Every year, ESPN Magazine goes through a painstaking process that ranks sports franchises across the four major professional sports leagues. 1,002 fans are surveyed to determine the criteria fans feel are important returns on their investment. ESPN then enlisted an opinion research firm to survey home fans across the country to grade those categories. Finally, the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon calculated how well teams translated the money spent by their fans into wins. Scores were given across the range of categories and teams were ranked from best to worst.
The categories measured were affordability, bang for the buck, coaching, fan relations, ownership, players, stadium experience, and title track. The balance of subjective categories with the hard data of the costs of being a fan gives the list an objective method of determining the final rankings. This method naturally favors teams that have won titles in recent years and teams with continued expectations of success. The teams at the bottom have tortured their fans with premium ticket prices, while an inferior product takes the stage.
Some organizations on this list have been involved in incidents that have disgraced their respective leagues. Others simply do not have a tradition of winning and offer their fans little hope of winning in the future. Typically, fans will tolerate a certain amount of controversy as long as the team is winning. Winning can be a fantastic distraction, but even winning can sometimes not be enough to overcome the opinion of the general public. The franchises on this list are in need of some serious improvement in order to restore the faith of their fan bases.
25 Denver Nuggets
There is a saying that sports fans have for the Denver Nuggets, "there's no D in Denver". The Nuggets have proved this by consistently ranking in the bottom half of defensive efficiency over the last five seasons. The Nuggets have also been bounced from the NBA playoffs in the opening round in nine of the last eleven seasons. Last year they failed to make the playoffs and parted ways with longtime head coach George Karl. They also traded away franchise superstar Carmelo Anthony and never adequately replaced him.
24 Cincinnati Bengals
Despite having the Red Rifle, Andy Dalton, and superstar wide receiver AJ Green, the Cincinnati Bengals remain one of professional sports’ worst franchises. Mike Brown is considered one of the most hated owners in the league and fans do not seem to enjoy the gameday experience at Paul Brown Stadium. Even with their notable shortcomings, the Bengals have enjoyed some success in recent years including an AFC North Division title and playoff appearance last season.
23 San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers have a problem. Their football team on the field is actually pretty good, but Qualcomm Stadium is an awful experience for fans. The Chargers have also failed to deliver a Division Title since 2009, although the Chargers did manage a playoff appearance last season, where they defeated the Bengals. The franchise also struggles with fan relations, and has had team broadcaster Hank Bauer suspended for one game this season for making anti-Semitic remarks during a broadcast.
22 Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers have suffered without LeBron James in recent seasons. Following Dan Gilbert’s comic sans message to fans, their franchise value dropped rapidly, as did their season win totals. Now with James back in town along with the playmaking talents of Kyrie Irving and scoring ability of Kevin Love, Cavs fans are ready to pack the Quicken Loans Arena once again. This year should see the Cavaliers return to prominence as LeBron hopes to bring Cleveland an NBA title. We assume that they'll be off this list next year.
21 Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers have been disappointing over the last five years, managing only a single playoff performance, where they went crashing out against the New Jersey Devils. The Panthers acquired Roberto Luongo in an attempt to make amends for trading him earlier in his career before he was one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL. So far in his short second stint with the club, he has been unspectacular. Panther fans have little faith in Gerard Gallant’s coaching staff, the players on the ice, and receive little in return for their continued investment.
20 Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings are at the epicenter of the controversy in the NFL right now. After spending years attempting to restore their public image after the “Love Boat” scandal, the face of their franchise, Adrian Peterson, was arrested for beating his four-year-old son. Fans must now spend their home games at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium, while their new stadium is under construction. The future of the franchise now rests in the hands of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
19 Tennessee Titans
Without a playoff appearance since 2008, there has been little reason for Tennessee Titan fans to cheer over the last few seasons. After a promising rookie season, Jake Locker’s sophomore season was cut short with a Lisfranc injury. The Titans play their home games in the eye-sore named LP Field and have not had a winning season since Chris Johnson was called CJ2K. Faith in team ownership has waned in recent seasons and with little prospect of making the playoffs this season, that trend is likely to continue.
18 Detroit Pistons
Following the Malice at the Palace, the Detroit Pistons squandered all of the good will they accumulated during their title-winning eras. Joe Dumars has been disappointing as a front office executive, despite being a Pistons legend. The burden of winning now rests squarely on the shoulders of Brandon Jennings and Greg Monroe. Without an NBA playoff appearance in the last five season, Pistons fans are growing impatient with the ongoing rebuilding process.
17 San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres have been absent from the National League playoffs since 2006 and have not been to the World Series since 1998. Along the way they have traded superstars like Jake Peavy, while career saves leader Trevor Hoffman left in free agency and retired after a storied MLB career. Their current lineup lacks star power, which has led Padres fans to lose faith in manager Bud Black and the team’s owners. Thankfully, fans can enjoy the beautiful San Diego weather and scenery from the comfy confines of Petco Park.
16 Dallas Cowboys
Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys have been extremely successful at garnering headline attention, while not finding success on the football field. His billion dollar AT&T Stadium is one of the most expensive venues in the NFL, and the main attraction isn’t the team on the field, but the record setting video board above it. On the field, the Cowboys have stagnated with three consecutive 8-8 seasons and have not had a playoff win since 2009. Jerry Jones’ continued status as owner and general manager has baffled many fans and pundits alike.
15 Miami Dolphins
Last season the Miami Dolphins were an absolute mess. One season after displaying his incompetence on Hardknocks, Joe Philbin lost control of his football team. Richie Incognito was at the center of a bullying scandal involving teammate Jonathan Martin, which led to the rookie offensive tackle leaving the team. The Dolphins have not made the playoffs since 2009 and have not managed a playoff win since 2000. Once considered one of the best franchises in the NFL, the Dolphins now struggle to fill Sun Life Stadium, consistently ranking among the League’s poorest attended venues on game day.
14 Washington Professional Football Team
Washington has a racial slur for a nickname. On top of that they have one of the most stubborn and controversial owners in the NFL, Dan Snyder. Snyder has sued sportswriters, raised ticket prices, and led a television advertising campaign to convince America that their nickname is acceptable. Their on-field troubles have continued with Robert Griffin III suffering yet another serious injury. After an exciting start to the season, it is now up to Kirk Cousins to improve the team from their 3-13 record last season.
13 Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns are synonymous with losing. They practically invent new ways to squander away leads and lose football games. The Browns made a decisive move in trading up to draft Johnny Manziel, but so far Johnny Football has been a benchwarmer. First-year coach Mike Pettine has been forced to deal with a potential year-long suspension to superstar receiver Josh Gordon and a Week 1 injury to running back Ben Tate. The Browns have not appeared in the playoffs since 2002, and this year is not looking much brighter for Cleveland fans, though they have shown fight in all 3 of their games.
12 Detroit Lions
Despite having the best receiver in the league, Calvin Johnson, and a talented backfield consisting of Matthew Stafford and Reggie Bush, the Lions continue to struggle. Ndamukong Suh has set NFL records in fines for his on field antics. The defense suffered another blow by losing Stephen Tulloch for the year, when he tore his ACL while celebrating a sack. The Lions struggle with fan relations and also have high ticket prices, while playing in bankruptcy-stricken Detroit.
11 Vancouver Canucks
In 2011, when the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins, the city of Vancouver rioted. Two unsuccessful playoff runs followed the Stanley Cup loss, before the Canucks failed to even qualify last season. Faith in ownership and coaching has waned because of this downward spiral. Last season, the Canucks traded fan favorite Roberto Luongo and at the end of the season fired head coach John Tortorella. The Sedin twins remain a valuable part of the franchise, but management has struggled to build around them.
10 New York Jets
After two consecutive appearances in the AFC Championship game, the New York Jets missed the playoffs in the following three seasons. After cutting ties with Mark Sanchez, the Jets have placed their full faith in quarterback Geno Smith. Coach Rex Ryan remains one of the most entertaining figures in the League, but could find himself on the hot seat without a playoff appearance this season. MetLife Stadium is a boring, cookie cutter experience that has ruined a once vibrant tailgating scene. It is the worst new stadium in the NFL.
9 Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minnesota Timberwolves have missed the playoffs every season since 2004. After trading away franchise center Kevin Love, it does not appear that they are destined to reverse that trend in the near future. Cheap ticket prices allow the Timberwolves to boast above average bang for the buck, but they struggle in every other area. Fans do have some reason to hope, because the acquisitions of Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett could spur the T-Wolves to become a competitive NBA franchise.
8 Edmonton Oilers
Since their incredible Stanley Cup run ended with a loss in the Finals to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Oilers have not returned to the playoffs. Their superstar Nail Yakupov attracted controversy last season for insensitive tweets about Sikh CBC broadcasters, but was given a free pass from the hockey community. With a 7th place finish last year (in the division) and expensive ticket prices, the Oilers offer fans one of the worst bang for the buck ratings in professional sports.
7 New York Islanders
After playing their hockey in the Nassau Coliseum for the entirety of their franchise history, the New York Islanders will abandon Long Island to move to Brooklyn next season. The product on the ice has been less than stellar for Islanders fans who have seen only one playoff appearance in the last seven seasons. The franchise invested poorly when they signed goaltender Rick DiPietro to a long term contract, when DiPietro’s best discernable skill was spending time on the training room table. John Tavares remains the club’s lone bright spot for the future.
6 Chicago Cubs
The Curse of the Billy Goat has affected the Chicago Cubs since 1945, but the franchise’s woes began long before. After over 100 years without a World Series title, the Chicago Cubs are in one of the longest title droughts in sports history. The Scott Bartman foul ball incident still weighs heavily on the minds of Cubs fans, who have not been distracted by five consecutive fifth place division finishes. Until some major changes occur in the Windy City, Wrigley Field will continue to go without the World Series they so desperately seek.
5 New York Mets
The New York Mets have not given their fans many reasons to cheer since opening Citi Field in 2009. A controversy erupted after Citi acquired the naming rights after accepting bailout funds from the federal government. The Mets have missed the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons and have not posted a winning record since 2008. The franchise traded away Cy Young winner RA Dickey, and had promising young pitcher Matt Harvey sidelined to Tommy John surgery.
4 Oakland Raiders
Since the tragic death of Al Davis, the Oakland Raiders have been unable to restore any of the greatness achieved under his leadership. While boasting the most fearsome fans in the league, Oakland has been far from a fearsome on the field. After losing the Super Bowl to Tampa Bay in 2003, the Raiders have failed to make the playoffs since. The Raiders have had notable draft busts including Darius Heyward-Bey and Jamarcus Russell. Raiders’ fans hope now rests in the hands of Derek Carr.
3 Milwaukee Bucks
Last season, the Bucks only managed to earn 15 wins from 82 games. This losing trend does not look to be changing anytime soon. During their brief 2013 playoff appearance, the Bucks were quickly bounced by the Miami Heat. The Bucks rank in the ten worst franchises in fan relations, stadium experience, faith in the player and coaching staff, and title track. One of the only positive team traits is that ticket prices are low for fans that want to see below average NBA basketball.
2 New York Knicks
Going to a New York Knicks game is expensive, time consuming, and can be an extremely frustrating chore for even the most devoted Knicks fans. Thankfully, the Knicks retained the services of Carmelo Anthony or they risked being plunged back into the depths of the NBA cellar. After being bounced in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in 2013, the Knicks failed to make the playoffs last season. With little salary cap room available, it has been hard to surround Carmelo Anthony with the talent necessary to succeed.
1 Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the worst franchise in North American sports. The Leafs loss in heartbreaking fashion in Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals to the Boston Bruins and failed to make the playoffs last season. Fans are forced to deal with exorbitant ticket prices for a once storied franchise that has made the playoffs only once in the last nine seasons. Many choose to attend games in Ottawa or Buffalo rather than pay to see them at home in the Air Canada Centre. The Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and there is little hope of that changing in the foreseeable future, especially with a grossly overpaid captain in Dion Phaneuf.