Our sixth National survey—ranking how the big four pro teams reward teams for love, loyalty, and money—says the Colts have lapped the field. The Knicks? Yikes!
In another time and place, we might never have noticed gordon38. But he's a proud member of Blue Nation, baby, and of MyColts.net, the social network created last year by the Indianapolis Colts. Gordon38 not only blogs and uploads photos to the web, he also led an online campaign supporting Mike McCarthy for NFL Coach of the Year (to block Bill Belichick from getting it, which worked). What makes MyColts.net unique is this: Participants earn "Colts Cred" points based on how often other members look at their pages and how members rate the content. Every detail added to a profile page, every opinion posted on a blog can boost an owner's rating. MyColts.net posts a daily leaderboard of its top 25 fans. As of April 20, gordon38 was No. 1.
Just like his favorite team. In this era of instant and constant communication, the Colts have moved beyond just linking fans to ticket sales, beyond connecting fans to forums, right into promoting fans to each other. Indianapolis knows that fans feel empowered when their opinions matter and prouder when their commitment is given a shout-out. That's why the Colts rank first among Big Four pro franchises in this, the sixth edition of our Ultimate Standings. No team gives as much back to fans for the emotion, money and time they invest as Jim Irsay's club does. (Our rankings combine results from extensive fan surveys with an analysis of how efficiently teams use fan money. See our methodology on espnthemag.com.)
Fans love Colts management for its loyalty, ranking the team first in the NFL in holding onto core players, and they love Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison & Co. for their class (Players: 8), putting Colts players first in the NFL in acting like pros on and off the field. Colts fans also get a great deal at games. Indianapolis has won 43 games in the past three seasons (including the postseason)—the same as New England—but being a Colts fan is about 30% cheaper than being a Patriots fan (Bang for the Buck: 3 vs. 12).
Value is important to fans this year, according to our research. Makes sense. As fans, we're smarter: We're all GMs now, compelled to keep track of stats and caps and contract years in fantasy leagues. At the same time, wide-open playoff races have made us less patient with teams that don't compete. Also by our analysis, it costs an average of $3,487.64 a season to be a baseball fan and $2,852.42 to follow an NBA team. So fans don't require outright championships, but they need to see a strategic plan. Teams that perennially rank near the top of our standings (Angels, Pistons, Spurs) combine owners who are willing to spend with GMs who formulate smart budgets. Even worse than losing, those near the bottom (Lions, Raiders, Bengals) have convinced fans that management is clueless.
Which brings us to our last-place team, the New York Knicks, who bottomed out in a year of epic disasters. Saddled with the highest prices in the NBA (Affordability: 121), Knicks fans watched their team suffer blowout after blowout on its way to a franchise-record-tying 59 L's (Bang: 118).
Boss James Dolan (Ownership: 118) represents the dark side of corporate control of sports franchises. By day he runs Cablevision, a company so huge that its revenue is barely affected by the Knicks' ups and downs. As a result, he has little incentive to set things right. Instead, he gave Isiah Thomas (Coaching: 121) total control of the club. Ex-coach Thomas assembled a roster that finished last in our survey for likability, accessibility, giving their best effort and showing appreciation to fans (Fan Relations: 122). And along the way, a jury found him liable for sexual harassment. Maybe now Thomas can try to answer the question he reportedly put to harassed former Knicks executive VP Anucha Browne Sanders: "What the f— is your job?"
New prez of hoops ops Donnie Walsh will try to clean up the mess. But he'll need time. This club has more than $90 million committed to the same sad-sack roster next season. The situation is so bad that a recent poll found the Red Sox are the favorite team of more New Yorkers than the Knicks.
There was one real highlight this season: During the team's final home game, on April 14, food and nonalcoholic drinks were free. Fans wandered the aisles of Madison Square Garden grabbing clutches of hot dogs and bales of kettle corn, and they crammed into the concession stand at Gate 76 for free prime rib sandwiches (usually $11.95).
But as their team lost to a bunch of Celtics backups and while the steak settled in their guts, the New Yorkers in attendance realized that night was actually like any other this season: Once again, the Knicks had fed their fans nothing but bull.
[Want to see how your team measures up? Check out the rest of the rankings here.