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The Ultimate Standings rank MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL franchises according to ..... A A six-bedroom, nine-bathroom manor in Chappaqua, N.Y., on 2.25 acres of  ...
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STANDINGS

BEST FRANCHISE IN SPORTS

BEST SURPRISE PAGE 76

BEST DEFENSE PAGE 82

BEST OF EVERYTHING PAGE 86

BEST MECHANICS PAGE 104

BEST WHAT BETTER WAY TO START OUR BEST IN SPORTS MEGAISSUE THAN BY SALUTING A TEAM THAT GIVES BACK TO ITS FANS THROUGH PERFORMANCE ON THE FIELD AND PRIDE IN THE COMMUNITY. OUR NINTH SURVEY SAYS THE GREEN BAY PACKERS ARE THE NO. 1 FRANCHISE IN SPORTS.

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BY PETER KEATING

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UNDER THE RADAR RACE PAGE 114

RECORD PAGE 120

FANS IN AMERICA PAGE 128 FINANCIAL ANALYSIS BY the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the ­University of Oregon (Steve Acampa, Andrew Behl, Cally Deal, Michael DeMartini, Timothy Dobyns, Patrick Haas, Travis Hanson, Peter Raschio, Carolyne Wood and Bill Zachry)

TEAM RESEARCH BY Morty Ain, Jason Catania, Anna ­Katherine Clemmons, LaRue Cook, Ian Gordon, Andy Kamenetzky, Brian Kamenetzky, Max Klinger, Eddie Matz, Matt Meyers and Doug Mittler

FAN SURVEYS BY Maddock Douglas and NetReflector

BEST TECHNOLOGY PAGE 152

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YOU KNOW WHAT MAKES SPORTS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER FORMS OF ENTERTAINMENT? TEAMS STICK AROUND, ALLOWING FANS TO PASS THEIR LOVE (AND HATRED) ACROSS GENERATIONS. IF YOU’RE A TEENAGER, YOU’RE PROBABLY NOT GOING TO LISTEN TO YOUR FATHER’S FAVORITE tunes or watch his favorite films; music and movie stars go out of style. Indeed, as adolescents, many people define themselves in opposition to their parents’ tastes, and need to go off to college and eventually grow up before they learn to appreciate the classics. Except when it comes to sports. When Dad points to Albert Pujols and explains there used to be a guy named Keith Hernandez at first base for the Cardinals, and before him, a man named Stan Musial, well, those players wore the same colors as today’s stars, and sometimes the same numbers, and faced the same opponents during the same months in ballparks that looked a lot like the stadium where Pujols plays today. Their batting stances and fielding styles and personalities are all entry points into conversations we actually enjoy, leading most of us to adopt our parents’ favorite teams at a time in our lives when we’re

doing our best to shed ourselves of everything else about Mom and Pop. For the best fans, the familial bonds of sports grow so enduring, it’s worth almost anything to honor the connection. And the best teams find ways to reward that devotion. That’s the ultimate lesson from this ninth edition of The Mag’s Ultimate Standings, which combine fan surveys with financial analysis to determine the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL franchises that give the most back for all the time, money and emotion that fans invest in them. Value has always figured prominently in our rankings, but this year, you told us louder than ever that commitment to fans matters more than anything—more than smart coaching, shiny new stadiums, even championship rings. The teams at the top of

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our Standings are winners on the field, but they’re truly notable for returning fans’ love, as evidenced by keeping core players, discounting tickets, investing in their communities or staging great promotions. You know you’re part of the family when you’re a fan of the Saints or the Angels, the Thunder or the Lightning, or, most of all, our No. 1 team in 2011, the Packers. Packer Nation is filled with stories of unbelievable fidelity. Consider John Stone, a 34-year-old car salesman in Homewood, Ill. As a child, Stone lived with his grandmother, Verletta, and they would sit around her kitchen table and listen to the radio. Not to music or news, but to Packers games. Verletta lived in Chicago but had spent time in Wisconsin, where she became a huge Bart Starr fan, and Stone became so attached to the Pack that when he played football in high school, he tried to model his play on Ahman Green and Reggie White. In January, Verletta died at the age of 91, just before Green Bay beat the Bears in the NFC championship game. The day after that game, Stone wore a Packers tie to work in her memory. It was a heartfelt idea, but there was one problem: The car dealership is less than 20 miles outside of Chicago and had done advertising campaigns with the Bears. “My

SCOTT BOEHM/GETTY IMAGES

FRANCHISE IN SPORTS

BEST FRANCHISE IN SPORTS

CHAD OCHOCINCO

prices to see games. And they dominated the customer-service categories of our survey, finishing first among all pro teams in areas such as “has a fanfriendly environment at games,” “has players who are accessible to fans,” “provides an avenue for fan feedback” and “shows a commitment to their community.” To decide how to best GREEN BAY PACKERS CINCINNATI BENGALS expand the south end zone of Lambeau Last Year’s Rank  9 Last Year’s Rank 90 Field, the Packers sent an online survey Title Track 1 (T) Title Track 122 to more than 30,000 season ticketOwnership 5 Ownership 120 holders, asking them what they’d like Coaching 26 Coaching 114 to see and what they would be willing Players 5 Players 122 to pay for new seats. When the team Fan Relations 10 Fan Relations 122 does build, it has announced it won’t Affordability 17 Affordability 114 seek public money. Stadium Experience 1 Stadium Experience 110 Yet the Green and Gold make a lot Bang for the Buck 4 Bang for the Buck  95 of green and gold. The Packers have generated $195 million in operating income over the past 10 years, while Forbes estimates the value of their just like he has with the Pack, franchise has soared from $392 million to Teaching them good sportsmanship and he’ll $1 billion. The club has little debt and maintains always have their back. a $127 million “preservation fund,” which is We know, we know. Sophisticated fans—that basically a giant savings account. Green Bay’s is, all of us who have been compelled by our business model recognizes the needs of all its favorite players and teams, and in particular by stakeholders—customers, future customers, the events of the past year, to believe that hometown and shareholders—and is wildly sports is “just business”—may need to retch successful. Maybe that’s because as the only right about now. Can this kind of sentimental publicly owned team in American pro sports, the claptrap actually serve as the foundation of a Packers aren’t driven by the needs or ego of an modern sports franchise? individual owner. “We are literally owned by the Why, yes. Yes, it can. The Packers are a champifans,” says team president and CEO Mark Murphy, onship team that charges fans below-average a former All-Pro safety with the Redskins.

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122

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FROM TOP: TANNEN MAURY/EPA/LANDOV; BRIAN SPURLOCK/US PRESSWIRE

boss came over to me and said, ‘How are you wearing that s—?’” says Stone. “Then he said, ‘Get the f— out of my showroom!’” Just like that, Stone was out of a job. But, as he says, “I wanted to honor my grandmother.” Thing is, the Packers show appreciation for that kind of dedication. Green Bay actually has a Fan Hall of Fame at Lambeau Field, hanging plaques of the most faithful cheeseheads near likenesses of player greats like Forrest Gregg and James Lofton. This year’s fan finalists included Gene Noonan of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., who got into his first Packers game in 1945 by paying older boys 25 cents to throw him and his brother over the fence. And then there’s Sara Lavado of Tewksbury, Mass., who heeded a radio call to shovel snow at Lambeau while visiting relatives in 1997, and played Packers game highlights between songs at her wedding in 2010. And don’t forget John O’Neill of Cross Plains, Wis., who dresses as “St. Vince,” a papal version of Coach Lombardi, and drives 150 miles to Green Bay games in a yellow and green ’57 Chevy that has Packers helmets holding the speakers and Packers carpeting on the floor, raising money for cancer charities along the way. Those are some impressive candidates, and they were all beaten out—in a fan vote—by Tom Little, a high school football coach in Mount Sterling, Ill., whose sons are named Vince and Beau, and whose wife, Dolly, nominated him for the Fan Hall with a poem. Here’s a sample stanza: Since 2002 the football program has come a long way, Who knows, maybe someday he will coach in Green Bay. But he has always stayed true to his players,

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“Every decision we make, we’re thinking, What will the fans’ reaction be to this? And our priorities are to win championships, be financially viable and stay in Green Bay. Any profits we make go right back into the organization.” Those profits declined sharply in 2010, from $20.1 million to $9.8 million, leading many analysts to wring their hands over rising player costs. But look at the situation on the field: Green Bay has gone from a 6-10 team to an 11-5 team to Super Bowl winners over the past three seasons, in good measure by locking up key players to long-term deals; receiver Greg Jennings, offensive tackle Chad Clifton, safety Nick Collins and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett all got huge raises in the Packers’ 2010 fiscal year. So, yes, the franchise took a hit in profits to invest in a championship run, which worked, and is sure to pay off in higher ticket and merchandise revenues in seasons to come. The real problem in the NFL—and it’s coming in the NBA, too—isn’t that Green Bay made “only” $9.8 million in profits last year. It’s that the No. 122 team in our rankings, the Cincinnati Bengals, made $49.4 million last year, according to Forbes. Yes, you read that right. From 2001 to 2010, while going 68–91–1 with exactly two playoff appearances (both first-round losses), the Bengals are $263 million in the black, and the value of the franchise has soared from $479 million to $905 million. Owners love to claim they take on too much of the “risk” in sports, but exactly what risks do they mean? Upstart teams won’t steal away their business. Nor will

GM, and it’s hard to tell whether the players he has collected over the years are more notorious for their losing, off-field antics or arrests. And now Cincinnati fans are snapping. A few have tried to organize against the team. One group, called “WhoDeyRevolution,” has staged protests like bringing 1,000 urinal cakes inscribed “98–186–1 - Get Pissed” into Paul Brown Stadium.

THE PACKERS’ BUSINESS MODEL RECOGNIZES THE NEEDS OF ALL THEIR STAKEHOLDERS, UNLIKE SO MANY TEAMS DRIVEN BY THE NEEDS AND EGOS OF INDIVIDUAL OWNERS.

networks, cable companies or digital service providers ever stop hungering to show their games. The combination of monopoly and TV money is enough to make even the Bengals insanely profitable. In their own way, the Bengals also care about family—the Brown family, to be precise. Owner Mike Brown, whose legendary father, Paul, launched the franchise in 1967 for an $8 million fee, is a nice guy. But the staff directory reveals that he has more relatives on the payroll than team doctors, and between 1994 and 2000 the Bengals paid him and members of his family more than $50 million, according to court documents from a 2007 probate trial. That might not be so bad except that Brown refuses to hire a

But most are just giving up: The Bengals didn’t sell out the last four home games of their dismal 2010 campaign and got blacked out of local TV. In our survey, fans ranked the team dead last in all sports in expectations for a championship; player likability, effort and accessibility; fanfriendliness; and promotions and giveaways. That’s an awful lot of hopelessness. Fortunately for the Brown clan, the Bengals enjoy one of the sweetest stadium deals on the planet. According to independent analysts, taxpayers paid more than $400 million, nearly full freight, to build Paul Brown Stadium, which opened in 2000. And there’s no splitting stadium

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revenues with local government—the club keeps all of the money from concession and signage sales, all of the profits from parking, and pays Hamilton County, Ohio, just a quarter per ticket. What’s more, the Bengals are trying to squeeze the county for an extension of their cushy arrangement. Now ask yourself: Should every team have financial security like that? See, over the past few years, innovative big-market NFL teams like Dallas and New England have found ways— primarily luxury boxes and club seats—to boost revenues that they don’t have to share with other clubs. When they spend that money, it drives up the costs of players for every franchise. And that’s been hurting small-market teams (like Jacksonville and, in fact, Green Bay), teams with bad leases (Oakland) and especially smallmarket teams with bad leases (Buffalo). The NFL would like to relevel the playing field among its clubs without requiring teams to share more revenues. That’s why the owners are trying to take something like $1 billion away from players. That’s what the lockout is about. That’s pretty much all the lockout is about. The Packers’ way is to stay as close as possible to fans. The Bengals’ way is to feast off guaranteed money. Across the following pages, with all the numbers they contain, we’re telling the leagues what you told us: They better find ways to reward No. 1 more than No. 122.

ALLEN FREDRICKSON/ICON SMI

FRANCHISE IN SPORTS

BEST FRANCHISE IN SPORTS

THE METHOD TO OUR MADNESS Coaching 3.9%

The Tennessee Titans crashed the hardest in our 2011 rankings, dropping 61 spots to continue a two-year slide that mirrored their performance on the field. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning soared 68 places, doing well enough to finish just behind the Packers in our overall standings. And two teams maintained exactly the same ranking as last year: the No. 23 Anaheim Ducks and the No. 88 Houston Astros. The Lightning made it to Game 7 of the conference finals while offering the cheapest game experience (tickets + concessions + parking + program) in the NHL, reminding a young generation of fans of the way the team made Tampa a hockey town in 2004, when the Bolts won the championship. Just ask Caitlyn McElhone, who attended the ’04 Finals in her mom’s womb and, as an infant, sat in the Stanley Cup as part of a team promotion. Caitlyn’s now 6 and can tell you why she plans to attend more Lightning games next season: “I like hot dogs. My dad likes beer. My favorite player is Stamkos. I have a Bolts flag with his number on it.” What more could a fan want?

Bang for the Buck 24.3%

Stadium Experience 9.1%

Players 16.6%

Affordability 14.1%

Tampa Bay Lightning

75 to 9

Memphis Grizzlies

+66

85 to 26

Chicago Bulls

+59(T)

117 to 58 Philadelphia 76ers

Fan Relations 16.5% The Ultimate Standings rank MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL franchises according to how much they give back to fans for the time, money and emotion they invest in them. Here’s how, in four steps: First, working with Maddock Douglas, an Elmhurst, Ill., consulting firm, we conducted a poll of 1,003 sports fans across North America to determine what they want most from their favorite teams. The survey covered 21 topics, from “has players who always give their best effort” to “provides avenues for fan feedback.” Second, through ESPN.com, we asked fans to rate their favorite clubs in these 21 categories. We received more than 69,000 responses—thanks to all of you who participated!—and grouped those responses into seven of the eight broad categories you see on these pages. Third, with the help of researchers at the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, we determined how efficiently teams convert dollars from fans into on-field wins (regular and postseason). These calculations are the basis for the remaining category, Bang for the Buck. Finally, we combined each team’s scores (not its rankings) across all eight categories into one final weighted average, taking each category’s importance from our national survey. (For example, fans rated Affordability about 50% more important than Ownership.) The result is the 2011 Ultimate Standings: the only list of rankings that combines fan perspective with an objective measure of how well teams turn fan dollars into wins.

THE RANKING LIST

70 to 2

+68

UP

+59(T)

98 to 48

Indiana Pacers

+50

95 to 47

Kansas City Chiefs

+48

DOWN

37 to 98 Tennessee Titans

-61

44 to 103 Atlanta Hawks

-59

39 to 97

Carolina Panthers -58

10 to 65

Cleveland Cavaliers -55

55 to 108 Seattle Mariners

1-25

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26-50

1

Green Bay Packers

6

Oklahoma City Thunder

11 Buffalo Sabres

16 Orlando Magic

21 Baltimore Ravens

2

Tampa Bay Lightning

7

Pittsburgh Steelers

12 Texas Rangers

17 Detroit Red Wings

22 Carolina Hurricanes

3

New Orleans Saints

8

Colorado Rockies

13 San Jose Sharks

18 Nashville Predators

23 Anaheim Ducks

4

Los Angeles Angels

9

Memphis Grizzlies

14 Indianapolis Colts

19 Atlanta Braves

24 Philadelphia Phillies

5

San Antonio Spurs

10 Pittsburgh Penguins

15 Cincinnati Reds

20 Atlanta Falcons

25 Tampa Bay Rays

FOR IN-DEPTH REPORTING ON ALL 122 TEAMS IN OUR STANDINGS—WITH COMPLETE CATEGORY RANKINGS—GO TO ESPN.COM/INSIDER

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FROM TOP: SCOTT AUDETTE/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES; ZUMA PRESS/ICON SMI

Title Track 6.7% Ownership 9.0%

ULTIMATE MOVERS

BEST FRANCHISE IN SPORTS

ULTIMATE CATEGORY WINNERS & LOSERS TITLE TRACK Championships won or expected within the lifetime of current fans 1-3 (tie) Detroit Red Wings, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Penguins 122 Cincinnati Bengals OWNERSHIP Honesty and loyalty to core players and to community 1 Detroit Red Wings 122 Atlanta Thrashers COACHING Strength of on-field leadership 1 New England Patriots 122 Detroit Pistons PLAYERS Effort on the field, likeability off it 1 San Antonio Spurs 122 Cincinnati Bengals FAN RELATIONS Openness and consideration by players, coaches and management toward fans 1 San Antonio Spurs 122 Cincinnati Bengals

ULTIMATE SWAG

Note to all sports that aren’t baseball: America’s pastime has got you beat in the awesome giveaway department, and it’s not even close. Forget peanuts and Cracker Jacks—major league teams are sending fans home with keepsakes to treasure (who doesn’t want a bank in the shape of Joe Maddon’s head?), and some you’ll grow to love. Literally. Can you say Ch-ch-ch-Chia? Here are the goods on the goodies, gathered from five of the top 10 teams with the best/most frequent promotions, as voted by you, the fans. There’s still time to grab some of these promos for your very own.   -HALLIE GROSSMAN

AFFORDABILITY Price of tickets, parking and concessions 1 Los Angeles Angels 122 Toronto Maple Leafs

Los Angeles Angels May 7: Angels Kids Troll May 10: Angels Wrestling Mask (This was one for the record books: The Halos now own the Guinness mark for most people wearing costume masks.) Aug. 23: Rally Monkey Chia Pet

STADIUM EXPERIENCE Quality of arena, fan-friendliness of environment, frequency of game-day promotions 1 Green Bay Packers 122 New York Islanders BANG FOR THE BUCK Wins over the past two seasons per dollar contributed directly by fans (adjusted for differences in league schedules) 1 Memphis Grizzlies 122 Toronto Maple Leafs

THE RANKING LIST

Milwaukee Brewers May 24: Bernie Brewer Lawn Ornament (The “Where’s Bernie” scavenger hunt was so popular that some greedy fans ignored the one-ornament-per-household limit.

Lucky for the rest of us, some Bernies are now available on eBay for the bargain price of $75 and up.) July 30: Miller Lite Beer Vendor Bobblehead Tampa Bay Rays May 1: Joe Maddon Bank (The piggy bank’s resemblance is uncanny.) July 3: DJ Kitty Puppet Sept. 4: Evan Longoria Cereal Bowl and Spoon Set Philadelphia Phillies April 17: Phanatic “Face” T-Shirt

June 26: Player Beach Towel,

featuring Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt (Because Phillie fans can’t go down the Shore without the Four Aces.) July 24: Chase Utley Fathead Jr. Cincinnati Reds April 30: Joey Votto MVP Bobblehead May 14: Sparky Anderson Bronze Statue July 3: Bronson Arroyo Plush Doll (If he doesn’t get his ERA under 5, Reds fans can have fun sticking pins in it.)

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26 Chicago Bulls

31 Portland Trail Blazers

36 Chicago Blackhawks

41 Philadelphia Flyers

46 Dallas Stars

27 Washington Capitals

32 San Francisco Giants

37 Houston Rockets

42 Denver Nuggets

47 Kansas City Chiefs

28 Phoenix Coyotes

33 Arizona Diamondbacks

38 New England Patriots

43 Vancouver Canucks

48 Indiana Pacers

29 Dallas Mavericks

34 St. Louis Cardinals

39 Minnesota Twins

44 Miami Heat

49 St. Louis Blues

30 Milwaukee Brewers

35 New Orleans Hornets

40 Boston Celtics

45 Jacksonville Jaguars

50 New Jersey Devils

FOR IN-DEPTH REPORTING ON ALL 122 TEAMS IN OUR STANDINGS—WITH COMPLETE CATEGORY RANKINGS—GO TO ESPN.COM/INSIDER

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PHOTOGRAPH BY TOM SCHIERLITZ

BEST FRANCHISE IN SPORTS

ULTIMATE REAL ESTATE POP QUIZ: WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING PROPERTIES COSTS THE MOST TO RENT? A A six-bedroom, nine-bathroom manor in Chappaqua, N.Y., on 2.25 acres of gardens and woods, with a grape arbor and in-ground Cardillo pool with spa. B Orlando Bloom’s four-bedroom compound in the Hollywood Hills, with walnut double-front doors, glass walls, custom-made cherry cabinets and a fireplace in the kitchen.

ULTIMATE DOORMATS

A two-story oceanfront house in Ft. Lauderdale, one of just 49 directly on the beach, with an in-ground pool and deck. C

A parking space near Cowboys Stadium.

Answer: It’s a trick question, because all four are the same monthly rate. The parking space costs $75 per three hours, the typical length of a football game, which works out to $18,000 a month. Pretty pricey, but think of it this way: Your best chance to get an in-person glimpse of the new Mrs. Romo, Candice Crawford, is at the Cowboys game. Worth every penny.

WHAT WORD SUMS UP WHAT IT’S BEEN LIKE TO BE A LEAFS FAN? “Gloomy.” I would say “anguish,” but there hasn’t been enough excitement for that. We are resigned to being the world’s biggest hockey market saddled with teams for whom being five points out of the playoffs is cause for horn-honking and flag-waving. DO FANS BLAME THE PLAYERS? There’s a condition called “Blue and White Disease,” where players of moderate skill come here and get treated like rock stars, expanding their heads to where even Jonas Hoglund could hit them with a puck. WHO’S TO BLAME THEN? There is only one entity, and that is the majority owner of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment: the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Their tolerance for risk is as high as my Scottish granny at a sushi bar. And they do not care one iota what you or I or anyone thinks about them. For one, they are anonymous. For two, why would they care? The building is full. They can jack up tickets to whatever they like and there will still be a waiting list. Slap

THE RANKING LIST

a Leafs logo on a garbage can and you can sell it for $30. Of course, it’s not like the Pension Plan has ever pretended to be in it for anything more than eye-popping returns. Not many people want to see their fund manager with a blue leaf painted on his gut and a beer in hand, face against the glass, yelling, “Go Leafs, go!” It’s all business. One person who I’m pretty sure does actually care is Brian Burke. The look on his face after each loss is one of a man who just swallowed a baseball-size jalapeno pepper. This isn’t Montreal, where a losing team gets booed off the ice—after the warmup. But then, Montreal fans are in a class of their own. Easy to do when your team does brief, incredibly moving ceremonies for past greats, rather than hour-long celebrations of goons who stayed upright enough to play 1000 games and suck up to a minority owner. Well, hello, Tie Domi! Sorry, what was the question again? DO YOU HAVE HOPE FOR THINGS TURNING AROUND? Not as long as the team is run by a spreadsheet.

51-75

76-100

51 Philadelphia Eagles

56 Los Angeles Lakers

61 Seattle Seahawks

66 Charlotte Bobcats

71 Arizona Cardinals

52 Detroit Tigers

57 Chicago White Sox

62 Utah Jazz

67 Baltimore Orioles

72 Boston Bruins

53 Cleveland Indians

58 Philadelphia 76ers

63 Toronto Blue Jays

68 Montreal Canadiens

73 Calgary Flames

54 San Diego Padres

59 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

64 Colorado Avalanche

69 Florida Marlins

74 Chicago Bears

55 Los Angeles Kings

60 Kansas City Royals

65 Cleveland Cavaliers

70 Pittsburgh Pirates

75 New York Yankees

FOR IN-DEPTH REPORTING ON ALL 122 TEAMS IN OUR STANDINGS—WITH COMPLETE CATEGORY RANKINGS—GO TO ESPN.COM/INSIDER

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ILLUSTRATION BY GRAHAM SAMUELS

ZUMA PRESS/ICON SMI

D

No team has been as consistent in our rankings as the Toronto Maple Leafs: since 2008, the Leafs have finished 121st, 120th, 121st and 120th. It’s bad enough that they boast staggeringly high ticket prices while regularly failing to make the playoffs (since 2004). But Hogtown residents don’t have a ton of options, either. Toronto’s teams have the worst average score in our rankings of any metro area with two or more franchises. So, where does that leave T.O. fans? We asked a man whose job it is to give a collective voice to the longings of Canadians, 40-year-old Toronto speechwriter Liam Scott.

BEST FRANCHISE IN SPORTS

ULTIMATE SEAT

Remember when Drew Carey used to proclaim that “Cleveland rocks”? Well, we’ve finally found the reason: It’s got the best seat in sports. Progressive Field, Section 181, Row A, Seat 11. Situated in the left-centerfield bleachers above a 19-foot wall and just 370 feet from home plate, the front-row seat’s wide-open view makes its owner feel like she’s playing alongside Tribe outfielders Grady Sizemore and Michael Brantley. “When a fly ball is hit by the leftfield wall, I’m looking right down into their faces,” says season ticketholder Annie Hlad, a 55-year-old Cleveland native who’s been attending Indians games since she was a kid. Section 181 is prime territory for incoming baseballs; though Hlad hasn’t snagged a big fly yet, she’s collected plenty of souvenir balls from players patrolling the outfield during BP. And for all this she pays just $9 per game. “Even in some of the more expensive seats by the bases, your view is obstructed by something,” she says. “There’s nothing blocking me out here. Everything is convenient. It’s wider. There’s more legroom. I don’t think I’ll move from this seat.” When Hlad gets hungry, she doesn’t even have to stand up. She just turns around, tells the vendor located right behind her that she wants a half-pound hot dog and a Mountain Dew, and the food is delivered. If she’s thirsty for something a little stronger, the nearby Market Pavilion has a full-service bar that offers at least 12 brands of beer, not to mention hard liquor. To top it all off, after celebrating an Indians win, the walk to the parking garage behind the bleachers is a mere 40 to 50 yards. And with Cleveland having the best home record in the American League so far, Hlad has already had plenty of happy strolls this season.  -ANDRÉ CARTER

THE RANKING LIST

76-100

101-122

76 New York Jets

81 New York Giants

86 Denver Broncos

91 Cleveland Browns

96 San Diego Chargers

77 Houston Texans

82 Ottawa Senators

87 Columbus Blue Jackets

92 Minnesota Wild

97 Carolina Panthers

78 Washington Nationals

83 St. Louis Rams

88 Houston Astros

93 Milwaukee Bucks

98 Tennessee Titans

79 Boston Red Sox

84 Oakland Athletics

89 Golden State Warriors

94 Detroit Lions

99 Los Angeles Dodgers

80 Phoenix Suns

85 New York Rangers

90 San Francisco 49ers

95 Edmonton Oilers

100 New Jersey Nets

FOR IN-DEPTH REPORTING ON ALL 122 TEAMS IN OUR STANDINGS—WITH COMPLETE CATEGORY RANKINGS—GO TO ESPN.COM/INSIDER

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PHOTOGRAPH BY TIMOTHY DEVINE

BEST FRANCHISE IN SPORTS

4.51

$

14.50

ULTIMATE RECESSION SPECIAL

Our Ultimate Standings are based on average fan costs, but what if you’re looking to catch live sports without taking out a small loan? Check out the Indiana Pacers, a 2011 playoff team in a great arena now offering deep discounts to lure back locals who drifted away after Reggie Miller hung up his sneaks. Fans age 15 and under, who pay $10 to join the Pacers Kids Club, get tickets to 20 home games. Adults can grab Indiana’s cheapest seats ($7) and get a beer for $5 and a hot dog for $2.50. In other words, an entire Pacers game could cost you less than a Miami Heat program ($15). Now that’s what we call bang for the buck.

ULTIMATE CRUSHES

Most teams and their followers dance a complicated tango that heats up or cools down from year to year. So we asked fans to rate recent changes in their commitment to their favorite teams on a scale from 1 to 5. What we found is that the love affair between the Thunder and their fans is still intense: Kevin Durant’s upstart squad ranked No. 1 on this list last year. Meanwhile, fans continue to be repelled by the Pistons, who placed 120th in 2010.

ULTIMATE BOSSES Not every franchise owner sucks. These five scored the best in honesty, commitment to their communities and loyalty to core players.

1. Mike Ilitch, Red Wings

HOT

2. Peter Holt, Spurs

1. Memphis Grizzlies

3. Dan Rooney, Steelers 4. Shareholders, Packers

[The publicly owned team chooses a board, who then elect a president to run the team.]

Note: Atlanta Spirit, a privately held company that owns the Thrashers and Hawks, finished last. The firm reached a deal in May to sell the Thrashers to True North Sports & Entertainment, a Canadian company that plans to move the club to Winnipeg.

THE RANKING LIST

4.51

113. Minnesota Wild



2.97

Oklahoma City Thunder 4.47

114. Minnesota Timberwolves 2.91

3.

Nashville Predators

115. New York Mets

4.

Tampa Bay Lightning 4.35





6. Buffalo Sabres

Penguins from bankruptcy in 1999, is the only big-league athlete ever to become majority owner of a team he played for.]



2.

5. Chicago Bulls

5. Mario Lemieux, Penguins [Lemieux, who rescued the

COLD

[Ilitch also owns the Tigers, who finished 16th overall in fan voting.]



4.39



2.90

116. Sacramento Kings



4.33

116. Washington Redskins 2.88(T)

4.31

118. Houston Astros



2.87

7. Denver Nuggets



4.27

119. Phoenix Suns



2.79

8. Cincinnati Reds



4.26

120. Atlanta Hawks



2.78



9. Colorado Rockies



4.23

121. Detroit Pistons

10. Los Angeles Kings



4.21

122. Cincinnati Bengals

2.69

101-122

101 Miami Dolphins

106 Minnesota Vikings

111 Florida Panthers

116 Toronto Raptors

121 Washington Redskins

102 Dallas Cowboys

107 Buffalo Bills

112 Chicago Cubs

117 New York Mets

122 Cincinnati Bengals

103 Atlanta Hawks

108 Seattle Mariners

113 Detroit Pistons

118 Minnesota Timberwolves

104 Oakland Raiders

109 New York Knicks

114 New York Islanders

119 Sacramento Kings

105 Los Angeles Clippers

110 Washington Wizards

115 Atlanta Thrashers

120 Toronto Maple Leafs

FOR IN-DEPTH REPORTING ON ALL 122 TEAMS IN OUR STANDINGS—WITH COMPLETE CATEGORY RANKINGS—GO TO ESPN.COM/INSIDER

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2.88(T)

2.26

FROM TOP: DON MCPEAK/US PRESSWIRE; GARY HERSHORN/REUTERS/LANDOV





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