You might remember a couple of weeks ago, when ESPN released their yearly Ultimate Standings, a ranking of all 122 franchises in major pro sports.
The methodology is pretty simple - ESPN surveyed fans to find out what was important to them, then surveyed fans of each team to find out how well franchises were meeting fans' desires. The standings end up serving as a pretty good benchmark of how happy fans are, overall, with the franchises they live and die with. The Buffalo Sabres, who are SEC football-level popular in their area, finished first. The bottom six is made up of franchises that have completely lost it: the Lions, the Raiders, the Bruins, the Blackhawks, the Knicks, and of course, the Minnesota Vikings.
The Purple's finish near the bottom, in 119th overall, served only to highlight the area's most popular franchise: the Twins, who finished 14th overall, and third among MLB teams. After a few years in which baseball was just about completely off the map in Minnesota, fans were brought back by several factors: cheap tickets, a new crop of young, likeable stars, some quirky advertising - and of course, four division titles in five years.
Overall, Twins fans found the team easy to relate to (4th in MLB), the games easy to afford (fourth in the league), and the team poised for a title (10th). Ron Gardenhire was the seventh-most popular manager in baseball. Minnesota was judged to be getting the second-best return on the dollars they spent for players. And those young stars made up the most likeable team in the game.
In fact, only two categories hurt the Twins in this ranking. One was ownership - Mr. Pohlad was ranked as the twelfth-worst owner in the game. And the other was, not surprisingly, the stadium. The Metrodome did not do well in this poll; the baseball setup was ranked as the third-worst stadium in all of pro sports, the football setup came in dead last. Only Florida Marlins fans were unhappier than Twins and Vikings fans with their stadium.
We all know that in 2010 version of this ranking, the Twins' stadium score should go up considerably. Of the teams that have opened new stadiums since 1999, only the Padres and the Reds finished out of the top ten in the stadium category, and if the groundswell of support for the new park is any indication, Twins fans will probably push it into the top ten as well.
So, it seems logical - the new park should push Minnesota to become one of the most popular franchises in all of pro sports. It'll be a new baseball renaissance in Minneapolis, right? It'll be the last piece of the puzzle, the last thing that makes Minnesota #1 in the rankings and therefore #1 in your hearts.
Wrong. Well, at the very least, not totally correct.
Ultimately, it seems clear that these rankings - which purport to tell us how fans feel, overall, towards their franchises - are simply a proxy for the old adage: everybody likes a winner.
I'll give you an example: the rankings include a category that ranks teams based on how much their fans like their players. The Twins are on top of this category, followed by St. Louis, Houston, Oakland, Detroit, the White Sox, and the Mets. At the bottom of the rankings: Baltimore, Kansas City, the Cubs, the Mariners, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Tampa Bay... do I need to go on?
The Fan Relations ranking, the Coaching ranking - both look just about the same. Successful teams are generally on top. The Pirates probably aren't actually less likeable than, say, the White Sox - but they are worse in the field. Poor teams are generally on the bottom of the rankings. This means that either popularity breeds winning, or more likely, that it's easier to be likeable when fans are happy with your on-field performance.
And stadiums have no impact on the overall rankings. Seattle and San Francisco are in the bottom four. Cincinnati is 15th. Philadelphia is 20th. Pittsburgh is 21st. These cities all have nice new ballparks, but when the team stinks, nobody likes them, no matter how nice the building is.
I suppose this is a warning to anyone the Twins organization, or anyone in Twinkie Town, to watch out. The new park will help. But if you think that the fans will stay happy without a winner on the field, just because of outdoor baseball - well, think again.