Despite a heart-breaking end to the season, not all hope is lost for the Pittsbugh Pirates. The team recently got some cool off-the-field recognition from ESPN. In their annual Franchise Rankings, where ESPN ranks every franchise in the four major sports, the Pirates were the highest ranked baseball team, and came in at eighth overall. ESPN surveryed fans in a number of different ways to look for what fans seek in their favorite sports teams and what they want in a game experience. Each major sports franchise was ranked 1-122 in the following areas: affordability, coaching, fan relations, ownership, players, stadium experience, title track, and bang for the buck. At the end, each franchise was given an overall ranking based on these categories. Each category is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s important to note that “fan relations” was weighted the most at 25%, while coaching was weighted the least at 3.2%. Here’s how they ranked the Pirates in each category:
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Title track: 57
Fan relations: 16
Stadium experience: 2
Bang for the buck: 8
Change from last year: +14
So it’s interesting to see that the Pirates didn’t rank first in any category, but were highest in the “stadium experience” area. This is no surprise as PNC Park has long been regarded as one of, if not the best venue in all of sports. Their ownership is the team’s lowest ranked category, which also makes sense. The Pirates are a small market baseball team that traditionally doesn’t spend a lot of money. The success of their drafts, signings, and trades is often attributed to management and the front office, while any lack of success, fairly or not, is often at least partially directed at the ownership. It’s important that these individual category rankings are for all four major sports, not just in baseball. Here’s what Jayson Stark, Senior Writer at ESPN.com, had to say about the Pirates:
"From the Pirates’ gorgeous waterfront ballpark to their suddenly energized fan base, you could argue that the love affair between Pittsburgh and its baseball franchise is at its all-time peak. And in fact, the Pirates are the only team in our rankings to have moved up every year since 2010 — from 82nd all the way to eighth, the top-ranked baseball team this year."
It’s great to see that the Pirates have consistently moved up the rankings in recent years, showing how much they’ve improved not just their on-the-field product, but most of the other parts of the franchise as well. You can read more about the Pirates’ ranking here.
I found it most interesting that ESPN ranked Pittsburgh 57th overall in the title track category, considering the team is coming off of a 98-win season, good for the second best record in all of baseball. They have one of the best farm systems in the game, a great front office led by Neal Huntington, and a collection of good players at the major league level, headlined by 2014 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. I’d guess it’s because it’s arguably harder to win it all in baseball than it is in the other three major sports because of the lack of a salary cap, which plays into the hands of big market teams. And I’m sure the fact that they haven’t won a World Series since 1979 probably works against them as well.
It’s good to see that the Pittsburgh Pirates have earned respect and achieved relevance on a national level. I don’t know how much higher the Pirates could move up than eighth, however. Maybe next year a deep playoff run could see the Pirates become one of the top five franchises in all of sports.