Method to ultimate madness

AS IN THE PAST NINE YEARS with our Ultimate Standings, we used a four-part process to rank MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL franchises. First, working with Maddock Douglas, a Chicago consulting firm, we polled 1,004 North American sports fans in early May to determine what they want in return for the time, money and emotion they invest in their favorite teams. The survey covered 25 topics, from "has players who act professionally on and off the field" to "makes it easy to buy tickets through the team website."

Second, through ESPN.com and NetReflector, a Seattle opinion research company, we asked fans of the four major leagues to rate their favorite clubs in each of these 25 areas. We received more than 56,000 responses -- thanks to all who participated! -- and grouped those responses into seven of the eight categories you see on these pages: title track, ownership, coaching, players, fan relations, affordability and stadium experience.

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 performance, including postseason victories. These calculations are the basis for the remaining category: bang for the buck.

Finally, we combined each team's scores across all eight categories into one final weighted average. This takes into account, for example, that fans rated affordability about twice as important as stadium experience. The result is the 2012 Ultimate Standings, the only ranking that combines fan perspective on team performance with an objective measure of how well teams turn revenue into wins. Now that's what we call fan appreciation!

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