Saints No. 3 franchise in sports world

The New Orleans Saints are the third-best franchise in all of sports. That’s according to ESPN The Magazine’s ninth annual “Best In Sports’’ issue, which will be on newsstands Friday.

The rankings are determined by a multi-tiered analysis that examines a team’s efficiency in spending fan money as compared to its on-field performance. It also factors in feedback in 21 categories from more than 70,000 fans nationwide.

The Green Bay Packers were the overall winner and the runner-up came from NFC South territory, although it’s not a football team. It’s the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning.

I’m not going to argue that one at all. I live in Tampa and am not a hockey guy, but found myself becoming one as the Lightning had a deep playoff run this year. I even went to a playoff game and it was one of the best non-football events I’ve been at in years.

Back to football, I think the No. 3 ranking says a lot about the Saints. They’re four spots ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers who, by any measure, are generally considered a “model’’ franchise.

Most of the rest of the NFC South didn’t fare too badly. The Atlanta Falcons came in at No. 20. That kind of brings to mind Mark Bradley’s column, which asks if Atlanta is a “lousy sports city’’ at a time when it looks like hockey’s Thrashers are headed to Canada. Bradley makes the point that Falcons owner Arthur Blank is the only Atlanta owner fans really trust these days. With three straight winning seasons, I think the Falcons are finally poised to take over an Atlanta market that has been dominated by the Braves and college football.

The Buccaneers came in at No. 59. That’s actually not bad for a franchise that failed to sell out a home game last year.

The Carolina Panthers are No. 97. To borrow a phrase from an old friend I’ll call “John Fox’’, it is what it is. That’s what happens when you go 2-14.