Will the Eagles parade be the largest sports parade ever?

Caveat: Never believe the crowd estimates, no matter what they are.

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Ed Newton
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The parade to celebrate the Eagles’ first Super Bowl win is going to be big. How big? Estimates keep growing.

Initial numbers of more than a million were thrown out for the Thursday, Feb. 8 event. Then came word that Philadelphia schools and those in several neighboring suburbs would be closed for the day. So will the courts, and tons of private offices. Attendance estimates more than doubled. The figure has grown to the point where officials are preparing for possibly up to two or (yep) three million people.

Could it end up being more? Can this parade go down in history as the largest American sports parade ever?

To get there, five million people will have to show up. And that’s crazy.

I’ll admit after seeing the aftermath down Broad Street Sunday night I tweeted that the Eagles parade might set a record for modern American sports parades, but I was quickly reminded by readers of some of the other big parades in recent years. The Eagles parade should rival them, but to suggest five million people may come to a parade down Broad Street when there are just about six million people in the Delaware Valley seems…unlikely. Three million seems plausible. Two million may actually show up. Any more than that is probably a lie.

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Sydney Schaefer / Billy Penn

When the Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years back in 2004, the team had a reported crowd of 3.2 million people at their parade. Boston’s parade route that day — one they’ve re-used quite often for the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and Patriots over the years — was seven miles long. The route the Eagles are taking from Lincoln Financial Field to the Art Museum is 5.2 miles long. But even back then, some were skeptical of the number being overinflated. This from the Boston.com archives:

Was it really possible that roughly the population of Madrid or Chicago had squeezed into Boston and the Cambridge side of the Charles River to see the World Series champions rumble by in duck boats? How did they get here? How did they get home? Where did they all park?

That article quoted a crowd-estimating expert who suspected the Boston crowd, while the largest of any of their championship parades to that point, came in around two million.

Last year the Cleveland Cavaliers broke a 52-year drought when LeBron James brought his hometown an NBA championship. That parade, per Ohio.com, was 1 million strong, claiming it was the sixth-largest sports celebration in recorded history, after the 2004 Red Sox parade and these other celebratory events.

Next in the sports category are three parades with an estimated 2 million people in attendance: 2013 in Chicago for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks; 1974 in Philadelphia for the Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers; and 2010 in Madrid, Spain, after the national football team won the FIFA World Cup. In 2005, about 1.75 million people attended a parade in Chicago for the 2005 World Series champ White Sox.

Those estimates did not include the 2008 Phillies parade, which had reportedly apexed near two million people. Or so we thought. In 2009, a year after the Phillies won their latest title, CSN Philly posted updated estimates of less than a million, suggesting the 2009 Yankees parade topped 1.5 million in a much bigger space.

So: If the Phillies got less than a million after the first title for the city in 28 years, has anyone actually cracked two million?

The answer: Chicago.

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Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cubs won the 2016 World Series a reported five million people went to that parade, per city officials. This, from the Chicago Tribune:

The city that works apparently took a collective day off as city officials estimated about 5 million people attended the World Series celebration. For that number to be accurate, it would mean a crowd nearly twice the city’s population took part, and that it dwarfed the estimates for the 2005 White Sox party and 2015 Blackhawks parade.

Chicago’s parade for the Cubs was so big it was reportedly the seventh-largest public human gathering in history and, yes, somehow that was a thing people looked up and wrote a story about so we don’t have to.

Only, the five million figure was surely an exaggeration.

Brett Baker of the Tribune did the math after the Cubs’ parade, and at most, he estimated there were 1.33 million people at that event. Factoring in some of the spots along the route were less populated than others, and some people who stood on the parade route made their way to the final celebration site, he put the estimate at 1 million.

That’s a pretty significant difference, and it also puts into perspective just how many people will actually show up to the Eagles parade.

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Ed Newton

To put this in further local context, the NFL Draft had a reported 100,000 fans show up the first night, and while it was totally packed near the stage, there was plenty of space further down the Parkway.

As we noted back in March of 2017, the pope’s visit was supposed to garner 800,000 visitors, but ended up with close to 145,000. Given how packed the Parkway was for that event, it’s hard to imagine many more people fitting in that area. But even if somehow a quarter-million people fill the area between the Art Museum steps and the Franklin Institute, it means upwards of two million people will be trying to cram down Broad Street and the Parkway to watch the actual parade go by on Thursday. And you thought 50 people waiting for the light to turn at Broad and Walnut to get to Wawa feels crowded.

Point is, either the estimates will be wildly overinflated — like they are in every other city — or Philly is going to explode with twice as many people as it’s ever had. Either way, no light pole is safe.