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Cleveland or Chicago? Ultimate Standings guru compares World Series cities’ fan bases

Tonight at Progressive Field in Cleveland, two long-suffering baseball fan bases will have the ultimate reasons to cheer or lament.

So we measure the value teams are providing, and the numbers are driven by the fans themselves. It’s not me rating all the franchises behind a curtain!
– Peter Keating on
ESPN’s Ultimate Standings

The Chicago Cubs play the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series (ESPN Radio, 8 p.m. ET). When this thrilling series finally ends, either the Cubs will claim their first MLB world championship since 1908 or the Indians will celebrate the franchise’s first Fall Classic title since 1948.

Which fan base deserves that World Series championship more, if only to reward fervent loyalty? There’s no empirical way to answer that question.

Still, ESPN senior writer Peter Keating, who oversees the Ultimate Standings, provides interesting, mathematical looks at 122 North American pro franchises and their followings.

Front Row asked Keating to consider both franchises in terms of the 2016 Ultimate Standings – and he explains why the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning ranks No. 1.

Where do this year’s World Series teams rank in the Ultimate Standings?
The Cubs and Indians are both teams with hard-working, likable athletes, led by smart managers, playing in great stadiums – all qualities that fans like. And both soared in our Standings this year: The Indians ranked 21st (up 40 spots), while the Cubs were No. 48 (up 29).

But there are big differences between these franchises. For a long time, the Cubs were buried toward the bottom of our rankings, basically because they were charging nearly the highest prices in baseball while losing 95 games a year. Now the club is committed to winning: In our surveys, the Cubs organization ranked No. 1 in all of sports in willingness to pay for quality players and coaches. And Cubs games have become a luxury product: still expensive, but making customers happy. Cubs followers invest the most time and emotion in their team of any fans in MLB, according to our data.

The Indians, on the other hand, ranked just 100th in willingness to pay for talent. But they charged an average of just $25.61 per ticket this season and had the fifth-cheapest overall fan costs in MLB. They’re more about bargains on both ends. Also, Indians fans are typically among the most emotional in MLB, but they are showing even more loyalty than usual this year. We asked fans to rate how their feelings about their favorite teams have changed recently, and Cleveland fans have increased their commitment more than any in baseball (4.06 on a scale from 1 to 5).

What’s next for the Ultimate Standings

“When we started this project, we worked with a consultant named Robert Shulman, a really bright and funny guy who unfortunately passed away in 2006. Robert always wanted us to study stadium bathrooms to see how their condition affects fan opinion. We’ll get there sooner or later, but I think first we might try expanding to include MLS and the WNBA.”

Where does all this data come from?
We ask fans to grade their favorite teams in 25 categories, everything from coaching strength to player likability to stadium wi-fi. And we look at what we call “Bang for the Buck,” which is how efficiently organizations convert fan dollars into wins. So we measure the value teams are providing, and the numbers are driven by the fans themselves. It’s not me rating all the franchises behind a curtain!

Why do the Tampa Bay Lightning rank No. 1 this year?
They’re a Cup contender with below-average prices in a great arena. But the real key is that they ranked first among all teams in having an owner and players who show appreciation to their fans.

This is the 14th edition of the Ultimate Standings. Does anything still surprise you?
Every year, the Standings remind me that folks who pay for their seats don’t need championship guarantees or billion-dollar arenas. They want players who give their best effort and owners who are genuinely committed to their community.

Where did your favorite teams rank?
I love the Mets (82nd), New York Giants (75th) and Knicks (114th). Sometimes you appreciate value by missing it.

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