in one or more of the four biggest sports leagues - the NFL, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, or the National Basketball Association.

Here are the Top 10 markets - "designated media areas" - ranked by percentage of fans who said they were "very interested":

1. Green Bay, Wisc., 57 percent.

2. Milwaukee, Wisc., 56.

3. Pittsburgh, Pa., 53.

4. New Orleans, La., 53.

5. Baltimore, Md., 48.

6. Boston, Mass., 47.

7. Colorado Springs/Pueblo, Colo., 46.

8. Providence, R.I./New Bedford, Mass., 46.

9. St. Louis, Mo., 46.

10. Philadelphia, Pa., 45 percent.

The national average: 38 percent.

Odd list, isn't it? No New York or Chicago, but Colorado Springs? Only two cities with all four sports make the cut, while a town with just one team (Green Bay) leads the way.

Apparently, in small cities where there's less to do, sports can become disproportionately popular, especially if there's a franchise or two nearby that's recently won a championship, explained Bill Nielsen, head of Scarborough's sports marketing division.

That's why he found Philadelphia's ranking "pretty impressive," given that it's the biggest market on the list and second only to Boston among the nation's four-sports cities.

Do the same list by media market size, and Philadelphia finishes far ahead of some other major areas. (Number in parentheses is the rank by four-sport interest.)

1. New York, 36 percent (No. 43).

2. Los Angeles, 33 percent (55).

3. Chicago, 42 percent (16).

4. Philadelphia, 45 percent (10).

5. Dallas-Fort Worth, 42 percent (14).

6. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, 36 percent (42).

7. Boston, 47 percent (6).

8. Washington, D.C., 39 percent (29).

9. Atlanta, 37 percent (33).

10. Houston, 32 percent (58).

Note that only Dallas and Chicago join Philly and Boston in the Top 20, while San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Houston can't crack the Top 40 - and yet Albany/Schenectady, Grand Rapids, Toledo, Rochester, Albuquerque and Harrisburg/Lancaster/Lebanon (37 percent) all do.

In Philadelphia, female fans show more team spirit than both genders do in L.A. or Houston. About 34 percent of Philly-area women say they're "very interested" in at least one major sport, just a bit behind Boston's 37 percent, Nielsen said.

Nationally, 27 percent of women expressed being "very interested" in the four leagues.

In absolute numbers overall, though, New York is king, said Nielsen (no relation to the TV ratings folks). In the NFL, for example, the New York Giants have the third lowest market peneration, percentage-wise, but are No. 1 in the league in terms of total fans, with about 7.7 million, he said.

Neilsen acknowledges that there are other, perhaps better, ways to measure fanaticism, like TV ratings, and ticket and merchandise sales.

"This has nothing to do with people who attend games," he said.

Also, the meaning of "very interested" could vary from market to market (as well as fan to fan).

Compared to the zealots who call Philly sports-talk radio, a Philadelphia fan who attends five games a year might think that's no big deal. His counterpart in West Palm Beach, though, might consider that a major commitment.

That could mean that smaller towns tend to overrate their enthusiasm.

Next report: Eagles fans average in NFL?

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or