ESPN The Magazine’s 11th annual Ultimate Standings survey, the results of which are featured in The Mag’s “Franchise Issue,” hits newsstands today, and the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies have been crowned the “Best Sports Franchise” in North America.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings (122nd) and the NFL’s New York Jets (121st) were the two lowest-ranked teams in the Ultimate Standings.
In all, 122 teams from the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball were ranked in order, based on a weighted average of scores in eight areas ranging from the quantitative to the emotionally subjective: fan relations (25.2 percent); affordability (17.4); “bang for the buck” (16.8); stadium experience (12.4); players (11.30); ownership (10.2); title track (3.6) and coaching (3.1).
Senior Writer Peter Keating provides Front Row with a deeper look at this year’s rankings:
For this year’s Ultimate Standings, how did The Mag go about compiling the rankings?
This is the eleventh time we have ranked franchises across sports using the same basic formula. We ask fans to grade their favorite teams in more than two dozen categories, everything from ownership honesty to player likeability to the price of parking. We also look at what we call “Bang for the Buck,” which is how well teams turn fan dollars into wins. Then we combine all the scores according to how much fans tell us the various categories matter to them. We’re really measuring the value fans get from teams.
What sets the Memphis Grizzlies apart from other teams, whether in the NBA or not?
The Grizzlies ranking No. 1 surprised a lot of people, including the Grizzlies. But they made the Western Conference Finals last year with the second-cheapest tickets in the NBA. That’s great “Bang for the Buck.” Fans deeply identify with the players – “grit and grind” is more than a slogan, it’s a way of life in Memphis. And they love the whole experience of the FedEx Forum, where you’ve got the music of Beale Street and a drumline outside and team giveaways floating down via little parachutes inside. Fans truly feel they get something back for all the emotion and money and time they put into the Grizzlies.
What trends did you see among the top teams?
Smart small-market teams have done well in our rankings. The Grizzlies, [San Antonio] Spurs, [Indiana] Pacers and [Oklahoma City] Thunder are our top four this year, and they all pay close attention to their customers. They win at affordable prices, and they’re fan-friendly. They aren’t just raking in cash from corporate-owned luxury boxes.
The Sacramento Kings are the lowest-ranked team, but they just got new ownership and management. What, in your opinion, do the Kings needs to do to reach their goal of becoming a top franchise?
If there’s a way to be No. 122 with your arrow pointing up, that’s the Kings. The Maloof family, who owned the team for 15 years, let it rot while they collected profits and constantly threatened to move. Now, there are new owners in town, led by Vivek Ranadive, and they’re off to a good start: They’ve finally committed to staying in Sacramento, and they drafted Ben McLemore. Next, they need to spruce up Sleep Train Arena, which fans ranked the worst stadium in North America by a huge margin. I mean, fans have been sending the new owners photos of its broken toilets. They literally need to clean house.