GLENDALE AZ - JANUARY 15: A fan of the Phoenix Coyotes holds up a sign during the NHL game against the Anaheim Ducks at Jobing.com Arena on January 15 2011 in Glendale Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Ducks 6-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
ESPN's The Magazine's annual franchise rankings gives a very good snap shot of where Arizona's four major professional teams stand.
Normally we don't pay too much attention to lists and rankings since they are little more than the opinion of one writer. Sure, they are fun to look at and think about a bit but at the end of the day it's easy to discount someone who says this team or this player is better than that one.
ESPN The Magazine's annual franchise ranking is not like that. They have a very methodical and diligent process that makes these results something that teams and fans should take seriously. They've ranked all 122 professional MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL franchises from best (Green Bay Packers) to worst (Cincinnati Bengals). The four pro teams in Phoenix finished in somewhat surprising order.
Phoenix Coyotes - 1st (28th overall)
The Phoenix Coyotes overcame their ownership issues to rank 28th among all franchises and tops in Arizona. The biggest reason for their high score was affordability and "Bang for the Buck". Two years of making the playoffs, plus a very passionate and loyal fan base, plus cheap tickets and free parking, plus a great coach and GM seem to be a recipe for a good score.
Obviously, the Coyotes are pleased.
"We are honored that ESPN The Magazine chose the Coyotes as the best sports franchise in the Valley and the 28th best team among the four major sports," said Coyotes Chief Operating Officer Mike Nealy. "Our organization has made great strides both on and off the ice and we will continue to work hard to provide our fans with a winning product, great value and first class entertainment."
Arizona Diamondbacks - 2nd (33rd overall)
The Arizona Diamondbacks are experiencing a resurgence in fan support that might not (yet) be showing up at Chase Field in the form of ticket sales, but there's no denying the good will. Fans seem to forgive the owners for the past two years of losing given the unexpected Brandon Webb injury and the effort the team made in acquiring Dan Haren and retaining Eric Byrnes.
When things went off the rails, the front office quickly fired the GM and manager and replaced them with two respected baseball guys in Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson. The results and coming faster than anyone could have hoped. And yes, having some of the cheapest tickets and beer in the MLB also helped the D-backs ranking as did this bit of niceness.
Ultimate Standings 2011 - No. 33 - Arizona Diamondbacks - ESPN
Off the field, the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation, now in its 14th year, gave $2.4 million to local nonprofit organizations, making the D-backs once again more generous than all the other Phoenix pro teams combined. For their efforts, the D-backs won the 2010 United Nations NGO Positive Peace Award for their work with the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) and the Boys & Girls Club of Phoenix.
Arizona Cardinals - 3rd (71st overall)
Losing after winning doesn't sit well with fans. The D-backs got a pass because of Webb's injury and the collapse of Byrnes but the Cardinals dropped from 19th-place last year to 71st because of the combination of avoidable decisions.
The transition from Kurt Warner couldn't have been handled worse with the reigns first being publicly handed to Matt Leinart and then running Matt out of town before a single regular season snap was taken. Making matters worse, the front office prompted a huge step back from the defense thanks in no small part to the replacement of Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby with washed up vets Kerry Rhodes and Joey Porter.
The Cardinals didn't get any help from the economic side either. They ranked 11th in the NFL in affordability and 16th in Bang for the Buck.
Phoenix Suns - 4th (80th overall)
No surprise the Suns are last on this list. The ownership and front office subjected the fans to a significant decline in play and talent with the loss of Amare Stoudemire and Jason Richardson while at the same time having the fifth-most expensive ticket in the NBA. Charging people a lot for a inferior product is generally not a recipe for success...or good rankings on this list.
We all know the story about going from a Western Conference Finals team to a lottery team in the span of one season. People will quibble over the decision not to give Amare a max deal but no one can look back at last summer's moves (Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress, and Hakim Warrick) and think that the Suns did themselves any favors.
Yours truly was asked to comment on the Suns' decline and to the degree that it reflects on ownership's desire to win.
Ultimate Standings 2011 - No. 80 - Phoenix Suns - ESPN
"The question isn't desire on the part of the front office," says SB Nation Arizona regional editor Seth Pollack. "It's ability." It's an honest question, even as Robert Sarver tries to shed a rep as the cheapest owner this side of Donald Sterling. Says Pollack, "Under him the team has been in a constant state of flux. And ultimately, with the team seemingly headed in the wrong direction, he's going to get the blame."
These standings show what we already knew -- fans will reward teams that win and at least make good decisions. There are too many options to try and convince Phoenix fans to pay good money for a bad product and especially if ownership's own mistakes are clearly to blame.
Credit to the Coyotes and Diamondbacks organizations for understanding their fans. The Cardinals and the Suns however, had both either quickly return to winning or make some adjustments to their pricing. As popular as those two teams are, in this city people are not going to pay to watch bad ball for very long.