I acknowledge that we don’t need any more affirmation of the pecking order of Atlanta’s major pro sports franchises — or more specifically, their owners. But it’s always comforting when a national publication echoes the same sentiment.
And so, we give you ESPN The Magazine’s ninth annual “Ultimate Standings” of 2011. The magazine ranked all 122 sports franchises, including those who might be moving to Winnipeg. Their eight criteria were bang for the buck (wins vs.
revenue in the last three years); fan relations; ownership (the word “honesty” was invoked); affordability; stadium experience; players (effort and likability); coaching; and title track (championships won or expected in lifetime of current fans).
The Braves and Falcons fared well, ranking 19th and 20th, respectively. You’ll have to go lower to find the Hawks and Thrashers.
Lower. Still lower. Almost there.
The Hawks rank 103rd, a huge drop of 59 spots from last year’s No. 44 ranking. The Thrashers rank 115, and it’s not surprising what dragged them down the most — ownership.
The Atlanta Spirit ranked last in the ownership category for the Thrashers. There’s the Spirit’s kick out the door. Not surprisingly, the team had a decent ranking (65th) in the bang-for-the buck category, a testament to the roster fix done by general manager Rick Dudley and the coaching of Craig Ramsay. (Makes you wonder why the new owners in Winnipeg already have decided not to keep Dudley and may part with Ramsay.)
The Hawks drew their lowest rankings in effort and likability of players (118), coaching (114) and title track (114).
The top franchise is the Green Bay Packers, but you can find them all on this link. Just click the team for more details. The bottom feeder: The Cincinnati Bengals.
Some franchises, even the Atlanta Spirit can equal.
Following is analysis from the article on each Atlanta team:
Last Year’s Rank: 15
Title Track: 29
Fan Relations: 24
Stadium Experience: 55
Bang for the Buck: 30
The names may change in Atlanta, but the franchise rolls on, as 15 postseason appearances since 1991 will attest. Atlanta is also a model of stability in our rankings — its No. 19 finish marks the sixth year in seven the team has cracked our top 25, and it has never ranked lower than 40. Once Bobby Cox retired, the Braves dropped an expected 50 spots in Coaching, so new skipper Fredi Gonzalez, a Cox disciple, has some ground to make up. But with help from homegrown stars Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, that shouldn’t be a problem. Meanwhile with an average ticket price of $19.38, Braves games remain a solid value, and the new food and beverage lineup at Turner Field has been well-received. When you’re in town, check out McCann’s Burgers, serving fries, sweet onion rings and milkshakes. But don’t expect to see the All-Star catcher there. He spent the off-season dropping 10 pounds. He knows the bar has been set high.
Last Year’s Rank: 36
Title Track: 57
Fan Relations: 40
Stadium Experience: 92
Bang for the Buck: 7
At the NFL draft in April, one of the biggest — and most-criticized — moves came when the Falcons traded five picks to get the sixth overall selection and used it to pick Alabama receiver Julio Jones. It was a risky move, certainly, but Atlanta’s fans seemed to take it in stride. They know better than to be critical of the guys in charge. After all, not much has gone wrong for this team recently, thanks in large part to the roster skills of GM Thomas Dimitroff and the on-field schemes of head coach Mike Smith, which have pushed the Falcons into the NFL’s top five in both Ownership (No. 20 overall) and Coaching (No. 15). Since Dimitroff and Smith arrived in 2008, the Falcons have enjoyed three straight winning seasons — a franchise-first capped by an NFC-best 13-3 record last year. For all the debate the draft-day deal stirred among insiders, Falcons fans have faith that Jones will team up with Roddy White (NFL-high 115 receptions in 2010) and Matt Ryan (career-bests in passing yards and TDs; first Pro Bowl appearance) to form one of football’s most prolific air attacks. Now, what to do about that Stadium Experience ranking? Well, owner Arthur Blank is developing a plan to replace the Georgia Dome with a new open-air stadium in downtown Atlanta. That would sure help — as would a Super Bowl appearance by Ryan and Co.
Last Year’s Rank: 44
Title Track: 118
Fan Relations: 114
Stadium Experience: 98
Bang for the Buck: 13
Okay, you try figuring out the Hawks. A year ago, with fans raving about the Al Horford and Joe Johnson combo (and that 53-win season), Atlanta jumped 36 spots in the Standings. The Hawks were poised to take that elusive next step. Fans should’ve seen the red flags when GM Rick Sund brought in former assistant Larry Drew to replace much-maligned head coach Mike Woodson. The Hawks regressed under Drew’s tutelage in the regular season (nine fewer wins) but were surprisingly tough in the playoffs, reaching the conference semifinals. Still, local bloggers want the front office blown up and the roster changed. “We have watched the Hawks be consistently inconsistent for over two years,” writes Hawk Str8Talk at Peachtree Hoops, “and now it’s time to make moves.” That negativity seems pervasive right now, as the Hawks dropped in nearly every category, from Ownership and Players (a free-fall from 47 to 120, even though the roster is largely unchanged) to Fan Relations and Stadium Experience. How strange are things in Atlanta these days? Even though the average cost of going to a game has dropped 21.7 percent since last year — the biggest drop in the NBA — Hawks games are still only the 86th-best deal out there, 39 spots worse than last year. Despite all that, they are ranked 13th in Bang for the Buck. Maybe it’s time we fly in some Sacramento fans to give folks in the ATL a little perspective.
Last Year’s Rank: 109
Title Track: 120
Fan Relations: 107
Stadium Experience: 102
Bang for the Buck: 65
The rumors finally proved true for the Thrashers, but not until fans had watched the dismal 2010-11 season draw to a close. New faces in both the GM’s and president’s offices didn’t bring enough positive change to keep the franchise in the ATL for another year. Nor did a major multiplayer trade last June. Instead, the changes led to the worst Ownership ranking out of all 122 major pro teams. So while the Atlanta Hawks — also operated by the Atlanta Spirit Group — were making headlines by reaching the 2011 NBA playoffs, their oft-ignored sibling began packing for Winnipeg. The ASG, which announced in January that it had lost $130 million over the past six years, had been trying to dump the team since 2005, doing business on the cheap. As a result, the Thrashers made just one playoff appearance in 11 seasons. Perhaps the writing was on the wall in February 2010 when the team traded Ilya Kovalchuk, its franchise player and one of the league’s top scorers. Atlanta still averaged 13,469 fans per game for the swan song, boasting a roster that featured a record five African-American players. Otherwise, there’s not much praise to go with the blame. Usually we’d tell a fan base, “There’s always next season.” But, for Atlanta fans, there won’t be one.
Once again, no love for the Atlanta Spirit.