When ESPN Magazine unveiled its 13th annual Ultimate Standings this week, it didn’t offer many surprises for Denver sports fans. As is often the case, the Broncos rule all, the Rockies and Nuggets are hide-your-eyes bad, and the Avs reside somewhere in the forgettable middle.
ESPN ranks all 122 pro franchises in the “four majors”—football, baseball, basketball, and hockey—according to a series of metrics both tangible and intangible. (It’s relatively scientific, but you can also notice biases in some of the ratings.) Included among them are the team’s path to a title, its talent levels, coaching and front office expertise, its stadium experience, and its fan friendliness, which includes everything from ticket prices to “bang for the buck.”
This collection of measurements is meant to gauge a franchise’s overall health, so in this case, winning isn’t everything. For example, perennial contenders such as the New England Patriots (25th), the San Francisco Giants (26th), and the L.A. Dodgers (59th) finished lower than you might expect primarily because it’s so expensive to see those teams play in person. Meanwhile, small-market or also-ran teams such as the Memphis Grizzlies (2nd), Oklahoma City Thunder (7th), and Arizona Diamondbacks (9th) clean up in these ratings largely because they’ve done such a good job connecting with their communities. (For the second straight year, the San Antonio Spurs—which should be everyone’s model franchise, regardless of sport—topped the list.)
So how did the local boys fare? Here are some of the highlights:
Broncos: 20th overall, down three spots from last year. They have—for the moment, anyway—Denver’s second-clearest path to a championship (29th overall) and a bang-for-the-buck rating of 5th, owing to the team’s mere five losing seasons since 1984, a streak of consistency that’s almost unparalleled. If they’re hurting at all by these measures, it’s because their tickets are so expensive. (Ticket prices are a built-in handicap for all NFL teams in these rankings.) It’ll be interesting to see where the orange-and-blue lands once the Peyton Manning Experiment ends.
Avs: 51st overall isn’t bad, but it’s 35 spots lower than 2014, when the team was coming off a strong playoff season. The Avs actually have the 25th-best path to a title, but the basic eye test (not to mention common sense) make it easier to envision John Elway hoisting a Lombardi Trophy this season than Patrick Roy smooching Lord Stanley’s Cup next June. But the abilities of Roy and his staff (22nd) are the team’s strongest plus.
Rockies: The surprise number-three finisher in Denver is a dismal 110th overall, and the only shock is that they aren’t lower. The team’s coaching (117th), fan relations (117th), and ownership (118th) could hardly be worse, and its path to a title (122nd) literally couldn’t be. If that weren’t bad enough, the Rockies’ biggest asset, Coors Field, dropped from 36th in stadium experience in 2014 to 57th this year. So much for the roof deck.
Nuggets: Somebody at ESPN sure doesn’t like these guys. The franchise that’s about 30 months off of a 57-win season and a trip to the Western Conference finals now has the second-worst path to a title—Thanks, Rockies!—and embarassingly low scores in talent (119th), fan relations (121st), ownership (114th), and coaching (107th). The silver lining, besides the fact that in the NBA it’s better to be godawful than mediocre: the lone NBA outfit ranked lower than the Nuggets is Carmelo Anthony’s Knicks.
As we’ve noted before, if the Broncos don’t get that elusive ring in February, it might be a long while before Denver hosts any ticker-tape parades. Sadly, these numbers only reinforce that assumption.
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.