TAMPA, Florida – The Tampa Bay Lightning franchise is the best. In all of sports. At least, according to the just-announced 2016 ESPN Ultimate Standings, which rank all 122 NHL, MLB, NFL, and NBA franchises “in categories that matter most to fans.”
For the first time in its 14-year history, the Ultimate Standings honor a Tampa-area team, after ranking the Lightning No. 3 in all of pro sports last year. The standings consider 25 criteria, including as ticket prices, recent on-field successes, and how owners & players show appreciation to their fans, a factor in which the Lightning ranked No. 1 out of 122 franchises.
“When Jeff Vinik bought the team in 2010, his No. 1 goal was to make this a world-class franchise (and) to serve our fans as well as we possibly could,” said Tampa Bay Lightning Executive Vice President of Communication Bill Wickett. “We feel that the ESPN Ultimate Standings are validation of that.”
ESPN The Magazine, which publishes its rankings in print this Saturday, also heralded the Lighting’s huge crowds at Fan Fest (11,000-plus), Vinik’s charitable efforts, and how the team has turned Tampa into “a hockey town.”
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers placed 73rd out of 122 franchises, while ESPN ranked the Tampa Bay Rays 90th. The San Francisco 49ers ranked last, thanks to high ticket prices, poor on-field performance, and cold owner/player relations with fans.
The entire rankings will be published on ESPN.com later this week.