I recently read the ESPN Magazine’s rankings of every professional franchise in the four major sports leagues (NHL, NBA, NFL, and the MLB) based on eight different categories; those categories are: bang for the buck, fan relations, ownership, affordability, stadium experience, players, coaching, and title track. 1,004 fans of the major sports were polled on different topics relating to the eight categories, and their answers and rankings led to the final rankings.
If that doesn’t make much sense, click here for a more detailed description of how the rankings are made.
Surprisingly (or not, depending on who you root for), the Leafs managed to fall all the way to the bottom of all 122 teams ranked. That’s right, fellow Leafs fans, we’re 122 out of 122. To all you Leaf haters waiting to pounce, don’t worry about taking the time to laugh in our face, I’ll spell it out for you. Dead. Last.
Since teams like the Calgary Flames (106th), Columbus Blue Jackets (116th), and even the New York Islanders (119th), have managed to usurp Toronto, I’ve decided to analyze Toronto’s ratings in each category, stating my opinion either agreeing with the fans, or making a case for a higher ranking. Take the ESPN rankings with a grain of salt as well, as they’re arguably the least hockey-knowledgeable sports network/magazine out there.
Let’s get this rolling!
1. BANG FOR THE BUCK: “Wins during the past three years (regular season plus postseason) per revenues directly from fans, adjusted for league schedules.”
LEAFS RANK: 122
In other words, last – and a great place to start for this article. This category I agree with, and before everyone goes to bring out their torches and pitchforks about how the Leafs’ blogger is bashing his own team, think. Which one of professional sports highest-earning franchises made just over $82 million in 2011-12? The Leafs. Who charges some of the highest ticket prices for a sometimes AHL quality product on the ice? The Leafs. At the same time, they finished lower than the Flames, and in NBA terms, the Charlotte Bobcats, who are they?
VERDICT: I agree with the lowly ranking but you could make the same case for a handful of other teams to finish last here. 100th would’ve been fair
2. FAN RELATIONS: “Openness and consideration toward fans by players, coaches and management.”
LEAFS RANK: 119
Another low finish, and there’s more to come of that. This one I’m not sure if I’m 100% in agreement with the ranking. Sure there’s a huge wall between fans and players, coaches, and management, but no professional franchise is going to be in the local hole in the wall shooting the breeze with your average Joe Shmoe. On the plus side, the Leafs do lots of great things within the community and alumni are a large factor in a staggering amount of charities.
VERDICT: The Leafs aren’t shooting for the stars, but there’s no reason they should be so low, either. Anything above 100 is just another affirmation of how little the average ESPN magazine reader knows about hockey. 50-70th would’ve suited just fine.
3. OWNERSHIP: “Honesty and loyalty to core players and local community.”
LEAFS RANK: 112
This is a hard category to have a proper stance on, because of the recent sale of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) to Rogers & Bell. I will say I had a passionate hate for Richard Peddie and the teacher’s pension plan that ran MLSE. Ted Anselmi -the new COO- is essentially from the same mold. I can’t judge this until the new ownership has had a full season under their belt.
VERDICT: Based on old ownership I’d say 112 is actually a higher number than I would have pegged them.
4. AFFORDABILITY: “Price of tickets, parking and concessions.”
LEAFS RANK: 122
This truly comes as no surprise. A Leafs game is the ultimate event if you want to find a quick way to bankruptcy. The absolute worst seats in the house sell for the same price as the highest ticket prices in other cities. Parking will cost you an arm and a leg ($25-$40) and don’t even get me started on the $12 12oz cup of beers and $8 slice of pizza.
VERDICT: The NHL has always been described as the toughest team sport, and my wallet takes a pounding every time against the Leafs. Last place is well deserved. The demand is there though, so prices aren’t dropping anytime soon.
5. STADIUM EXPERIENCE: “Quality of arena and game-day promotions as well as friendliness of environment.”
LEAFS RANK: 104
To go to a game at the Air Canada Centre is something any Leafs fan would love to do, and the fact that the ACC is far superior in quality to the former Maple Leaf Gardens is just a bonus. That said, I’ve been to many sporting events where the promoters go head over heels with fan participation and over-the-top friendliness and kindness, and I’m not talking about Toronto. The Leafs fans have a sense of entitlement, whereas the management in charge of fan activities and promoters seem to dismiss doing anything extra. You’re at the game; you paid. Now sit down and watch – seems to be the train of thought.
VERDICT: Very fair. Although the ACC is a quality arena, it’s the only exceptional thing about the experience. T-shirt cannons are nice and half-price on $30 pizza is fine, but that’s the extent of it.
6. Players: “Effort on the field and likability off it.”
LEAFS RANK: 121
Toronto has not had a superstar player since Mats Sundin, and many people argue his status as such. Toronto is full of capable, but not exceptional talent. In all honesty, not too many teams are struck with fear at the sight of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Defense is the strong and deep position on paper, but they need to get it together on the ice. Goaltending is a question mark -at best- with James Reimer and Ben Scrivens like to be the starting tandem this year. That being said, Toronto’s roster is not nearly as deplorable as some other teams in the NHL (Islanders, Columbus, and soon Calgary) and that’s not even considering the state of other sports franchises. Even looking in-city, the Raptors roster is far worse off than that of the Leafs.
VERDICT: The obvious non-NHL bias glares through here, with the Leafs at least commanding a position in the high 90s. At least. The second-to-last ranking here is just one more reason to not take ESPN’s hockey coverage seriously.
7. Coaching: “Strength of on-field leadership.”
LEAFS RANK: 111
I guess in hockey terms it would be “on-bench leadership.” Regardless, there isn’t much to say about Toronto’s coaching since the late Pat Burns was let go, and to some extent Pat Quinn – a hockey dictator if there ever was one. It’s hard to judge Randy Carlyle after a brief preview last year, but he has gone out of his way to mend his broken relationship with Lupul, whom appeared upset since they were paired together in Anaheim.
VERDICT: A lot better than days of past… we hope. 111 is fair based on previous coaching.
8. Title Track: “Championships already won or expected in the lifetime of current fans.”
LEAFS RANK: 121
This is where everybody in Leafs Nation takes a collective sigh and face palms themselves. 1967 is a long ways away now, and everybody knows it. I would stick up for them by arguing about the Gretzky incident in the playoffs of 1993, but what’s the point? It just hurts more. Hey, at least we’re not the Cubs… oh wait, they ranked 112th, despite not winning since 1908. Please still try and convince me there’s no bias there.
VERDICT: 121st is fair considering their lengthy drought, but come on, lower than the Cubs? ESPN needs to have their heads checked.
You can read Peter Keating’s summary of the Leafs here and feel free to let him know what you think of ESPN’s biased coverage. Let some Canadians – or at least passionate hockey fans in the U.S. – do the voting on a sport that the general American population couldn’t care less about.
For the love of The Game,