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Melnyk Hires PR Firm Called ‘ESPN’

Not since Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were allegedly in Calabogie racing cars around the Motorsports Park has there been this much ‘small town’ buzz over something, but yes, thanks to ESPN’s Ultimate Team Rankings, much is being made of where the Ottawa Senators ranked.

Through some fan surveying and a formula derived by a sports marketing centre in Seattle, our beloved Sens had the ninth highest ranking amongst North American sports franchises from the MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL.

Yes, it’s all so very exciting, just ask the Ottawa Senators who issued the following press release entitled ‘Ottawa Senators Named No. 1 Professional Sports Team in Canada’.‏

The only thing missing from the release itself was a 'Suck it Toronto!'

Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy put it best: 

Exactly, and their headline is a tad misleading too.

The rankings aren’t necessarily a blanket assessment that examines the best or most successful franchises in sports; instead they combine fan perspectives with an objective measure of how well teams turn dollars into wins.

But, that hasn’t stopped the local newspapers from buying in.

Over at the Ottawa Sun, the Senators “were voted the No. 1 sports team in Canada in rankings released online Monday by ESPN Magazine. Ottawa was voted No. 9 in North America and No. 3 in the NHL in the rankings of 122 teams that include the NFL, NBA and MLB.”

And at the Ottawa Citizen, “the magazine rated the Senators as the top professional sports franchise in Canada, ninth best among all North American franchises and third best among the 30 in the National Hockey League, in the Ultimate Standings released Monday.”

The problem is that in essence, these ESPN rankings reward cost-efficient franchises that provide their fan base with relatively affordable entertainment and a winning product. In fact, ESPN indicated that of the fans they polled, “affordability was about 40 percent more important than stadium experience, for example, our formula reflects that.”

Speaking of the formula, here’s the breakdown of how Ottawa scored, including a write-up done by Scott T. Miller:

Last year's rank: 42
Title track: 50
Ownership: 18
Coaching: 18
Players: 30
Fan relations: 16
Affordability: 33
Stadium Experience 55
Bang for the Buck 7

Two years ago, the Senators compiled 92 points in 82 regular-season games (1.12 ppg) and squeaked into the playoffs as the eighth seed. In last season's lockout-shortened 48-game campaign, Ottawa managed only slightly more success (56 points, 1.16 ppg, seventh seed). So why then did the Sens jump 33 slots in our standings? In short, ticket prices. In 2011-12, their average ticket, $55.51, was only 2.8 percent below the league average. Last season, owner Eugene Melnyk slashed prices to $42.09, 31 percent below the NHL average. The interesting thing is that Melnyk had little incentive to do so: The Senators have ranked in the top seven in attendance six of the last nine seasons. This all helps explain why a team that's not quite championship-ready (50th in the title track category) could have the second-highest ranking in bang for the buck in the NHL. The fans keep coming back no matter the quality of the on-ice action. Who are we kidding? Winning helps.

Little incentive to do so?

Apparently ESPN forgot about this little thing called the lockout.

As a friend of mine noted, the slashed ticket prices were directly attributable to it with planned prices before the labour stoppage projected to be the exact same as the season before.

It’s all fine and good to brag about high attendance figures but without knowing what percentage of the seats are comp’d or how Ottawa’s gate revenue is relative to the rest of its peers, it’s difficult to take these rankings seriously. Moreover, affordability is a relative thing as well. In a city like Ottawa that doesn’t enjoy the corporate support that larger cities receive, a higher percentage of its fan base will inevitably be paying out their own pockets for season tickets. And in turn, that has an impact on keeping season ticket prices down.

Looking at the rankings further, it’s pretty obvious this isn’t a system that recognizes the best organizations in sports. It simply rewards small market franchises that are having some moderate success on the field/ice/court at the moment.

And conversely, it strikes me as odd that in the wake of a report that says the Ottawa Senators have lost $94M over the past ten years and Eugene Melnyk’s pleas to City Council to allow for the property adjacent to the Canadian Tire Centre to be considered as a site for a prospective casino, the Sens would pimp an arbitrary ranking from a news source who neglected to include Bobby Ryan in a list of the top 100 forwards in the NHL. I mean, weren’t the Sens just trying to rally fans to their side of the casino debate by insinuating that adding an additional revenue stream for ownership would allow them to allocate these revenues into the team’s payroll to help them compete?

Sens fans aren't stupid. We know that management (through its drafting, player development and asset management) and the coaching staff (through its preparation, execution, putting players in positions to succeed) are doing their parts and we don't need some ESPN ranking to validate this. The only rankings that should be important to us are the standings and bragging about something you can't prove makes us no better than Calabogie folk who allege that Brangelina visited their area. 

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