In their annual rankings based on feedback from fans about what they want most from their favorite teams, ESPN found that the Toronto Maple Leafs ranked dead-last of the 122 professional sports franchises in North America. The criteria was more than just tradition or fan loyalty; rather, it took into account "Bang For The Buck", "Fan Relations", and "Affordability" as some of the factors. The Leafs didn't fare well at all in any of the eight criteria, dropping them to the bottom of the barrel.
"Every year, through fan surveys and financial analysis, we determine which MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL franchises offer the greatest rewards for all the emotion, money and time fans invest in them. And every year, we're struck by a basic finding: Fans aren't so unrealistic as to demand championships from their clubs every season. Moreover, fans also have indicated recently that they don't care all that much about expensive new ballparks or brilliant coaches. Instead, they want value: cheap tickets, hardworking players, committed owners. Throughout the following pages, you'll see that many teams fail, sometimes spectacularly, to get that message."You know, that actually sounds pretty plausible. Fans wants teams that emulate the common man in the stands: economical, hard-working, and committed. They aren't there for the flashy new gadgets or the shiny new stadium. Instead, they want a team that resembles themselves on the field with the blue-collar, work-your-butts-off mentality that a vast number of us live every single day.
In Bang For The Buck ("Wins during the past three years (regular season plus postseason) per revenues directly from fans, adjusted for league schedules"), the Leafs come dead-last there. Montreal is only slightly better at 118th overall, and Winnipeg comes in third-worst at 116th overall. The top team? The Phoenix Coyotes who are second overall.
In Fan Relations ("Openness and consideration toward fans by players, coaches and management"), Toronto comes in at 119th overall out of 122 teams. Columbus was next worst at 106th overall, and the Islanders round out the bottom three at 104th overall. Tampa Bay is the top team at fourth, and are followed by Detroit at fifth, and Pittsburgh sits sixth overall.
In Ownership ("Honesty and loyalty to core players and local community"), Toronto finished third-worst of the NHL teams at 112th overall. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets and the New York Islanders finished worse at 115th and 119th overall, respectively. Image problems with management and ownership are a clear reason why these three teams are ranked so low. In comparison, Detroit was ranked second overall, Pittsburgh was ranked fourth overall, and Tampa Bay was the third-best NHL team at ninth overall.
In Affordability ("Price of tickets, parking and concessions"), this was almost a given that the Leafs would be at the bottom. Sure enough, they showed up at 122nd overall. Just ahead of them, though, were the Vancouver Canucks at 121st overall, and the New York Rangers were 117th overall. With 15 teams in the bottom 30 spots, the NHL did not come away looking like a great place to save a little cash. On the other end, Phoenix was ranked second overall, Nashville was ranked seventh, and the Florida Panthers were ranked twelfth overall. It says something, though, when the top-ten teams in the NHL in terms of affordability were all, at one point or another, in some sort of financial crisis in the last decade. There may be record profits for the NHL, but at what cost?
In Stadium Experience ("Quality of arena and game-day promotions as well as friendliness of environment"), the Leafs crawled out of the basement. Barely. They ranked fourth-worst in the NHL at 104th overall. Below them in order were Calgary (110th), Edmonton (119th), and the New York Islanders (122nd). Having been to a game, I can attest to the stadium experience at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Minnesota Wild have a great atmosphere, and they deserve their sixth overall standing. The Tampa Bay Lightning ranked ninth overall, and Pittsburgh grabbed the bronze medal at twelfth overall.
In Players ("Effort on the field and likability off it"), the Columbus Blue Jackets were ranked as the worst team at 122nd overall. The Leafs finished one spot ahead of them at 121st overall. The Calgary Flames were third-worst at 115th overall. Surprisingly, the Phoenix Coyotes - Raffi Torres' team - finished eleventh overall as the best NHL team. The New Jersey Devils were 13th overall, and the Rangers were 15th overall. But the Coyotes? That shocks me. I'm not sure how they got that high when it seems like Raffi Torres had the world against him last season.
In Coaching ("Strength of on-field leadership"), the Maple Leafs were the sixth-worst team at 111th overall. They finished ahead of Calgary (115th), Edmonton (117th), the Islanders (119th), Columbus (120th), and Montreal (121st). If you can name the head coaches of all five teams below the Maple Leafs without looking them up, congratulations to you because all five fired at least one coach within the last calendar year. Phoenix grabbed top spot again in the NHL at sixth overall, and were followed by the St. Louis Blues at twelfth overall and the Detroit Red Wings at 13th overall. Again, I'm not sure how Phoenix got to the top, but it's nice to see Dave Tippett get some credit for the work he's doing.
In Title Track ("Championships already won or expected in the lifetime of current fans"), Toronto is second-worst at 121st overall, trailed only by the Columbus Blue Jackets at 122nd of 122 teams. The Minnesota Wild were third-worst, but they actually finished at 103rd overall! The Penguins and Red Wings tied as the top NHL clubs at seventh overall, while the Bruins and Devils tied for second at eleventh overall. I honestly don't see the Devils ranking this high next season, especially if Martin Brodeur finishes his career this season.
In the Leafs' defence, I'm not sure why ESPN does any stories on hockey whatsoever. They continually show that they give little to no regard for hockey on their website unless it's some ridiculous news story. This ranking system may be one of those news stories, but it's hard to for me to argue against the affordability factor when I know the Leafs have to sign me up for a mortgage when I visit their ticket booth. Their ticket prices for the average fan are ludicrous, so that one I will agree with wholeheartedly.
Take a peek over those lists, readers, and tell me if you think ESPN's rankings are flawed or not. I'm not saying that Phoenix shouldn't be first in the "Bang For The Buck" category or the "Coaching" category, but I think there are other teams who are as good or even better than Phoenix. Let me know what you think in the comments!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!