Thursday, February 05, 2004

We're No. ... 23! | By now the entire sporting blogosphere has glommed onto the 2004 fan satisfaction ratings published in the current issue of the awkwardly named ESPN The Magazine. But I've yet to see anyone focus on how our heroes in the City of Brotherly Love fared. All in all, it's not so bad; all four Philly teams finish in the first division. But the editors' interpretation of how our various squads scored across the eight criteria used to rank the teams is a bit curious at times:

23. Philadelphia Eagles: You'd have thought that an amenities-packed new stadium (HDTV video screens, 6,000 extra parking spots, no more rats) would have improved the Iggles' ranking. Alas, someone has to pay for The Linc: ticket prices skyrocketed 39 percent, more than six times the average NFL hike. But the bigger problem is all those spankings in NFC championship games. And fans aren't blaming Donovan McNabb (or Rush Limbaugh). The demon in Philly these days? Andy Reid.

Hard to deny any of this. After three straight seasons of always a bridesmaid, never a bride, the Eagles have gone from a well-managed, professionally run franchise to a team perpetually a few players short of championship-caliber. Or so it's perceived. And since Reid calls the shots, he's the one being held accountable, as he should be.

35. Philadelphia 76ers: Fans are tired of disappointing playoff runs, but their return on investment is still positive. One reason: management takes nothing for granted. "We compete with dinner, movies and the mall," says senior VP Lara Price. They do it with below-average ticket prices (around $42) and an impressive welcoming committee nightly at the gate: the Sixers Dance Team, Hip-Hop the mascot and -- our favorite -- Ambassador of Basketball World B. Free. If only he could still play.

This rating may fall should the Sixers continue to play uninspired -- that's sportswriter code for "losing" -- basketball. Allen Iverson is a great player and a noble warrior -- the dude never takes a game night off -- but he's not The Answer.

41. Philadelphia Flyers: Flyers fans pay the second-highest ticket prices in the NHL ($57.06 on average), and they guzzle the dearest beer ($5.50 for 12 ounces). Why pay happily through the nose? Because the Broad Street Bully in the front office (Bobby Clarke, if you haven't been paying attention) acts like he really wants a Cup, and Ken Hitchcock and Co. have averaged 101 points a season the past three years. They like effort at Wachovia, almost as much as they like a cold beer.

This is just a flat-out shanked slapshot of an analysis. First, to cite overpriced beer is just ridiculous -- if you want reasonably priced suds at a professional sporting venue, stick to the minor leagues. Second, I'm not so sure true-blue Flyers fans are as enamored of Clarkie as ETM seems to think. With just one Stanley Cup finals appearance -- and an "uninspired" one, at that -- in the last 15 years, and too many first-round flameouts to count, I think Clarke is starting to be seen as the myopic dinosaur that he is.

58. Philadelphia Phillies: The increasingly unloved Larry Bowa says his team is "ready to win right now." He'd better be right. Intimate Citizens Bank Park (19,000 fewer seats than the much-hated Vet) could be too close for comfort when it opens in April; in some places, fans will be 10 feet from the plate. Still, despite an NL-leading 13 percent price hike prior to last season, fans don't feel fleeced when they come to a game. The average Phils ticket ($17.24) is still cheaper than 14 MLB teams'.

Again, cleverly written but more wrong than right. Phillies fans have supported the team through many more bad times than good, and we've been salivating over a real ballpark for years now. Don't get me wrong -- we want the Phils to win. But even if they lose, well, we're kinda used to that around these parts, and we'd rather see them lose in a real stadium than a soulless concrete shell.

Now if they could only do something about the price of beer. . . .


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