The votes are in and for the second year in a row, ESPN's 'Ultimate Standings' grade the Green Bay Packers as one of the best franchises in professional sports.
Out of a field of 120 teams spanning the four major pro sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB), the Packers rank third overall according to ESPN's standings, behind only the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks of the NBA, and first among NFL teams.
Last year, in the inaugural 'Ultimate Standings' study, the Packers were No. 1 overall.
"Certainly we'd like to be No. 1 every year, but unfortunately from where we started in 2003 there was only one way to go in the rankings and that was down," Packers President/CEO Bob Harlan said. "I think being No. 3 overall and No. 1 among NFL teams is still a significant honor and something we should be very proud of. But that doesn't mean that we won't hope to make it back up to No. 1 in 2005."
The rankings are created based on eight unequally weighted categories, seven of which are determined by fan votes compiled on ESPN.com.
The only ranking not directly determined by the fans is the 'Bang for the Buck' criteria, which using a method developed by the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center computes how revenue generated from fans compares to the team's wins over the past three seasons (the expansion Houston Texans were not eligible for this reason).
Categories voted on by fans are Fan Relations (ease of access to players, coaches and management), Ownership (honest; loyalty to players and city), Affordability (price of tickets, parking and concessions), Stadium Experience (friendliness of environment; quality of game-day promotions), Players (effort on the field; likeability off it), Coaching/Management (strong on-field leadership) and Championships (titles already won or expected soon).
In the 2004 standings, the Packers moved up from No. 2 to No. 1 overall in the ownership category, while ranking No. 3 overall in terms of fan relations and No. 4 overall in terms of stadium experience.
The Packers slipped from No. 1 to No. 6 in affordability, and from sixth to eighth in terms of championships.
The biggest dip was in the coaching category, where despite reaching the NFC Divisional Playoffs, the Packers went from ninth to 51st. Much of that slip can probably be attributed to the fact that the Packers were just 6-6 heading into December before making their dramatic stretch run.
"Considering that we're up against 120 teams in this thing, No. 3 is extremely impressive and I'm proud to be considered tops among NFL teams," Harlan said. "In my mind the Packers are still the best story in sports, with a great history, a great stadium and outstanding fans."
For more on the 'Ultimate Standings,' go to ESPN.com.