ESPN The Magazine has conducted a detailed online survey of sports fans across America, and the results tell a fascinating story of how teams treat their fans and what fans think of their teams. Some 60,000 fans went to ESPN.com to answer questions in seven categories about the 122 teams that comprise the four major sports leagues: The NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB.
Fans had to identify their hometown and rate those teams in the various categories. An eighth and most important category was determined by the work of the sports marketing center at the University of Oregon.
Although not scientific in the truest sense, the survey used modern polling techniques from professionals in the field. In other words, the magazine did this about as well as it can be done.
Its take on the three Pittsburgh teams seems pretty much on the mark and goes a long way toward establishing its validity.
The eight categories rated were: Fan relations -- the ease of access to players and management; Ownership -- honesty and loyalty to players and city: Affordability -- price of tickets, parking and concessions; Stadium experience -- friendliness of environment, quality of game-day promotions; Players -- effort on the field, likability off it. Coach/Manager -- on-field leadership; Title track -- titles won or expected -- soon; Bang for the Buck -- wins over the past three years per revenues directly from fans (this category was compiled by Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center).
It there was one fault with the survey, it was tilted toward smaller-market cities with either one or two franchises. The teams that finished one through four are in either one or two-franchise cities. The Indianapolis Colts were first, followed by the San Antonio Spurs, the New Orleans Hornets and the Green Bay Packers.
Among Pittsburgh franchises, the Penguins finished 24th, the Steelers 25th and the Pirates 103rd.
What lends credibility to the survey is that the fans seem right on the mark in so many categories. For example, as much as Penguins fans love their team, their comments about decaying Mellon Arena earned it a ranking of 107th in stadium experience. As much as Pirates fans are down on their team, the PNC Park experience was ranked 10th.
Also not surprising is that the Steelers ranked high in ownership, where the Rooney family came out as the ninth best.
All across the board, readers choices made sense. Cincinnati fans ranked the Bengals' players, who have had innumerable brushes with the law, 114th. The Bengals' frugal ownership was 105th.
The Penguins were delighted with some of their rankings, which included a third in fan relations, the highest of any team in the NHL.
"This is a great honor," said Penguins president David Morehouse, "because we also think our fans are No. 1 in the NHL."
Peter Keating, a senior writer for the magazine who oversaw the project, pointed out the fact the Penguins have their players deliver some season tickets to fans was a big hit.
The Pirates' best ranking, behind stadium experience, was affordability, where they finished 32nd. Other high rankings for the Penguins were players sixth, ownership 16 and title track 24.
Like the Penguins, the Steelers were high in fan relations at 23.
Anger at the Pirates showed in fan relations where the team ranked 110th and ownership, which was 120th, ahead of only the Florida Marlins and Seattle SuperSonics.
All rankings can be found online at: sports.espn.go.com/chat/sportsnation/mag/franchiseRanks
The seven categories were not weighed evenly in determining the final rankings. A Connecticut firm, Markitecture, Inc., was used to poll fans and determine which categories were most important. The category that got the most weight was Bang for Buck. This was determined by dividing the cost for fans to attend games for a year -- tickets, concessions and parking -- and dividing it by number of wins. In other words, what did the fans pay for each win.
In this category, the Penguins were 32nd, the Steelers 43rd and the Pirates 58th. It was the Pirates third-highest ranking.
"We think we got it right," said Keating, who pointed out that because fans could only vote once -- a computer already registered was rejected -- ballot-stuffing was severely limited.
The lowest-ranked team was the New York Knicks, which finished 100 or higher in every category except stadium experience. But the team that probably felt the worst about the ratings was the Detroit Lions. Detroit fans were ecstatic about the Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings, ranking them seventh, eighth and 12th overall. But they took it out on the hapless Lions, who finished 120th.
Bob Smizik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .