SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 16: San Jose Sharks fans react late in the third period before the Sharks lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game One of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 16, 2010 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
ESPN the Magazine recently released their tenth annual "Ultimate Team Rankings," a system that aggregates polling data from fans of all four major North American sports leagues about what aspects of franchises they value the most as well as how the teams they follow fare in those categories. Here's a summary of the criteria they use:
Bang For The Buck (BNG): Wins during the past three years (regular season plus postseason) per revenues directly from fans, adjusted for league schedules.
Fan Relations (FRL): Openness and consideration toward fans by players, coaches and management.
Ownership (OWN): Honesty and loyalty to core players and local community.
Affordability (AFF): Price of tickets, parking and concessions.
Stadium Experience (STX): Quality of arena and game-day promotions as well as friendliness of environment.
Players (PLA): Effort on the field and likability off it.
Coaching (CCH): Strength of on-field leadership.
Title Track (TTR): Championships already won or expected in the lifetime of current fans.
The Sharks didn't do so well by their standards this year, especially considering they finished 13th among 122 NHL, MLB, NBA and NFL teams in 2011 and 12th in 2010. In 2012, San Jose free-fell to 70th overall and 19th among NHL teams, by far their lowest ranking since their first appearance on this list in 2007 (apparently ESPN the Magazine only began acknowledging the existence of hockey when ESPN the TV station stopped doing so). But the real story is how utterly ridiculous this poll is.
The issues lie primarily with how arbitrary and ill-defined the criteria appear to be. As Justin Bourne noted in his terrific take-down of these rankings yesterday, the double-emphasis on ticket-price affordability has resulted in the Phoenix Coyotes ranking first among NHL teams on this list. I don't think anyone, Coyotes fans included, can say with a straight face that fans of that perpetually-moribund franchise have had a better experience than any other NHL fanbase over the past three years. In fact, aside from Thrashers fans who saw their team shipped to Canada, it's hard to pick a group of hockey fans who have been worse off.
Of all the missteps in these rankings, the stadium experience totals might be the most hilarious. Does anyone seriously believe taking in a Devils game at the Rock is more enjoyable than a Sharks game at the Tank? That Jobing.com Arena is a better environment for hockey than First Niagara Center in Buffalo or the Madhouse on Madison? All else being equal, would anyone opt to watch a game in Anaheim over Philadelphia? Miami and Dallas over the Bell Centre in Montreal?
A team on the brink of relocation is the Ultimate hockey franchise. New Jersey, who were rumored to be primed for league takeover earlier this offseason, boast more desirable ownership than the Canadiens, Rangers or Flames. The Panthers, who gave up 24 more goals than they scored last season, have superior coaching to the Penguins, Bruins and Canucks. These rankings are honestly too ignorant and uninformed to even warrant a response but with precious little else to discuss as we march towards an inevitable lockout, it's worth presenting another reminder of ESPN's continued spiral into irrelevance on all matters puck. Their online presence employs a host of extremely talented and knowledgeable hockey minds like Corey Pronman, Neil Greenberg and Rob Vollman but with most of their work behind a paywall, there's no good reason for a self-respecting hockey fan to give ESPN the time of day, save for the occasional Pierre LeBrun column. Presenting this fan poll as anything other than a poorly-executed survey with arbitrarily constructed questions that fails to accurately depict the opinions of real NHL fans is just their latest hockey-related blunder.