No. 40: Carolina Panthers

Ultimate Standings 2012

Updated: September 6, 2012, 5:43 PM ET
By Anna Katherine Clemmons | ESPN The Magazine

Last year's rank: 97
Title track: 50 (tie)
Ownership: 21
Coaching: 44 (tie)
Players: 35
Fan relations: 47
Affordability: 52
Stadium experience: 71
Bang for the buck: 68

To see how big an impact one player and one coach can make, look no further than the Panthers and their 57-spot improvement in our standings. After drafting QB Cam Newton (whose jersey was the ninth-highest seller in the latest NFL merchandise report in May), Carolina jumped 54 spots in the players category. New head coach Ron Rivera guided the Panthers to a 6-10 record in 2011, a strong improvement from 2010's dismal 2-14 finish, that resulted in a 46-spot leap in coaching. The bottom line? The Panthers had near-packed houses for their two preseason games and are close to selling out all eight regular-season games. Even the 2012 training camp, which just wrapped up at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., set a new attendance record with nearly 45,000 fans. Clearly Panthers diehards are now excited to pay the $63.32 average ticket price (and $3 for a soda, cheapest in the league) to witness Newton's rocket passes to veteran WR Steve Smith or his handoffs to RB duo DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. And Charlotte's light rail travels to within a few blocks of Bank of America Stadium, helping fans avoid the $20 parking cost (and the traffic) and helping the team improve its bang for the buck score by 45 spots. As they say in NASCAR, these Panthers are on a rail!

Anna Katherine Clemmons is a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine.