The Tampa Bay Lightning have been named the No. 2 franchise in sports according to ESPN The Magazine’s ninth annual “Best Franchises in Sports” rankings, in this week’s “Best in Sports issue” on newsstands Friday, June 17. The Bolts finished behind only the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. The Lightning made the largest jump of all teams, improving 68 places from No. 70 last season. The NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies were second, improving 66 places.
The “Best Franchises In Sports” feature is part of ESPN The Magazine’s Ultimate Standings methodology study, which determines an overall ranking for pro sports franchises according to how much they give back to fans for the time, money and emotion they invest in them.
“The best teams in sports find ways to reward their fans’ devotion,” said ESPN The Magazine editor, Peter Keating. “The teams at the top of our Ultimate Standings are winners on the field, but, as we write in the magazine, they’re truly notable for returning fans’ love—keeping core players, discounting tickets, investing in their communities. Value, both economic and emotional, has always figured prominently in our rankings, but this year we heard louder than ever that a team’s commitment to its fans matters more than anything else, more than even new stadiums and championship rings.”
The rankings are determined by a multi-tiered analysis that examines a team’s efficiency in spending fan money as compared to its on-field performance. It also factors in feedback in 21 categories from more than 70,000 fans nationwide, both online at ESPN.com and in polling conducted by both independent third parties.
In all, 122 teams from the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball were ranked in order, based on a weighted average of scores in eight different categories ranging from the quantitative to the emotionally subjective: “bang for the buck” (24.3%), players (16.6%), fan relations (16.5%), affordability (14.1%), stadium experience (9.1%), ownership (9.0%), title track (6.7%), and coaching (3.9%).
The transformation of the Lightning began in earnest after the team’s purchase by Jeff Vinik on March 3, 2010 as he quickly pledged to turn the team in to a “world-class organization”. Vinik first solidified the hockey operations department when he hired Hockey Hall-of-Famer and four-time Stanley Cup Champion Steve Yzerman as vice president and general manager. Vinik then turned his focus to the business side of the team, hiring lauded sports business executive Tod Leiweke to serve as chief executive officer.
The 2010-11 season was marked by a much-improved product on the ice which included the second trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history and a series of announcements off the ice demonstrating Vinik’s desires to create a world-class organization. In January of 2011, Vinik detailed a vision that included a team inspired by championship values; an organization committed to Tampa Bay, giving back through leadership, mentoring and charitable contributions; and a state-of-the-art venue. Those commitments included a new logo and jersey system, $35 million in privately-funded building renovations to the Times Forum, $10 million in community donations and 4,000 hours of community service each season.
Tampa Bay sports fans immediately embraced Vinik’s vision and the team’s success as attendance increased a league-best 11.3% from 2009-10 and the Lightning sold out eight playoff games, averaging nearly 21,000 fans per game.