Chat: The Mag's Ultimate Standings
Welcome to SportsNation! On Friday, ESPN The Magazine senior writer Peter Keating stops by to chat about the Ultimate Standings, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans.
At The Magazine, in addition to coordinating the annual "Ultimate Standings" project, Keating covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999.
Send your questions now and join Keating Friday at 1 p.m. ET!
Peter Keating (1:02 PM)
Hi everyone, and welcome to our chat about the Ultimate Standings. The Thunder rank #1 this year and the Maple Leafs
How are the Packers ranked 3rd in Ownership in a fan based ranking when the team is actually owned by the fans? Shouldn't they automatically be #1 in that category?
Peter Keating (1:04 PM)
They would be if I were doing all the voting, Brent! But our rankings are based on fan voting, as well as financial analysis. We've found that when it comes to grading teams in categories that are hard to quantify, it's best just to ask fans about their own favorite teams -- they know best. And Packers fans love their team's public ownership, but their grades were edged out by two other clubs.
How did you go about creating the ranking system?
The average of all the rankings for the Thunder is 12.625 and the Packers average is 5.375, how do the Thunder then get the #1 overall ranking?
Peter Keating (1:07 PM)
We not only ask fans to grade teams, we ask them, in a scientific poll conducted across North America, what matters to them. And we use those results to determine how important each category is. The results are really a giant weighted average. So one team can do better than another by scoring better in the categories that matter more to fans.
Peter Keating (1:08 PM)
In this case, the Thunder beat the Spurs and Packers by a whisker, even though the Packers unweighted average, as Brent points out, was better. Fans are looking for value, getting commitment and wins and appreciation for good prices, more than coaching or new stadiums or even championships. And the Thunder are really excellent in our Fan Relations and Bang for the Buck categories.
What was the biggest surprise you found in the standings?
Peter Keating (1:09 PM)
Definitely the Phoenix Coyotes ranking #6 overall. That's one of the biggest surprises over all 10 times we've done this.
were you surprised to see teams like the Coyotes and Grizzlies in the top 10? They aren't really associated with great franchises.
Peter Keating (1:10 PM)
Speaking of which ... Yeah, they are not franchises with long, great traditions, like the Packers or Red Wings or Steelers, who all also do very well in our rankings year after year. Neither are the Thunder, for that matter.
Peter Keating (1:13 PM)
But the close you look, the more value you see. Yes, the Coyotes are bankrupt and looking for an owner. But they played their butts off last year, and fans really appreciate the goalie and the coach. And Shane Doan. They made the Western Conference finals. And their tickets are incredibly cheap. They've got the lowest attendance in the NHL, but for the fans who do show up, they put on a great show at a low cost. Same thing, to less extremes, for the Grizzlies, who also have a really enjoyable arena. And that's what we're looking at -- who gives back to the fans that invest in these teams.
Look at that... the supposedly lowly small market Grizzlies all the way up at #5! What are your thoughts on that?
Peter Keating (1:14 PM)
Beyond everything I just said, I might add that when you can go to a game and have a chance of seeing Al Green sing the national anthem ... well, that ought to count for a lot.
Just a question about ownership . . . how can two organizations with the same ownership group Leafs/Raptors have different rankings in that category
Peter Keating (1:16 PM)
First, the same owner can treat teams very differently. Second, fans can interpret the results differently, too, based on their expectations and experiences.
Peter Keating (1:17 PM)
For several years, Tigers fans and Red Wings fans gave their teams widely different ownership grades in our surveys, even though Mike Illitch owned both clubs.
Myk (Seattle, WA)
What is the point of rankings that don't take market size into acconut. Just cause tickets are more affordable in a small market with poor people doesn't mean they are better than tickets in large markets with more rich people. Those two categories make your rankings basically irrelevant.
Peter Keating (1:20 PM)
Actually, Myk, asking fans about the affordability of tickets, concessions and parking does take local markets into account. If fans in Oklahoma City experience paying $25 for a ticket the same way Lakers fans experience $60 for a ticket, they'd rank nearly the same in those categories. But they don't -- many big-market teams charge far more than you'd expect just adjusting for income.
Peter Keating (1:21 PM)
Big markets tend to have so many more fans, and therefore more wealthy fans, and corporate customers, that they can aim for a much richer segment of the market. Surveying people is an imperfect way to get to that, but there's no good data for looking at it objectively.
Peter Keating (1:22 PM)
When it comes to Bang for the Buck, we do look objectively at ticket prices. We think wins per fan dollar is a good way to evaluate which teams do and don't deliver value.
Joe Weiss (Madison)
Which franchise has averaged the best ranking over the time you have done this? It seems the Packers are always near the top, however they had a few years in the mid-20's of the rankings when they weren't as successful. Just wondering if they have been the highest ranked over the years.
Peter Keating (1:23 PM)
In the Magazine, you'll find a whole section devoted to '10 Years of the Ultimate Standings,' because this is the 10th time we've done these rankings. And the team that has done best over that stretch is ... the Spurs. They've basically been great in every category we've ever mentioned, and they are our team of the decade.
Can aren't the cubs in the top 10? They always have their seats filled, and their fans are so loyal that they have been there faithfully for 100 years without a title?
Peter Keating (1:26 PM)
If your fans are so faithful that you don't have to do well to keep drawing them to the ballpark, you don't have any incentive to win, or to keep your prices reasonable. And the Cubs don't do either.
The Ultimate Standings have been around for a number of years now, did you do any tweaking to the system?
Peter Keating (1:28 PM)
Before this year, we hadn't made any changes to the system in a long time, other than to tweak how many seasons of wins we count in calculating Bang for the Buck. (It used to be three, now it's one, or two for sports we look at in mid-season, because fans don't really find it credible to rank teams in 2012 based on what they did in 2009 or 2010.)
Peter Keating (1:30 PM)
But we've noticed that lots of fans, while maintaining their interest in their teams and in sports in general, have cut back on going to games. And this year, we added four new questions to our surveys about social media, online engagement and TV & radio, to try to capture how well teams are doing connecting to fans at a distance. The Thunder did extremely well in these new categories.
when can i expect the Astros to be anything other than a cellar dweller
Peter Keating (1:33 PM)
The Astros are notable in this year's rankings because they have one of the very worst record in all sports, but still charge fans slightly above-average ticket prices.
Peter Keating (1:35 PM)
In the Magazine, you'll find a big scatterplot chart called 'Ultimate Bang for the Buck' where we graph this -- wins vs. ticket prices, both in standard deviations above or below league average -- and the Astros are an extreme outlier, all the way at the bottom of the page. Just awful.Having said that, there are now some very smart people running that franchise, so maybe there's hope.
Please don't forget, the Thunder fans were handed a team with gobs of potential right from the get go. If they were handed the Kings I don't think they make even the top 20. Wait until the franchise starts to lose, then let's see what happens.
Peter Keating (1:37 PM)
I don't disagree with you, Seattle Wiz. In fact, you could take your argument a step further and say the team was a coin flip away from getting Greg Oden instead of Kevin Durant, and after all did drafting Russell Westbrook instead of Kevin Love, and that while their GM and coach are both smart young guys, it's not like they had some kind of bulletproof genius plan for building a contender.
Peter Keating (1:39 PM)
But they did pick some great players. And the team is now very good and very, very young -- of their four top players by minutes, Kevin Durant is the youngest, at 23. And their friendliness and accessibility has connected them to their new town. You're right -- we won't really know if the franchise is truly a success until Durant & Co. decline someday. The Thunder admit as much. But they're off to a pretty great start.
Whiny Seattlite (PNW)
Seattle fans were overjoyed when Oklahoma City nearly set an all time mark for losing in the Thunder's first year. Look who's smiling now.
Peter Keating (1:41 PM)
Hey, PNW, if anyone was entitled to some schadenfreude, it was Sonics fans. Those "ROBBED" shirts aren't wrong. Enjoy the Thunder in the here and now.
Why is the Jets stadium considered inferior to the Giants stadium in terms of "Quality of Arena." Also the Clippers apparently play in a inferior quality arena than the Lakers? (I am referring to the QUAL sub ranking within the STX category).
Peter Keating (1:44 PM)
It's how the fans voted! As far as I can tell, the only difference at the Meadowlands when the Giants and Jets play is the retired numbers and banners that go up, and the Giants probably have more of those ... For the most part, fans are very honest and accurate in voting -- for years, Penguins fans loved everything about their team except their arena, which they hated, while Pirates fans were the exact opposite, and so forth. But sometimes funny differences pop up that say a little something about the psychology of the fans involved.
Troy (Little Rock)
I was surprised to see Boston teams so low. Don't they have great fanbases and stadiums, as well as tons of success?
Peter Keating (1:44 PM)
Why did the Red Sox sink in the rankings? They have extremely high ticket prices, an out-dated ball park, disgruntled players, a meddling ownership group, a crazy manager, a last place team, etc, etc.
Peter Keating (1:44 PM)
Why were the Boston Bruins ranked so low? Recent Stanley Cup winner, very loyal fanbase, President and GM (Neely/Chiarelli) who are focused on winning, decent arena
Peter Keating (1:48 PM)
Tickets and parking are expensive, the TD Garden's getting moldy, fans still don't love ownership even after a Cup. I think that last one is important -- clearly this is a case where fans love the franchise as a community institution more than the people who are making money off it at the moment. (Like the Mets, and maybe the Raiders.) Also, the Bruins actually moved up in the rankings this year, from 72 to 58.
What were the Top 5 finalists for Team of the Decade??
Peter Keating (1:49 PM)
1. Spurs2. Angels3. Packers4. Steelers5. Red Wings
Peter Keating (1:50 PM)
Anyone want to guess which team was last over the past decade?
Canada seems to struggle in these rankings . . . how do you account for the exchange rate and what can the Toronto sports team do to improve their rating?
Peter Keating (1:52 PM)
We have adjusted ticket prices for the U.S.-Canadian exchange rate to try to keep year-to-year comparisons apples to apples. I'm not quite sure it's enough, but I also think there are three much bigger things at work.
Peter Keating (1:54 PM)
1. Canadian fans, even after adjusting for the value of the dollar, are just so avid about hockey that they're willing to absorb high prices -- but the question is then, are teams jacking costs up so high that average fans can't afford to go to games any more? When the Thrashers became the Jets this year, they increased prices by 90%, even though Winnipeg is smaller than Atlanta.
Peter Keating (1:56 PM)
2. The Maple Leafs are a hyper-case of this. They hiked prices again last year, then finished 13th, but even under new ownership there won't be a lot of incentive to change because they made $81.8 million in profits last year! When neither your avid fans nor your corporate base will hold bad performance against you ... you're not going to change your ways.
Peter Keating (1:58 PM)
3. Media giants now own the Leafs and Raptors and Blue Jays. And while you might think that would make for natural synergies, it hasn't worked out well in the U.S. Public companies with shareholders need to generate profits. Sports teams need to focus on revenues and franchise value, not year-to-year earnings. Those aren't as compatible as Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch once assumed.
Peter Keating (2:00 PM)
But I think almost all fans would say the possibilities for better performance and fan relations are there now for the Leafs -- the former owners, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, just didn't seem all that interested in improving either one.
Where were the Patriots ranked for Team of the Decade? They have been pretty dominant during an era which was designed for parity. Brady is a superstar, everyone loves Kraft, Gillette Stadium and the surrounding Patriot Place is a huge upgrade over Foxboro Stadium, etc.
Peter Keating (2:00 PM)
They were ninth for the decade.
Sergei (Mad City)
Oh, Captain, My Captain,Why are the Wings so low on your list? They've won Four Cups since '95 and been to the Finals six times!! I can't help, but feel your bias for the other three major sports in this country.
Peter Keating (2:03 PM)
No anti-hockey bias here -- there are four NHL clubs in our top 15. The Red Wings always do well in our rankings, but they're getting pricey and fans are really getting tired of Joe Louis Arena.
How do you determine TTR? How can the Spurs beat the Lakers in TTR when the Lakers have more championships in the past 20 years, more expected in the next 2 and have the best track record overall?
Peter Keating (2:04 PM)
It's fan voting -- and your time frames show why. You could say the Spurs have more championships than the Lakers over the past 12 years. Instead of those kinds of arguments, we let fans grade their favorite teams based on their experience and expectations.
Quite frankly, this is offensive that the ownership group of the Oklahoma City Thunder was ranked so high after the way they looted the Seattle community. BRING BACK OUR SONICS!
Peter Keating (2:05 PM)
Just want to give Sonics fans their say.
Worst Team of the Decade?...should be the Yankees for spending more than the national debt and only getting 1 Championship.
Peter Keating (2:07 PM)
Spoken like a true Bostonian, Jonny. And you're not far off -- for charging fans more than twice as much per game as the Yankees and winning zero championships, the last-place team of the decade is ... the Knicks!
How are you going to include NHL franchises but not MLS franchises? You can't mislead it by saying all pro franchises are included when you don't even list all the professional leagues.
Peter Keating (2:09 PM)
I'll let that be our nod toward next year. We've started to gather data on MLS and WNBA teams, and I'd very much like to include them. Now, that should make Seattle fans happy!
Peter Keating (2:10 PM)
Okay, our time is up. Thanks, everybody, for great questions and a really enjoyable hour. Please take a look at the entire Ultimate Standings package in ESPN the Mag and online, and know that we value your feedback.