Professional sports franchises win, lose, relocate. In that sense, the games imitate life. And as reiterated in ESPN The Magazine’s annual “Ultimate Standings,” whether male or female, everyone wants to be in love.
Fans want to love their players, want to love their coaches, want to love their team. They like new arenas, appreciate reasonably priced food and beverages, but more than anything, they want to wrap their arms around the players, envisioning them as members of the extended family.
Marriage and family counseling won’t cut it.
When author Peter Keating surveyed fans for the magazine’s inaugural rankings in 2003, the Kings finished first in ownership – yes, those Maloofs – and fourth overall. Of course, that didn’t last long. As the team disintegrated amid constant threats of relocation, repeated firings and hirings of coaches and front office executives, and even into the chaotic ownership transition, the team hit bottom and ranked last – of 122 franchises – in 2013. In this year’s issue, the Kings’ overall rating improved slightly to 113th.
But before banning the color purple, here’s why none of this information should be taken too seriously: Relationships change. Data don’t reveal everything that goes on in a house or a bedroom. The Memphis Grizzlies ranked No. 1 in 2013. The Grizzlies? What does that tell you?
The most recent information spins a tale of Kings fans who have been happily married, gone through a bruising and at times excruciating divorce, and are left pining for a more compatible life partner who is deserving of their affections. That search figures to be lengthy, though. In the magazine’s most recent edition, the Kings were No. 109 in ownership, 121 in title track (championship prospects) and last in the categories pertaining to players.
“What fans want more than anything else are players who give their best effort, who are likeable and act professionally on and off the court,” Keating said. “Giving the best effort is the single most important of the 25 criteria we look at, and the Kings finished last in effort, acting professionally and being liked. The roster turnovers, all the fighting between players and coaches, all the backbiting. How much of this (relates to) DeMarcus Cousins, I don’t know. But sometimes you see a roster bottom out all at once, and that’s what you are seeing here.”
Keating likes to say there is a method to the madness he formulated in conjunction with experts from the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. In this latest survey of 72,000 participants, each team was rated and its scores combined in the following categories: affordability, coaching, fan relations, ownership, players, stadium experience, title track (likelihood of winning championships) and bang for the buck.
If it’s any consolation to Kings fans, the 49ers were voted the worst franchise in pro sports. The magazine also should have noted the timing of the Kings’ ranking is a bit off; the survey was conducted during the offseason, before ownership/management hired and finally empowered an established coach (Dave Joerger), and Golden 1 Center opened, providing a much needed emotional boost.
Kings officials, of course, are weary of the karate chops they continue to absorb in the rankings, particularly while basking in the glow of their stunning new downtown arena. The good news is the favorable affordability ratings remained consistent and figure to transfer to next year’s issue. According to Kings president Chris Granger, except for the premium seats located courtside and on the baselines, ticket prices have remained consistent or increased by an average of $2.
Additionally, the popularity of the Sierra Nevada Draught House on the upper level and the large crowds who line the lower bridge have Kings executives debating ways to make the suite-level bridge – between the upper and lower levels, but restricted to suite holders – accessible to all fans.
But let’s turn back to the basic notion of ranking and rating teams and using a complicated methodology only a math whiz can master. Analytics is a useful tool, but it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Remember my statement about relationships changing?
Well, in 2003 when this all started, when the Kings finished in the top 20 in six categories and former co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof were viewed more favorably than virtually every other owner in pro sports, the Kings already were on the cusp of a downward spiral. Chris Webber had shredded his knee. Arena talks were stalled. A limping Webber returned shortly before the 2003-04 playoffs, but that was a chemistry killer and, in effect, the precursor to the breakup of the organization’s most entertaining and successful squad.
Relationships changed, emotions changed, everything changed. Consider what Joe Maloof told me when the magazine’s first rankings were published: “I’m still blown away. I never knew this team meant that much to the city. I never understood the emotion, the intensity that people invest in the Kings. You can’t fathom it unless you live it. (Sacramento) is such a great city. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I just can’t.”
First came love, then came marriage, then came … divorce. And if Keating and his group did their homework correctly, this much can be said with certainty: The pressure is on the Maloofs’ successors to sign players Kings fans can enjoy and embrace, can watch grow and develop, and in their dreams can invite home for dinner.