The Lakers 89th Ranking as ‘Ultimate Franchise’: Is It Fair?

Well, it’s that time of year again when ESPN releases their results in their search for the ultimate professional sports franchise. This marks the 10th year ESPN the Magazine has ranked pro franchises that gives the fans a look at where their favorite team ranks among others in delivering the ultimate experience to fans, from ticket cost to achieving a winning record. ESPN believes the 2012 Ultimate Standings is, “the only ranking that combines fan perspective on team performance with an objective measure of how well teams turn revenue into wins.”

I wrote about the Lakers rating in this same ESPN analysis last year when they were ranked as the 56th overall franchise according to their criteria, which I will detail in a bit, and 14th specifically among NBA teams. Well, this year’s ranking isn’t any better as the Lakers dropped to an overall franchise ranking of 89, and came in as 22nd specifically for NBA teams.

In case you wanted to know, the Oklahoma City Thunder were named as ESPN’s ultimate franchise in pro sports for 2012. Additionally, the Lakers ranked last among their fellow Los Angeles market pro teams of the: Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim (15), Los Angeles Kings (32), Anaheim Ducks (37), Los Angeles Clippers (53) and Los Angeles Dodgers (61).

Before you completely disregard this data as complete nonsense, and I know it’s hard to think that having your favorite team ranked so low can be justified, I would like to make the argument that this ranking is credible, well at least the majority of it. At the end of each category, I will also provide my expectation for each ranking for next year. Before you completely mark off this argument, remember this analysis is based on last season’s performance and isn’t a ranking or an analysis on strictly on the court performance as a team.

Below I will give my analysis of the Lakers’ scoring on each of the eight categories that ESPN analyzed to rank each franchise. For a further detailing of how ESPN ranked each sports franchise, click here.

Bang For The Buck (94): Wins during the past three years (regular season plus post-season) per revenues directly from fans, adjusted for league schedules.

  • Although the Lakers have made it to the second round of the playoffs twice and have won the championship in the past three years, the amount of financial investment from the fans has highly outweighed the team’s success on the court. This is also why the Lakers are one the most profitable teams in professional sports. Having the highest payroll in basketball, especially with the new luxury tax and revenue sharing systems, will not help this cause. I expect the Lakers to remain the same in this ranking and possibly go higher come this time next year.

Fan Relations (85): Openness and consideration toward fans by players, coaches and management.

  • The Lakers do not involve themselves as much as other teams with the fans. This may be because the Lakers already have one of the strongest, most passionate and most loyal fanbases in professional sports. However, I do expect this to change in the future with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash having a record with high fan accessibility.

Ownership (44): Honesty and loyalty to core players and local community.

  • While respect and loyalty to Jerry Buss from Laker fans will always remain strong, there were definite questions and hesitations from the fans of Jim Buss, who has essentially taken over the reins of the team. Getting rid of personnel who were associated with Phil Jackson added to the fans’ questions of Buss. However, I think this off-season has clarified the goals and any hesitations the fans had of Jim as his commitment to winning is apparent. However, I expect the way the whole Time Warner deal pans out in regard to how it affects the fans (may cost more for locals to view games) will impact this ranking next year.

Affordability (112): Price of tickets, parking and concessions.

  • The very high cost of attending a Laker game at Staples Center has been a recurring issue for L.A. for quite some time. Currently the Lakers have the second-most expensive pricing scheme in basketball for tickets and concessions. In fact, the average ticket price for last season rose 4.2 percent, at $99.25. This price doesn’t take luxury seating into account. Therefore, the real average was closer to $156 per ticket. Staples Center offers some of the highest concession prices in the NBA. Unfortunately, with the improved roster this season, prices will increase. Analysts believes averages prices for a ticket will range from $270 to $323 with the new roster.

Stadium Experience (38): Quality of arena and game-day promotions as well as friendliness of environment.

  • The Lakers ranked average in this category. I personally believe it is because the fans go to the games to watch their team play more than they go for the atmosphere. This is one of the aspects that comes with a winning team. Therefore, the promotions or atmosphere that employees create are not on the forefront of the game goer’s mind. I expect this to remain in the same range next season as well.

Players (85): Effort on the field and likability off it.

  • The main culprit for this low rank is Andrew Bynum. His lack of focus, effort and motivation displayed on the court for the majority of the season was frustrating to watch. Off the court, Bynum lacked likability due to multiple instances of egotistical behavior, i.e. parking in handicapped spots. Additionally, the Lakers traded one of the most likable and respected players and leaders of all-time, Derek Fisher. I expect this category to change with a likable, at least away from Orlando, Dwight Howard and a Fisher-like leader on and off the court, Steve Nash.

Coaching (103): Strength of on-field leadership.

  • This category saw the biggest drop from last year with the exit of the most successful basketball coach in NBA history, Phil Jackson, and the entrance of a questionable Mike Brown. Brown struggled to get the team into an offensive flow and simply deferred to Kobe Bryant’s hero ball tactics to get something going offensively. Brown couldn’t get control of Andrew Bynum’s ego, which affected team chemistry and teamwork. I have higher expectations for Brown with a full training camp this off-season and the upcoming use of the Princeton offense.

Title Track (16): Championships already won or expected in the lifetime of current fans.

  • As expected, the Lakers rank high in this category. Their 16 championships in franchise history have catapulted the Lakers into being regarded as one of the most successful franchises in all of sports and the leader in the NBA. I expect this rank to be higher next year with the acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash and what that represents for the team’s future.

As you can see, this analysis has everything to do with how the organizations reaches out to the fans and offers them with the best experience possible. This consists of game affordability to the personnel on and off the court. I believe some of these categories will look quite differently this time next year when the rankings are once again published due to the successful changes made by management.

However, the Lakers are a part of a unique group of pro franchises such as the New York Yankees (ranked 82nd) and the Dallas Cowboys (ranked 86th), that have such a dedicated fanbase that these rankings do not affect the organization. Laker fans will continue to show up in the masses and buy the expensive tickets and the high prices concessions to watch their team with pure intensity and passion.

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