They were the runner-up in the Eastern Conference Finals and now they're the runner-up in all of sports -- at least as far as ESPN The Magazine is concerned.
The Tampa Bay Lightning were named the No. 2 franchise in sports in the magazine's ninth annual "Best Franchise in Sports" rankings. The list will appear in the "Best in Sports" issue, which hits newsstands June 17. The NFL's Green Bay Packers were ranked No. 1.
The rankings are determined by a multi-tiered analysis that examines a team’s efficiency in spending fan money as compared to its on-field performance. It also factors in feedback in 21 categories from more than 70,000 fans nationwide, both online at ESPN.com and in polling conducted by independent third parties.
"The best teams in sports find ways to reward their fans' devotion,” ESPN The Magazine editor Peter Keating said in a press release. "The teams at the top of our Ultimate Standings are winners on the field, but as we write in the magazine, they're truly notable for returning fans' love -- keeping core players, discounting tickets, investing in their communities. Value, both economic and emotional, has always figured prominently in our rankings, but this year we heard louder than ever that a team's commitment to its fans matters more than anything else, more than even new stadiums and championship rings."
The Lightning made the largest jump of all teams on the list, improving 68 places from No. 70 last season.
In all, 122 teams from the National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball were ranked in order, based on a weighted average of scores in eight different categories ranging from the quantitative to the emotionally subjective: "bang for the buck" (24.3 percent of total), players (16.6), fan relations (16.5), affordability (14.1), stadium experience (9.1), ownership (9.0), title track (6.7), and coaching (3.9).
The Lightning -- who lost to the Boston Bruins 1-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals -- were a considerably different team in 2010-11.
On March 3, 2010 Jeff Vinik bought the team and quickly pledged to turn the team into a "world class organization."
The results were immediate. Tampa Bay made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in franchise history. Fan involvement was at an all-time high. Attendance increased a League-best 11.3 percent from 2009-10 and the Lightning sold out eight playoff games, averaging nearly 21,000 fans per game.
In addition, Vinik made several off-ice commitments, including a new logo and jersey system, $35 million in privately-funded building renovations to the St. Pete Times Forum, $10 million in community donations and 4,000 hours of community service each season.