How would you rank the teams in the Minnesota sports landscape?
I was inspired to write this after the Timberwolves drew over 15,000 fans to their team scrimmage last Wednesday night. I enjoy this debate and am hoping it spurs some good conversation below.
We all come to this discussion with a bias and so much of the conversation really depends on the recent levels of success for any of the local clubs. But assuming each team is playing at it's peak or championship level, where do they rank in the Minnesota sports landscape?
I decided to poll several of the other local SBN bloggers to get their take. We are all sports fans and even though we each individually write about a particular team/sport, that doesn't mean we don't follow other local teams. Like I said, we all come to this with a certain amount of bias so my ranking as a huge basketball fan who only has a casual interest in hockey is going to be different than what the guys from Hockey Wilderness are going to rank. But that is what makes this very interesting. First the composite rankings, then my commentary followed by you all ripping me in the comments.
There are several ways one could look at this objectively to help order the local teams. TV ratings, attendance, season ticket renewals, who generates the most water cooler discussion or just a general feeling one has. No such criteria was put in place for this exercise, just give me your rankings. Here were the results.
1 - Minnesota Vikings (all the first place votes)
This isn't even close. This is an NFL town, just like nearly every other NFL town. If the Vikings are in the Super Bowl or close to it, they dominate everything and they would any month of the year up against any other local team playing for a championship of some sort. Not putting the Vikings first would be indefensible and I might have eliminated the ballot.
My Take - Duh. When the Vikes are at a championship level this town has a buzz and it is a lot of fun. When the Vikes are playing at a mediocre level, they are still the number one team in town. And when the Vikings are terrible, they still generate the most discussion. I started my blogging career with a Vikings blog but never got traction and decided to cover Gopher sports instead. My favorite T-shirt I own is a Vikings shirt that says "Just Once Before I Die." I want to see the Vikes
in win the Super Bowl and watch things burn on the streets after they win it (or lose it, which we all know is the most likely scenario *sigh).
2 - Minnesota Twins
This one seems pretty clear as well. The Twins are the only local team who has actually won a championship in our lifetime (unless you are over 55 and can remember the Gophers winning a football title in 1960). Often competitive, they have a beautiful venue and the future is bright with Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Brian Dozier, Eddie Rosario, Kyle Gibson, Berios and other talented youngsters on the field or in the minors.
My Take - I also ranked them #2. I've been a season ticket holder, I may have sported a really creepy Pavano-stache during their last playoff appearance and I love the Twins. Maybe the only thing better than a nice summer evening at Target Field is cool Fall evening with the Twins in the MLB playoffs. Hopefully very soon.
3 - Gopher Football
This is where things get more controversial and murky. The Wild garnered several third place votes but for the most part, the consensus view is that Gopher Football would rank third. Some may argue differently but I think if (WHEN) you see the Gophers earning a trip to the Rose Bowl or winning the Big Ten Title Game or even (gasp) participating in the College Football Semis...they would dominate the local sports landscape. Personally I think they could challenge the Twins for second place on this list based on fact that football is generally more popular than baseball. One of my esteemed SBN colleagues from Daily Norseman ranked Gopher FB as #2 but ultimately I think third is probably the most appropriate ranking.
My Take - I also ranked third but I think if they are playing at national championship caliber level, they push the Twins, maybe surpassing them. Gopher Football and Twins are the clear second tier on the Minnesota landscape. Unfortunately decades of mediocrity or worse creates a recency bias and the Gophers are clearly third.
4 - Minnesota Wild
This is where it really gets interesting. The Wild are the only local team to make the playoffs and even advance to the next round in a LONG TIME. Twins made the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 but were quickly swept both years. The Vikings snuck in with Christian Ponder but were dominated by the Pack in 2012. So the Wild were pretty popular in June after upsetting St. Louis. The organization sells out virtually every home game and has since the team arrived in 2000.
My Take - I have the Wild as 6th locally. This all comes down to my belief that hockey fans are the most passionate but when it comes to drawing in casual fans, hockey just doesn't have the same appeal as the other sports. Sure the Wolves have been TERRIBLE for a decade but assuming both the Wolves and Wild are playing in their respective league championship...I think the Wolves garner more headlines, water-cooler discussion, ratings and overall fan interest. I think Gopher basketball would actually garner more interest than the Wild were they to make a Final Four run.
Joe from Hockey Wilderness echoed my thoughts pretty well.
My reasoning is that basketball is far more popular even in the State of Hockey among casual sports fans. Gopher Basketball, when it's on, really gets the city excited. Hockey, as much as it pains me to say, just isn't as popular among the casual sports fan because of the fighting, the small puck, low scoring, and the constant line changes and no one knowing who is on the ice at a given time.
In my humble opinion Tier 3 is the Wild, Wolves and Gopher Hoops...the order is debatable.
5 - Minnesota Timberwolves
Currently falls behind the Wild in our local rankings. The last time the Timberwolves were relevant Latrell Sprewell was able to feed his family. It was a long time ago when the Wolves acquired Sam Cassell and Sprewell to pair with Kevin Garnett and Wally Szcchwerbicziak-what's his name and had a great shot at winning an NBA title before Cassell gets injured in the conference finals and the Lakers went on to win the West. Anyway...this ranking largely came about because of two voters putting them in last place. Currently and over the last few year? I agree. The Wolves had the widest spread in voting getting anywhere from third to last place votes.
My Take - I put the Wolves 4th. If playing at an elite level, there is no way that the Wolves fall behind the Wild. The fact that they had over 15,000 fans attend a scrimmage on a Wednesday evening with absolutely perfect weather outside says a LOT about the kind of popularity the Wolves have when they are winning.
6 - Gopher Basketball
Some interesting rankings when it comes to Gopher Hoops as they finish with a 6th place ranking. This team has been pretty bad to above average for a very long time. Few NCAA Tournament appearances, far fewer post-season wins and really not being relevant in the Big Dance in this century.
My Take - I actually put the Gopher Hoopers above the Wild at 5th. I think this low of a ranking is largely because of recency bias. I vividly remember the 96-97 team that went to the Final Four and this town was crazy. I can buy the argument that a professional team like the Wild, in the State of Hockey, would draw more interest than Gopher Basketball but I just don't think so.
7 - Gopher Hockey
Bringing up the rear is Gopher Hockey but this is probably where they belong on this list. Not because they don't have passionate fans or a history of winning. But they have two things going agasint them here. The first is that college hockey fans in this state are split several directions. St. Cloud State or Duluth grads not only aren't Gopher Hockey fans but they probably have a strong dislike for the Pride on Ice. The other factor going against the U here is that once again, the other sports have more broad appeal to the casual fan.
My Take - I had the Gophers ranked last as well. Just is what it is. Passionate fans and Gopher hockey games are a blast to attend. It is a rare third revenue sport for the athletic department and they have had a lot of success. Just not going to register at the same level as any of the teams above when all are playing well. Currently they probably sit above basketball but if both are competitive it isn't close.
I don't fully agree with the actual rankings but it is pretty close. What do you think?