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What’s the secret to a successful sports franchise? Is it great management? State-of-the-art facilities? An incredible team? Deep pockets? Or a little bit of luck at just the right time?
Maybe it’s all of the above, and then some.
After all, the definition of what makes a sports franchise “well-run” will probably differ depending on who you ask. Speak to a die-hard fan and they’ll talk about things like atmosphere, community involvement, affordable ticket prices, and of course those all-important wins.
Players however might look at the level of facilities, the quality of training and nutrition, their chance of winning titles, and the standard of coaching.
And don’t forget employees, the people behind the scenes who keep everything running no matter how the team performs. For them, a well-run franchise probably has more to do with good management, excellent benefits, and good salaries.
Add all of these unique ingredients together, and you have the recipe for a well-run franchise. So if we take all of these factors into account, what are North America’s best-run franchises?
We decided to crunch the numbers, analyzing all of the data points to determine the best-run outfits across the four major leagues.
Our research examined 10 key factors that define a successful sports organization. Key data points such as trophies and appearances, franchise value, franchise age, number of managers over a decade, average attendance, Glassdoor score, ticket price/fan cost, social following and sentiment were all analyzed and then weighted in order to provide us with an accurate index.
The data was then used to build our power rankings of professional sports franchises.
Before we zero in on America’s best-run sports franchises, we should probably zoom out and look at the major leagues as a whole.
So what do the results tell us?
Football may be America’s favorite sport, but according to our analysis, NFL franchises are also the most well-run franchises. The NFL came out on top of our ranking of outstanding leagues, with iconic dynasties the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers leading a blitz on the overall standings. Though, true to form, the Jaguars and Cardinals did their best to tank the gridiron’s quest for greatness.
Next up was Major League Baseball, where household names like the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves upped the average both on and off the diamond. The big hitters didn’t have it all their own way however in a close-run race for second place with the NBA.
Over on the hardwood, there was nothing but net for teams like the Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, and Los Angeles Lakers who jumped out into a commanding lead in the race to become the NBA’s best-run franchises. However, the data wasn’t so kind to the Memphis Grizzlies and Charlotte Hornets - two franchises that have long proved to be a punchline for rival fans.
Finally, we have the NHL. While NHL expansion teams have had an impact on the league's franchise rankings, due to their relatively short existence, it is important to acknowledge that they have achieved significant success within their limited timeframe. Give it a couple more years and they could be climbing up the ranks.
Though their recent on-field record is a poor imitation of the dynasties that have gone before them, away from the gridiron, the Dallas Cowboys continue to top just about every metric for success. Not only are “America’s Team” the NFL’s most valuable, but according to our analytics, they’re also the best run.
As well as boasting great grades for player-friendly metrics like facilities, locker rooms, and treatment, the Big D also scored well with staff who’ve given the team an impressive rating on the employee reviews site Glassdoor. The only blemish on their record was perhaps the fans. Though they’re by far the most supported team on social media with a combined following of 19,178,037, sentiment has plummeted to just 32% in the wake of a string of wasted seasons.
It’s not just the Cowboys who ranked highly, however. The San Francisco 49ers also fared well, proving that recent success isn't necessarily a barometer for a well-run franchise. The Red and Gold haven't lifted the Vince Lombardi trophy since 1995, but scored highly in our rankings thanks to their top-tier player facilities and excellent working culture.
Elsewhere in the standings, there was a string of interesting subplots. The recently relocated Las Vegas Raiders took the top spot in terms of facilities while the Kansas City Chiefs won out in terms of fan sentiment. Our results will make for grim reading for the Jacksonville Jaguars however who just beat out the Arizona Cardinals in the race to the bottom.
Fans of the Bronx Bombers have another reason to celebrate as the pinstripes added another win to their illustrious history. Beating off stiff competition from National League sluggers the Atlanta Braves (2nd) and the San Francisco Giants (3rd) as well as their longtime AL rivals the Boston Red Sox (4th), the Yanks landed the top spot in our rundown of baseball’s best-run franchises.
With 27 World Series titles, baseball’s winningest team has their on-field success to thank for their ranking. But they also scored highly thanks to other metrics including social media following (16,381,995), franchise value ($7,130,000,000) and the relative stability of their front office.
From an employee's perspective, the MLB offered a mixed bag, with franchises like Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins (all 4.5) knocking it out of the park on Glassdoor. The Arizona Diamondbacks also scored well from an employee perspective. But that was a rare bright spot amidst a host of swing-and-miss rankings that saw them slip to the bottom of the pile on our franchise rankings thanks to their abject social media followings, fan sentiment, and average attendance.
The Golden State Warriors are the undisputed kings of the NBA. But we’re not just talking about their all-star roster or the fact that they’ve won four NBA Championships over the last decade. That’s because the Dubs are attracting plaudits as much for their work off of the court as they are on it.
Recently named the NBA’s most valuable franchise - the first time a team outside of New York has topped the rankings for more than 20 years - Steph Curry and co. led just about every metric in our ranking of the NBA’s best-run franchises. Whether it’s their combined social media presence (54,140,060 followers), average attendance (102.70%) or positive fan sentiment (81%) wherever you look it’s been nothing but net for the sport’s best-run franchise.
Golden State didn’t have everything their own way in our analysis of the NBA’s best-run franchises, however. They were pushed to the wire by the likes of the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs.
Hoops fans probably won’t be surprised to find out that the likes of the Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves are as bad off the court as they are off of it. The much-maligned franchises have had a torrid time since their introduction to the league, swapping everything from front offices to franchise homes during their relatively short tenure in the NBA.
Given its popularity up in the Great White North, it should come as no surprise that our neighbors across the border can lay claim to two of hockey’s best-run franchises. Though their fans have been starved of success over recent years both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens took podium places on our ranking of the NHL’s best-run.
The Leafs might be the top dogs in terms of franchise value ($2,120,000,000) and franchise history, the Canadians didn’t have everything their own way. The gloves were off in the NHL with outfits from coast-to-coast vying for a shot at franchise greatness. The Buffalo Sabres for example can lay claim to the strongest fan sentiment (80%) and even relative newcomers like the Vegas Golden Knights got in on the act, coming out on top in terms of average attendance (103.00%).
At the other end of the spectrum, hockey’s sin bin isn’t short of failing franchises. Fans of the Ottawa Senators, Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers obviously won’t need a reminder of their teams’ failures over recent years. While the Panthers have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals this year, their performance away from the rink will still ring alarm bells. From the most dissatisfied fans (Arizona Coyotes) to the most managerial changes (Florida Panthers), the league’s bottom feeders have a long way to go on and off of the ice.
So what’s the secret sauce to a successfully run sports franchise?
Even if it isn’t recent, history obviously counts for a lot, and some of the best-run franchises on our rankings have spent decades trying to get to where they are now. But perhaps the most interesting thing about our analysis is that the best-run franchises aren't necessarily the sport’s most successful.
Sure the cream always rises to the top. But away from the action things like fan engagement, affordable pricing, and employee satisfaction play pivotal roles in the overall success and prosperity of a franchise.
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