Over the last few years, there has been a buzz surrounding the Dallas Stars. If you've paid even remote attention, you have noticed a transformation and seen the effects first-hand. As various teams, national media members, and DFW sports fans have made their way to American Airlines Center, they all seem to say the same thing.
"It's a good time to be a Stars fan."
And it is.
The Stars have top-end talent like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and John Klingberg on the roster for years to come. They are a popular pick to contend in a very difficult Western Conference this season. General Manager, Jim Nill - who has four Stanley Cup rings to his credit - went on record this past summer saying that he felt the window for the Stars to bring a Stanley Cup Championship back to Dallas was open. They replenished in the offseason with multiple key additions, who have a proven history of postseason success. They also have a very deep prospect pool littered with the next wave of Stars who are knocking on the NHL door. It is almost universally agreed amongst the hockey world that, within a few years, the Stars have the potential to be among the elite teams in the NHL. Possibly sooner rather than later.
And yet, for all that the Stars appear to be inching towards on the ice, it turns out there are a lot more reasons that it's a good time to be a Stars fan.
Earlier this week, ESPN the Magazine released their latest results of an annual independent study, ranking each of the four major sports organizations from best to worst, based on a variety of categories. In a ranking of all 122 NHL, NFL, MLB, and NBA teams, the Dallas Stars were named as the 10th best sports franchise in North America.
The Stars finished as the highest-ranked team in the Metroplex and the third-highest NHL team on the list. If you dive into how the results were tabulated, you learn exactly why this is great news for Stars fans. The criteria was widespread, and featured categories like affordability, players, stadium experience, among others. However, the largest-weighted category was Fan Relations. This was defined as "Courtesy by players, coaches and front office towards fans, plus how well a team uses technology to reach fans."
In short, it measures how a team treats their fan base. And it's one of the main reasons the Stars ranked as highly as they did.
Over the last several years, the Stars have made it a priority to treat their fans like exactly that - a priority. Events like the annual Season Ticket Holder gathering at Six Flags, holding training camp in nearby Texas cities and making the players and staff accessible, organizing road-game watch-parties, and hosting upscale charitable functions like Casino Night are just some of the staples of the Stars calendar. The Stars are also one of the only professional sports franchises that open all of their home practices to the public, where players will greet, sign items, and take pictures with fans following practice.
The Stars have incorporated convenience into the equation as well. Additions like the Online Ticket Account Manager and Ticket Exchange Programs are designed to maximize how often and easily fans can utilize their tickets. Furthermore, when it comes to using technology, the Stars keep fans up-to-date on team news, promotions, and general information regarding the team on their website and across all social media platforms. The Stars provide extensive video, audio, and written content on their website throughout the calendar year, and their social media footprint is regarded as one of the most engaging and entertaining in pro sports.
Aforementioned items like fan experience and affordability are key components of the Stars franchise as well. Despite being in one of the largest markets in the country, the Stars consistently have among the lowest ticket prices in the NHL. They also have become known for having perhaps the best nightly game operations in all of sports. In recent years the Stars have become trendsetters, injecting humor and interaction into their nightly in-game presentation. Multiple in-game video segments have gone viral, and national publications have begun taking note on what the Stars do with their video and audio.
Stars games at the AAC are now must-see events, and fans have responded in overwhelming fashion. In each of the last two off-seasons, the Stars have been among the NHL leaders in new season ticket sales. People in North Texas have taken note of what is happening with the Stars - both on and off the ice - and are clamoring to be a part of it.
However, through all of the categories in ESPN's case study, there is one area that plays a larger role in the Stars #10 overall ranking than any other. That comes in the category of ownership. Quality of ownership accounted for over one-tenth of the final rankings for each team, and team owner, Tom Gaglardi has been more responsible than anyone for the recent rebirth of the Stars.
It has been less than four years since Gaglardi took ownership of the Stars, rescuing the club from bankruptcy and uncertainty, but almost all of the items mentioned earlier have formed under Gaglardi's watch. In his short time at the helm of the Stars, Gaglardi spearheaded a logo and jersey redesign. He brought in elite-level personnel to handle the operations of the on-ice product, as well as the business operations. He has green-lighted the acquisition of numerous sought-after trade targets and free agents, and he has restored the Stars to contender status. Most importantly though, he has made the Stars one of the most stable franchises in the NHL and once again a fixture of the Dallas sports and entertainment scene.
ESPN has been conducting this annual ranking of sports franchises since 2003. It is no coincidence that in the year before Gaglardi took over as owner, the Stars were nowhere near the top of the list. In fact, in this same poll - with the same scoring parameters - the Stars were barely in the top-half of all teams. In four seasons, Gaglardi and the Stars have gone from that to a Top-10 franchise.
When the Stars rebranded with their new logo and jersey a few years ago, they also unveiled the team slogan, "A New Star is Rising." According to ESPN, that appears to literally be the case. This is the highest the Stars have ever ranked in this poll, and those conducting the research suggest that if the on-ice performance follows its expected route, the Stars ranking could be even higher in future years.
Both on and off the ice, the Stars have shown that they are committed to success. In all of its forms. They continue to innovate and do things the right way, and they have assembled a group in place to keep raising the bar with each passing year. It appears the rest of the sports world is noticing.
Indeed, it's a good time to be a Stars fan.