ESPN is a lot of things but boring is not one of them. They are masters of promotion and know which buttons to press in order to attract attention. The ultimate standings that they have produced over the last nine years is always an excellent piece of linkbait and this year's is no different. For anti-Leafs fans and those that hate the city of Toronto on principle who are always looking for something new with which to bludgeon Leafs fans and residents of Toronto over the head it was a boon.
Not only were the Leafs ranked 120th out of 122 professional franchises in North America but the Raptors, Blue Jays, and Maple Leafs gave the city of Toronto the lowest average score of every city with more than one professional franchise. Andrew McKay was the hardy soul that compiled the city rankings (not that you would know from Kenyon Wallace's article...oops). Needless to say, Brian Burke was less than impressed:
"I don’t think ESPN knows squat about Canada. I don’t think they know squat about hockey."
On the one hand, both of those statements are absolutely correct. On the other, it sures seems like Burke is worked up over things that we'll see over the jump really aren't a big deal.
MLSE's soon to be retired President *pause for celebratory cheers* also had some choice words:
"To think that the Leafs are 120th just has no credibility with me at all. It completely dismisses the whole survey, in my mind."
Forget the end result, just take a look at the methodology behind the rankings and you can probably come up with a few red flags. 69,000 respondents just represents 565 per team on average, a large part of the rankings are based on subjective categories and rankings, and the bang for the buck rankings are opaque and, maybe it's their description, they don't seem to take into account that the leagues have salary caps. So without further ado, let's delve a little deeper into these rankings:
Bang For The Buck (BNG): Wins during the past three years (regular season plus postseason) per revenues directly from fans, adjusted for league schedules.
While I'd like for the process to be more open I don't think there's much to argue about the ranking. I mean, other than the pretty big problem that no matter how much revenue a team earns they can only spend as much as the salary cap. That means that if there were two teams with identical records over the past three years and had spent to the cap all three years that the team in the smaller market would for some random reason be rewarded. Which is why rankings like Derek Zona's that are based on Marginal Cap Efficiency and provide rolling averages and even a Marginal Floor Efficiency that looks at a general manager's ability to extract value of the money spent above the salary floor are much more useful. Of course, the Leafs still stink by any measure.
Stadium Experience (STX): Quality of arena and game-day promotions as well as friendliness of environment.
I'm no big fan of the Air Canada Centre. It was designed for basketball and in some areas it's pretty clear that's true. It ranked 21st in the NHL and 81st overall. Now, I know Greg Brady will cheer this ranking but the Leafs finished 30th in the NHL and 120th overall in terms of fan promotions, contests, giveaways. I've been to a handful of stadiums but they all seem par for the course. Seems like this is a ranking that suffers when a team is losing. The final sub-category measure the fan-friendly environment at games which had the team ranked 30th in the NHL and 117th overall. Again, seems like something that teams get hammered on by angry fans. They should have polled opposition fans. The ACC would have been ranked # 1: you get to invade the arena at will and you always get to see your team win.
Affordability (AFF): Price of tickets, parking and concessions.
And here is where teams are punished for having a lot of fans with money. The weaker the fanbase and the less willing that that miniscule fanbase is willing to spend the better. A great measure is the Fan Cost Index which can be seen in more detail here.
Fan Relations (FRL): Openness and consideration toward fans by players, coaches and management.
The Leafs finished 29th in the NHL which seems weirder when you break it down. In professionalism on and off the field the Leafs were 30th in NHL and 85th overall. Now, I am going to go ahead and call absolute bullshit on this ranking. There are teams ranked ahead of the Leafs that have players that in the recent past have: stolen teammate's wife (San Antonio), been the dirtiest player in the NHL (Pittsburgh), possibly murder a witness (Indianapolis Colts), abandoned a pregnant girlfriend for a new supermodel (New England), and the worst person alive (Miami Heat). And that's just off the top of my head in the top quarter of the list. And the Leafs? A team full of God-fearing kids that any mother would love to see stroll through her front door on the arm of her daughter.
Apparently the Leafs' don't appreciate the fans either but they tell us we're great on Twitter all of the time so there's another flaw in this ranking. Accessibility ranked 30th which probably pissed Brian Burke off since he forces his players to make so many public appearances. And the final piece of the pie? The likability of the players which saw the Leafs finish 29th in the NHL and 106th overall. All you need to know about this ranking is that the Canucks finished 10th and 26th despite icing the most loathesome group of people since (insert group of people that you really hate) and the Bruins were 19th and 56th despite having attempted murderer Zdeno Chara in their lineup.
Ownership (OWN): Honesty and loyalty to core players and local community.
Yeah, ownership stinks. The funny thing is that Burke's efforts to be the most player friendly GM in hockey history have not borne fruit as the team was ranked 99th in loyalty and 109th in honesty. The "Committed to community and will not leave ranking" made me laugh. The Leafs are behind two teams that declared bankrupty w(Ottawa and Buffalo), Pittsburgh who constantly threatened implicitly and explicitly to leave. I could probably find an Oilers fan or two that might chuckle at the Oilers' ownership outranking the Leafs' by 29 spots too.
Title Track (TTR): Championships already won or expected in the lifetime of current fans.
Head scratcher: Cleveland Cavaliers 87th, Toronto Maple Leafs 110th. Have some people really not heard about The Decision?
The best part of this kind of poll? It gives politicians something to grandstand with. At least Bob Rae was funny:
"Well," the Toronto Centre MP said, "when I was Premier the Blue Jays won the World Series twice. This is not a coincidence."
The real crime is that the multi-championship winning Toronto Rock are excluded as are the oldest professional sports team in the city the Toronto Argonauts. That just SCREAMS bias...or screams BIAS. Anyway, at the end of the day, Tom Anselmi got to the crux of the issue:
"Sports is cyclical, there’s no doubt about it. All four of our teams are coming out of a bottom right now. If you look at the early part of the decade, from 2000-04, the Leafs and Raptors were both doing really well."
Turns out, he's basically right. When the Toronto Maple Leafs were Stanley Cup contenders a lot of the subjective rankings were much better. The team once called the most hated team in the NHL ranked as the 58th most likable, the Stadium Experience that almost literally has not changed was 44th in North America and the same Ownership group that is the worst thing ever was 48th best in the rankings. Funny how that works eh? Obviously the Jays and Maple Leafs are in the midst of rebuilding their underachieving teams. Fanbases of both teams and neutral observers are impressed to varying degrees with the work that has been done. So while it's undoubtedly a tough time to be a sports fan in Toronto there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Whether we get there is another matter but at least these standings should improve.