Friday, April 29, 2011

How to Really Rank the New York Sports Teams

I was shocked when I saw this: The number of "Facebook likes" and "Twitter followers" that the New York Tri-State Area teams have:

1. Yankees: 3,900,883
2. Knicks: 899,652
3. Jets: 882,221
4. Giants: 799,873
5. Mets: 400,777
6. Rangers: 277,192
7. Devils: 188,564
8. Nets: 142,005
9. Red Bulls: 78,981
10. Islanders: 43,598
11. Liberty: 11,994

Think about that for a moment. The Jets have 10 percent more followers than the Giants, who are not only far more successful but had a 35-year head start on them. That's surprising enough.

But the Islanders? That is a franchise nearly 40 years old, and it had a 10-year head start on the Devils, and have more Stanley Cups and more trips to the Finals than the Devils. Not only do the Isles have less than one-quarter the followers (at least, on Facebook and Twitter) of the Devils, and less than one-third that of the vagabond Nets (who haven't won a title since the ABA in 1976 and are 2-8 all-time in NBA Finals games), but have only 55 percent as many followers as the local soccer team!

I know soccer has grown tremendously in this country, especially in the last 10 years as satellite television has exposed millions of Americans to the international and European club leagues as they'd never been seen before. But, still, the Red Bulls haven't won anything either! One trip to the MLS Cup Final, no trips to the U.S. Open Cup Final, and no Supporters' Shields. (The trophy awarded for the best overall record in the regular season, equivalent to the NHL's President's Trophy.)

And the Islanders have only 55 percent of the followers of the Red Bulls. For the Isles, that is a freakin' disgrace.

I wondered if there was a better way to rank the teams. So I came up with a few, and totaled them up. Check this out:

First, I took those Facebook/Twitter rankings:

1. Yankees, 2. Knicks, 3. Giants, 4. Rangers, 5. Devils, 6. Mets, 7. Jets, 8. Red Bulls, 9. Liberty, 10. Nets, 11. Islanders. Yes, I counted both the Red Bulls and the WNBA franchise. If I had included the Rutgers football team and the basketball teams at Rutgers, Seton Hall and St. John's universities, they would barely have registered. I didn't include the local minor-league baseball teams, either, but the Brooklyn Cyclones have 13,682 followers, putting them a little ahead of the Liberty.

Then, I took the attendance figures, based not on total attendance (which would automatically favor the baseball teams at 81 home games and hurt the football teams at 8), but upon percentage of capacity filled:

1. Knicks, 2. Rangers, 3. Giants, 4. Jets, 5. Yankees, 6. Devils, 7. Nets, 8. Mets, 9. Red Bulls, 10. Islanders, 11. Liberty. No surprise there: The Devils, the Nets, the MLS and the WNBA have perennially struggled with attendance, although the Red Bulls are way up now that they're out of that concrete can at the Meadowlands and into Red Bull Arena; while the Mets have been struggling for the last couple of years and the Islanders haven't won a Playoff series since Bill Clinton's first 100 days.

Next, I came up with a rating system for each team's fans, based on how much they show up (the preceding, thus counted one and one-third times), how loud they get, and whether they get rough (the 2nd category helping the Rangers, but the 3rd really hurting them, because they tend to hurt others):

1. Knicks, 2. Yankees, 3. Rangers, 4. Jets, 5. Devils, 6. Red Bulls, 7. Giants, 8. Mets, 9. Nets, 10. Liberty, 11. Islanders. With the Mets, Nets, Libs and Isles, the fans who show up are pretty good, there's just not enough of them. Giant fans seem to be less into it than Jet fans. As for the Rangers, as much as I hate them and their team, they might have been number 1 if they'd just stop getting drunk and shoving opposing fans -- or even their own.

The next category was buildings. Granted, different fan bases mean different "atmospheres" for teams in the same building. And note that the Nets and Libs are temporarily sharing the Prudential Center with the Devils: The Nets until the Barclays Center opens in Brooklyn, the Libs until the renovation of Madison Square Garden is done. They're doing it in the spring and summer, the NBA's and NHL's off-season, so the Knicks and Rangers don't have to move, but the Libs do. Way to be gender-sensitive about it, Jimmy Dolan!

I judged the buildings on access by car (which really hurts the Garden), access by public transportation (which really hurts the Nassau Coliseum and the Meadowlands facilities), layout, upkeep (in other words, maintenance, including cleanliness), seating (comfort and view), field (diamond, gridiron, pitch, court, ice), scoreboard, food (variety, price, access and taste), restrooms (access, size and cleanliness), and overall atmosphere (the most subjective stat of all).

If this were just 4 years ago, with the Yanks and Mets still in their old ballparks, the Giants and Jets still in Giants Stadium (which hurt the Jets more than we realize), and the Nets and Devils still in the Meadowlands, the rankings would look like this:

1. Yankees, old Yankee Stadium; 2. Mets, Shea Stadium; 3. Knicks, Madison Square Garden; 4. Rangers, Madison Square Garden; 5. Liberty, Madison Square Garden; 6. Islanders, Nassau Coliseum; 7. Devils, Brendan Byrne Arena; 8. Nets, Byrne Arena; 9. Giants, Giants Stadium; 10. Jets, Giants Stadium; 11. Red Bulls, Giants Stadium.

Shea had a lot of things wrong with it, but if it had simply been kept cleaner, it might have been a serious challenger for first. The Knicks rank higher than the Rangers due to fans having a far lower bastard quotient, and both rank higher than the Liberty simply due to the Garden being half-full for their games. Similarly, as bad as the Meadowlands Arena, currently known as the Izod Center, was, Devils games there usually had a good atmosphere, far better than for the Nets. And Giants Stadium, well, former NFL player turned broadcaster and author Tim Green had it right: "Football in a can. Curse the Giants for ever leaving Yankee Stadium." And it was no place for the Red Bulls, with 65,000 people coming dressed as empty seats.

But in their current buildings -- not making allowances for the Nets in Brooklyn, about which we currently know nothing since they have yet to play a game there...

1. Yankees, new Yankee Stadium; 2. Mets, Citi Field; 3. Devils, Prudential Center; 4. Red Bulls, Red Bull Arena; 5. Liberty, Prudential Center; 6. Nets, Prudential Center; 7. Jets, Meadowlands Stadium; 8. Giants, Meadowlands Stadium; 9. Knicks, Madison Square Garden; 10. Rangers, Madison Square Garden; 11. Islanders, Nassau Coliseum.

Of the 11, none is automatically a bad experience. The Prudential Center is a spectacular arena. The new Yankee Stadium combines the best features of the old one with the best features of modern ballparks, though at a very steep price. Despite the presence of thousands of Met fans, I like Citi Field. The new Meadowlands Stadium is much better than its predecessor, although I wish they had done something about the wind that plagued it.

The Nassau Coliseum is worth one visit a year, but, I'm sorry, but one level of concourse for two levels of seats simply doesn't work. At least the Izod Center has twice the floor space on its concourse, but it's still bad. I have 2 problems with the Garden: Those escalator towers at the "corners" can take forever, and the food isn't great. And that's when it's a Knicks game. When it's a Ranger game, there's an additional problem: It's full of Ranger fans. Yes, I know, many of them are also Yankee Fans. They're great people from May to October, but from November through April, they're SCUM!

I rated the Red Bulls as having a 50 percent improvement on their previous home, the Nets 27 percent, the Devils 25 percent, the Jets 24 percent (over their previous experience in Giants Stadium), the Liberty 19 percent (though they will be back in the Garden in June 2014), the Giants 18 percent (over THEIR previous experience in Giants Stadium), the Mets 13 percent (it actually feels like more) and the Yankees 10 percent. Still being in the same buildings, there was no improvement for the Knicks, Rangers and Islanders, though it remains to be seen what the current renovation will do to the Garden.

The next category I had was on-field success. I weighted the number of times a team had finished in its sport's last 16, last 8, last 4, last 2, and as champions:

1. Yankees, 2. Giants, 3. Rangers, 4. Knicks, 5. Red Bulls, 6. Devils, 7. Mets, 8. Nets, 9. Liberty, 10. Jets, 11. Islanders.

The top 4 should be no surprise, as it favors the older teams. But the bottom 6, wow. You would think that, having won 4 Stanley Cups and been to 1 other Finals, the Isles would not be last. Certainly, they shouldn't be behind the Red Bulls, Mets, Jets and Libs. But the Red Bulls and Libs usually make their leagues' Playoffs, while the Isles hardly ever do anymore. No, I didn't weight it in favor of recent Playoffs: Doing so in the Isles' first Playoff year, 1975, was worth the same as making it this season, if they had (the Rangers were the only area hockey team to do so).

The next category is comparative success -- that is, how well have they done in relation to how long they've been around:

1. Yankees, 2. Liberty, 3. Giants, 4. Rangers, 5. Devils, 6. Islanders, 7. Knicks, 8. Red Bulls, 9. Mets, 10. Nets, 11. Jets.

Much better for the hockey teams, especially since, from 1943 to 1967, a team only had to finish 4th out of the NHL's then 6 teams to make it, and the Rangers did, a few times. But look at the jump the Libs get, as the area's newest team (1997) -- though they've lost all 5 WNBA Finals they've reached. The 3 "ets" teams really suffer, though, and having won just 2 of the first 65 NBA Championships socks it to the Knickerbockers.

My final category was Hall-of-Famers. I calculated that a team should get 5 points for every member of the Baseball, Pro Football, Basketball, Hockey or U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame that can be fully credited to the team -- either played most of their career with that team or was a significant title contributor for a few years, thus allowing me to count Enos Slaughter, Catfish Hunter and Wade Boggs as Yankees -- and 1 point for any other Hall-of-Famer who played for a given team, even if only for 1 game. This includes coaches, executives and broadcasters:

1. Yankees, 2. Rangers, 3. Giants, 4. Knicks, 5. Islanders, 6. Mets, 7. Jets, 8. Devils, 9. Red Bulls, 10. Liberty, 11. Nets. And that includes Julius "Dr. J" Erving as a five-point HOFer for the Nets: While he had his biggest years with the Philadelphia 76ers, he had his most talented, most amazing years with the New York Nets of the American Basketball Association, playing his home games at the Nassau Coliseum.

So, counting each 1st-place finish as 1 point, 2nd as 2, and so on, I totaled the rankings, and came up with this:

1. Yankees 12
2. Knicks 28
3. Giants 30
4. Rangers 30
5. Devils 40
6. Mets 45
7. Jets 46
8. Red Bulls 50
9. Liberty 58
10. Nets 59
11. Islanders 64

Considering how often I've used this column to say that I hate the Mets and that the Rangers suck (which... they do), it is surprising that I ranked them both as high as I did.

Should I still be shocked that, putting it all together, the Islanders are last? Probably not. And, let's not forget, once the Nets move into Brooklyn, and have their own arena for the very first time, the gap between 10th and 11th is only going to get bigger.

And with the "LIghthouse" project still going nowhere, the Isles are the only area team seriously in danger of having to move -- not just from one part of the Tri-State Area to another, as the Devils, the Nets, the Red Bulls and (temporarily) the Liberty have all done in the last 4 years, and the Nets will again in 1 year -- but out of the Tri-State Area altogether.

In the immortal words of Elton John (actually, those of his lyricist Bernie Taupin), "It's sad, so sad, it's a sad, sad situation, and it's getting more and more absurd."

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