This story is part of ESPN The Magazine's Oct. 12 Owners Issue. Subscribe today!
Title track: 67
Fan relations: 18
Stadium experience: 13
Bang for the buck: 67
Change from last year: -13
The Minnesota Wild are maturing into a team that is consistently in the playoff hunt every year, and that success has translated into strong fan satisfaction. The Wild dropped out of the top 25 overall among all sports but still finished a sold No. 37, thanks in large part to strong faith in Craig Leipold (17th in ownership), who has consistently spent on payroll. Leipold famously invested nearly $200 million in signing free agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise in 2012 -- the team hasn't missed the playoffs since.
The Wild's strong showing benefited most from a 13th-ranked stadium experience. John Maher, Minnesota's vice president of brand marketing, credits that high score to the Xcel Energy Center's focus on hockey. (Indeed, it got the best score in hockey when fans were asked whether their team plays in a "great stadium.") "It actually goes back to the day the arena was first on the drawing board. It's always been designed to be a hockey-focused rink," Maher says. "Even when you're in the worst seat, in the highest row of the upper level, you feel close to the action." And the stadium experience goes beyond that. The concourse is immersed in hockey of all levels with shrines to the Hobey Baker Award (given to the top college player each season) as well as various references to the local high school hockey scene. "It's important to know your local market and adjust your presentation to them," Maher says.
The Wild have established themselves as a perennial playoff team, but there still appears to be doubt surrounding coach Mike Yeo. Minnesota ranks just No. 78 in coaching, down from No. 61 last year despite Minnesota advancing to the second round in the stacked Western Conference for the second consecutive season. The doubt might stem from Minnesota's 4-14 stretch in December and January or maybe the team's second straight ousting in the second round, where this spring the Wild were swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Either way, Yeo has a regular-season points percentage of .568 since taking over in the 2011-12 season, and if he can turn around the Wild's playoff fortunes, his fan approval will surely rise.
Minnesota's biggest jump came in the faith shown in Leipold, the owner, whose patience has allowed general manager Chuck Fletcher to implement a plan that has brought stability and success to the franchise. Even after signing Suter and Parise, the Wild have consistently been active in either signing free agents or retaining their own players. (The Wild scored in the top third of NHL teams when fans were asked whether the team showed loyalty to its players.) Minnesota has regularly spent close to the salary cap's upper limit, and this year was no different: The team made a long-term commitment to goalie Devan Dubnyk this offseason with a six-year contract worth $26 million.