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Updated: January 21, 2003, 12:17 PM ET

G is for green, sure, and gold, too, but also for "graph." As in the charts that Wanda Boggs, a teacher in Brookfield, Wis., draws for her students after every Packers game to teach them math.

More ... The D-Backs have rocked in their five-year life, with a $102M payroll that hasn't resulted in a fleecing of game-goers. In fact, debt-happy Jerry Colangelo may be mortgaging his team's future. But for now he's got a winner, and a friendly one. His well-paid stars are a real part of the community: Gonzo and Grace actually go to Cardinals games. So even taxpayers mad at the BOB's beginnings -- vote? what vote? -- can appreciate the team's poolside ambience. The Spurs started life in the razzle-dazzle ABA, but in today's bling-bling world, they're old school. No team combines sports and all-American values any better. It's The Admiral donating time and money to build the Carver Academy, a K-8 school for underprivileged kids. It's TD dominating without talking trash. It's a team that respects a hard-earned dollar by keeping ticket prices below the league average, in a new arena. Small wonder they're two-time attendance champs. Sports' smartest sibs -- Joe and Gavin Maloof -- know what it takes to win. Not just games (a $68M payroll, third in the NBA) but fans, too. That's why the fortysomething brothers act like hotel concierges with the 17,317 Sactowners who've packed Arco every game since it opened (1988), even shepherding autograph-seekers to players when necessary. Says Joe: "I remind the players, it's not me and Gavin signing their checks, it's the fans." Remember being a kid in an ice cream shop? That's what it's like being a Mavs fan: Nash, Finley, Nowitzki -- sweet-enough-to-cause-cavities stars, in all flavors, who sacrifice shots and minutes for team chemistry. No surprise it equals a bond with fans, who love bazillionaire Mark Cuban's management philosophy: "The one thing we don't sell is basketball. We sell fun." As in the Cingular wireless "Self Expression" section, where face- or body-painted fans sit for free. And "Stretch," the roaming balloon artist. The Arena even has its own FM frequency to enable indoor reception of game broadcasts on a portable radio. "Of all the reasons people go to a game," Cuban says, "basketball is the least important." So that would make an NBA championship just the cherry on top of the chocolate sundae? Dave Wannstedt's .645 winning percentage means nothing to perfectionist Dolfans, who expect -- nay, demand -- the second coming of Shula. No matter how shrewdly owner Wayne Huizenga & Co. exploit the salary cap, no matter how cheap the seats at Defunct Underwear Brand Stadium (ninth-lowest in the NFL), no matter how many consecutive playoff appearances (five, until this season), Fish fans won't rest until Lombardi's trophy is back on the shelf. The Iggles might have topped our list if they were already in Lincoln Financial Field (whose 163 luxury suites sold out six months before opening). As it is, owner Jeff Lurie gets props from the surliest fans in sports for offering the NFL's 22nd-cheapest ticket ($46), for hiring a coach (Andy Reid) who acts like he belongs in the stands but knows what he's doing, and for spending generously (D. McNabb, $3M) and wisely (A.J. Feeley, $319K). Wait 'til next year! Why does owner Mike Ilitch rank so high in hockey and so low in MLB? Three Cups in six years helps, but puck fans appreciate even more that Ilitch accessorizes his team like a tricked-out SUV ($67.5M payroll, NHL's second-highest). In fact, rather than shaking a fist at the cost of tix at the Joe ($53 per) fans rate the Wings okay on affordability. Note to Tigers owner Ilitch: See what you can get away with when you field a winner? They're skewing young in the frozen North, on the ice (second-youngest team in hockey) and off. A JumboTron parody of "The Fast and the Furious" (starring players) kicks off the game, reflecting hipness and the Oilers' style of play. It's also a cheap date -- a league-low $28 (U.S.) average ticket. "We're projecting a see-and-be-seen event," says prez Patrick LaForge, who's not above selling sex appeal. "Mike Comrie has a large female following." No penalty for the icing on that cake. Despite -- or because of -- iffy owner commitment (see: Disney, parent company of The Mag), GM Bill Stoneman packed the clubhouse with low-budget, team-first crowd pleasers like pint-size SS David Eckstein. Throw in MLB's third-lowest ticket prices, and a manager, Mike Scioscia, who was upstaging the Dodgers -- and what do you get? A 15% attendance hike and a Series win. Leading shareholders to ask: Does Stoneman know anything about hockey? The A's have been shoestringing it since their Philly days, but they've offered good value and solid teams in Oaktown for generations. Baseball's seventh-lowest ticket prices make it tough for GM Billy Beane to hold on to stars, but smart fans know the A's have made the playoffs three straight years because of savvy front-office moves. Of course, no one likes sharing a casa with Raider Nation -- how would you like 60,000 bikers using your john 10 times a year? If Indiana is the Vatican of hoops, Conseco Fieldhouse is its cathedral, and Pacers owners Melvin and Herbert Simon are co-popes. Since opening their throwback arena in 1999 (with one of the best stadium bars in sports), they've kept ticket prices below the NBA average. When it came time to rebuild, they moved quickly, drafting or trading for studs like Al Harrington and Ron Artest. Of course, only heaven knows when they'll kiss the ring. The fan base was eroding, the stars were leaving and the playoff appearances were fading into memory. So in 2000 Detroit tapped local hero (and namesake for the NBA Sportsmanship Award) Joe Dumars to run basketball operations. A season later, the Pistons were Central champs. Dropping ticket prices by $10 or more helped lift attendance 22%, but team prez Tom Wilson says Dumars deserves most of the credit: "People just believe Joe will find a way." Ever since the Avs won the Cup in '96, it's been a Rocky Mountain high. Owner Stan Kroenke has shelled out the bucks ($60.5M payroll, fifth in NHL) to fill out his roster, make the big trade (Roy, Blake, Bourque) and open the $160M Pepsi Center in '99. Fans have been rewarded with division titles every season and another Cup in '01. Kroenke's reward: 371 consecutive sellouts, tops in major league sports. It's not just the air up there making folks dizzy. Those aren't diamonds on their helmets, they're hypocycloids. But nothing else about the Steelers is complicated. Two coaches since 1969. Same owners since '33. Steel Curtain. Terrible Towels. Immaculate Reception. With a nod to history and fans, the team put some lockers from Three Rivers on display in Heinz Field (95% full since opening in 2001). Want a picture with Franco's gear? Knock yourself out. Want season tickets? Plan on waiting 25 years. In their first season at $325M Gillette Stadium, the Patriots were the priciest ticket in football ($76, up 60% from '01). Did that end their 84-game home sellout streak? Please. Why would New England fans punish owner Bob Kraft, who scrapped a stupid plan to move to Hartford, outdueled the Jets for Bill Belichick, watched his likeable lunch-pail team win a Super Bowl and cut the ribbon on the new stadium. The Pats missed the playoffs, but the streak is now at 92. If hoops is religion in Indiana, baseball's the gospel in St. Louis. The Cards have drawn more than three million fans for a franchise-record five straight years, thanks to exciting lineups (three straight postseasons) and new life for 36-year-old Busch Stadium (grass carpet, hand-operated scoreboard). Big Mac is gone, but tradition lives on. You won't see third jerseys on this bunch. Quips team prez Mark Lamping: "Our fans would think it was batting practice." Average attendance has rocketed 70.3% since the beleaguered Whalers moved to uncharted hockey territory in '97. How do you Zamboni over NASCAR country? Innovation helps. The club founded the wildly popular Hurricanes University, a three-night Hockey 101 for the uninitiated. And the Canes Contract With the Fans program helps management stay responsive to the needs of Caniacs. The most effective innovation? Last season's run to the Cup Finals. "Back in 1996 we reached out to former Colts players, even the marching band," says team exec Dennis Mannion. "But we wanted to create an identity of our own." Members of the old Colts band tooted their horns for the new home team. The Colts Corral was reborn as the Ravens Roost. And the Chain Gang orange-gloved fans signaling first downs and chanting "Move those chains!" was born. Of course, none of it would have mattered without Super Bowl XXXV. Raymond James Stadium morphs into Blackbeard's lair cannons, pirate ship, battle flags when the Bucs are in the red zone. Great drama, yes, but the Glazer family turned an NFL comedy into a serious contender by demanding Raideresque success. In fact, fans forgave last year's now-it's-Parcells-now-it-isn't coaching shenanigans after seeing Jon Gruden in action. Will they forgive the draft picks they gave up to get him? Check back next year. Perseverance? The Blues have made the playoffs 23 years in a row without a Cup -- the longest tease in big league sports. Yet fans still pack Savvis Center (18,269 a game) because management keeps 'em believing: This season's $63.2M payroll is No.3 in the NHL. Will Towel Man -- the die-hard who leads the crowd in counting Blues goals -- get his wish? "It'll happen," says team VP Jim Woodcock. "And when it does, it'll be like nothing this city has seen." Sure, Texas is football country. But with the Cowboys starving for wins, erstwhile Stars owner Tom Hicks (who's put the team up for sale) has pleased the fans who pack the new AAC with a steady diet of division titles (five in six years). Promos like a Christmas ornament giveaway (green and gold, of course) and SPCA Night (dogs and cats are offered for adoption; 80% find homes), plus a top-notch multimedia Website, help keep the local hockey minority happy. Dirty Bird watchers are cuckoo for new owner Arthur Blank, and why not? The former chairman of Atlanta-based Home Depot gives them what they want: rock-bottom prices ($100 buys a season ticket), parking-headache relief (20,000 spaces, up from 2,000) and, for only the fifth time in 20 years, a winning team. With electrifying game-day acts like James Brown and the Temptations -- not to mention Mike (don't call me Michael) Vick -- it's no wonder attendance is up 27%. Philly fans show plenty of brotherly love to Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown (eighth-winningest coach in NBA history) and a team that boasts the 2001 MVP (Allen Iverson) and Sixth Man of the Year (Aaron McKie). Attendance has gone up six straight years. Yes, bridge-climbing, handshaking president Pat Croce is gone, but fans still appreciate an active front office that isn't afraid to make a big move, even when the result is just another player (Keith Van Horn) to boo. Challenger the Bald Eagle, frequent military fly-overs and shopping-cart races help fill the always-boisterous Coliseum. As for Mid-South diehards who can't make it to Music City, the Titans come to them, logging over 3,000 miles in a 40-foot RV during the team's two-week, 60-city Spring Caravan tour. Says VP of community affairs Bob Hyde: "We work very hard to build the love." Steve McNair, Eddie George & Co. work even harder to build the Super Bowl runs. Playing Canada's game in Canada's capital is all about pride. And lately, Ottawa citizens have had plenty to be proud of, not least a five-year playoff streak despite the sixth-lowest payroll ($30.3M U.S.) in the NHL. That postseason run includes two first-round Cinderella triumphs. But while glass slippers are nice, Sens fans prefer the aprons their heroes don every year at the wildly popular "Senators At Your Service" dinner fund-raiser. "Zdeno Chara makes a great waiter," says cop/anthem singer/local legend Lyndon Slewidge. "At 6'9", he can serve the entire table from one spot." Lately, owner Rod Bryden is having more than the usual trouble making ends meet, and the Sens just filed for bankruptcy protection, but the team is tops in its division. Who needs regular paychecks when you're winning? The Yankees drew an MLB-leading 35,361 fans per game in 2002 -- on the road. From Manhattan to Manhattan Beach (and Cuba to Japan) everybody wants to eyeball a winner, and with four rings in Joe Torre's seven years, no team wins (or spends) bigger. But Boss George followed two seasons in which other teams borrowed his trophy with price hikes on what were already the second-highest tix in the majors. Result: a surprisingly weak bang for the buck. With no other pro teams to root for (unless you count the Royals), the Heart of America beats for football -- loudly (100 straight sellouts). Starting with a signature anthem twist (and the home of the Chieeeeefs!), raucous Arrowheaders take pride in giving visitors headaches (second-best home record in the '90s). Parking can be stickier than KC barbecue, but that's hardly enough to quell fans' love for their civic-minded Chiefs (12 players have charitable foundations). At a joint named Target Center, you expect bargains. Big-time quality (.598 winning percentage the last three seasons) at small ticket prices ($32 average, fourth-lowest in the league). Fan-friendly promos (Kevin Garnett Celebriduck Night, maybe even Super Fan Bill Beise Bobblehead Night). So Minnesotans cut slack for U of M alums like Flip Saunders and Kevin McHale (Hibbing's second-most-famous son). Now, about those six straight first-round playoff exits ... Harvard law grad, 2001 NHL Exec of the Year, four straight years on the upswing (from 58 points in 1998-99 to 94 last season) on his watch. No wonder BC puckheads love outspoken GM Brian Burke. The former agent's made local folks smile by hiring Cup-winning coach and former Canuck Marc Crawford and reacquiring fan fave Trevor Linden, while making do with the league's ninth-lowest payroll ($32.5M). Who says we should first kill all the lawyers? Five Super Bowl titles. Ten or more wins 19 times in the last 22 years. Joe Montana. Jerry Rice. Steve Young. Now Gilroy native and San Jose State grad Jeff Garcia. Niners fans love winners, so they jam one-price-fits-all 3-Com (201 straight sellouts at $58 per seat, NFL's fifth-highest). Or maybe it's just the Gordon Biersch garlic fries. Media relations coordinator Rocky Harris: "You know they're our fans if you smell them walking into the bar after the game." Owner Pat Bowlen's familiar strategy -- "Be No.1 in Everything" -- goes beyond what's on the field to the field itself. When Bowlen built $400M Invesco Field (opened in 2001), he wanted the best playing surface, cost be damned. Result: a European $1.5M grass/turf hybrid, the first for a U.S. pro team. The surface, a melding of natural bluegrass and 17 million green polypropylene fibers that sits atop a 20-mile network of water pipes, handles four times the abuse of a 100% grass field and drains so fast you'd never know it rained. To fans, players, even stadium grunts, it's proof that Bowlen is committed to team and town. "A lot of people say they want to be the best," says turf manager Ross Kurcab. "With Mr. Bowlen, it's not just lip service." Everyone knows the Raiders are good to their players, especially crowd-pleasing vets (Jerry Rice & Co. are the NFL's oldest crew) who turn out to have more than a few years left in them. But owner Al Davis knows something about fan outreach, too. Latest example: The club recently launched the NFL's first Spanish-language team Website; Japanese and Chinese versions may be next. Here's to Compromiso a la Excelencia. Way to keep a Coliseum filled. Out of the frying pan, into the Big Easy. Driven out of Charlotte by fans' distaste for owner George Shinn, the Hornets are a nice fit in the NBA's second-smallest market (658,830 TV households). Attendance (15,330 a game) is decent for a new (okay, relocated) franchise. And talk about your home edge! Visiting coaches worry as much about the French Quarter as the fourth quarter, and the hangover effects show -- the Hornets are 12-5 at home. He made billions selling cars, but owner Larry Miller saved his best sales pitch for his players. He talked John Stockton out of retirement and kept moping cornerstone Karl Malone happy with a Toyota dealership (he and Miller are partners). Coach Jerry Sloan seems poised for a 15th-straight postseason and attendance is steady (18,685 a game). With DeShawn Stevenson and Andrei Kirilenko set to take over when those two geezers pick-and-roll to Springfield, Miller may avoid being stuck with a lemon. Safeco Field's 11,000-ton roof closes in 20 minutes. That's about how long it took M's fans to forget Big Unit, Junior and A-Rod. (Sweet Lou Who?) Credit the ballpark. "Some of it's winning," says local beat writer Bob Sherwin. "But people think Safeco's a marvelous place. They love the 78 restrooms. They love having the most concession stands per patron in MLB. And they don't hate it that the best year in franchise history (116 wins in 2001) came after the three superstars split." We're sure Jack is happy with his seat. But the rest of SoCal is getting in touch with its anger at owner Jerry Buss over high prices ($66, tops in NBA) and gilded, distant superstars snoozing into the playoffs. The Lakers have only themselves to blame -- they charged just $20.25 to let fans watch the Game 7 win over the Kings last year at the Staples Center. On TV. "It's an unbelievable Lakers atmosphere," says fan Patti Aden. "The Lakers just aren't there." An easy team to like, not only because they're young and good and approachable, but also because the organization reaches out: a midwinter caravan tour of the Midwest (now in its 43rd year), autograph-signing sessions in front of the Metrodome every week in-season, family-friendly packages (Mom, Dad and two kids on Sundays: $32) and Bobbleheads (10,000 noggin'-jugglers, four times a year). Best of all? The 94 wins and a playoff berth. Bobby Cox and the Braves are a perfect fit. They're used to winning (11 straight division titles), and they get no love (only one Manager of the Year award, attendance down five straight seasons). Meanwhile, things are getting creative at The Ted: 2-for-1 Tuesdays (two upper-level reserved seats for $8), Wonderful Wednesdays (two field pavilion seats for $18) and slashed outfield season ticket prices (down 47%, to $830). But keep winning, Bobby. You might think that George Steinbrenner cares only about baseball. After all, it's the Yankees who have the $166M payroll. But the Devils aren't exactly red-jerseyed stepchildren. The Boss has put together a gang of talent (158 wins, one Cup since 2000), easing the sting of the NHL's second-priciest average ticket ($55) by investing in the team ($52.3M payroll). Now he's demanding a $355M replacement for dumpy Continental Airlines Arena. Wanna bet he gets it? Think Presidio Med times 10, and that's half what Rams fans felt as the NFL's most thrilling reality show began 0-5 and faced midseason cancellation. In its place? "A soap opera," says Post-Dispatch beat writer Jim Thomas. Through all the plot twists (Kurt? Mark? Kurt?) and hand injuries (Kurt, Mark, Kurt) fans stayed loyal: Attendance (avg. 66,062) was up 7%. Must've been the cheapish tix ($52) or memories of SB XXXIV, because the warm and fuzzies certainly didn't come from the coach. For leading the NBA's most fabled franchise out of the Pitino Wilderness, coach Jim O'Brien could run for mayor and win in a walk. But Jack Ramsay's son-in-law can't X-and-O his way around the lack of an inside game. So even with Paul Pierce (25.5 ppg) and Antoine Walker (21.1), the 'FleeceCenter' ($18 for parking, 60% above the league norm) won't be adding to its NBA-best collection of 16 championship banners (last one in 1986) anytime soon. "O'Brien's done the most with the least amount of talent," says Jason Oullette, 23, who writes a popular online Celts column (realgm.com). "But they need a stronger middle." Locals still haven't taken to the eight-year-old "New Gahden," proving that clear sight lines, AC and 13 escalators (the 1928-built Garden had none) can't buy you love. Fans pay plenty to catch a game at the drab concrete slab known as Giants Stadium: The $56.47 average ticket price is the NFL's seventh-highest, and their $6.25 beers are topped only by the Rams' ($6.50). But it's doubtful that any NFL team gets more from its luxury boxes than the Giants, whose 119 suites fetch $125K to $380K per season. The bucks from all those working stiffs sitting outside get an extra bang from their bosses behind glass. Only seems fair. The O-Rena is fast becoming the Oh-No-Rena -- No.22 in NBA attendance last season despite midrange ticket prices (17th). "It's nobody's civic duty to go to basketball games," says COO John Weisbrod, who sounds as dispirited as fans. A weak team and a sagging building are to blame, but owner Rich DeVos hasn't helped. When taxpayers rejected his generous offer to let them pay for a new building or rehab, talk surfaced about his selling or moving the franchise. Fans love blue-collar coach Andy Murray for always calling AM 710, and leading the Kings to the playoffs three years running. But Staples is all about the experience: juicy prime rib from the Arena Club, hand-cut roast beef from 11th Street Deli, and (of course) sushi. Still, stuff in La-La Land (except Dancing Boy) comes at a price. "I can't remember paying less than eight bucks for a beer," says season ticket-holder Mark Allen. "And that's out of the tap." Parents give high marks to the Shark Tank. (Only corporate toadies call it HP Pavilion.) "So safe, kids stand on line by themselves," says season ticketeer Sean Toomey. Alas, an arena built to withstand quakes still needs Avalanche protection, and since deep-sixing coach Darryl Sutter, the Sharks have done little more than tread water. Fortunately, dispirited fans can drown their sorrows with the 40-plus California wines sold at George's Grill in The Tank. The 600,000-member Sports Fans of America Association recently tabbed Buffalo's finest as the Fan-Friendliest NFL team of 2002, citing pricing, performance and tailgating. True, sitting in the league's third-cheapest seats ($38 average) was entertaining, but the Bills are coach-friendly, too. Though Drew Bledsoe's Pro Bowl year and a .500 record weren't good enough for the playoffs, the combo saved popular Gregg Williams from being fired. Locals love Jim Haslett for coaching New Orleans to its first-ever playoff win in 2000. Then the Saints lost their last three games this season (to teams that finished with a combined 15-33 record). But Haslett's crimes can't compare with those of owner Tom Benson, who fired GM/2000 NFL Exec of the Year Randy Mueller and got taxpayers to pay the Saints $40M to stay in the Superdome for three years, while retaining the right to move after the 2003 season. History counts, at least in Montreal, where fans have long memories. An average of 20,343 (tops in the NHL) turn out every night to see a team that has the second-most titles in our survey (24, two behind the Yankees). Too bad none of those Cups has come in the past 10 years, which is why coach and former bodyguard Michel Therrien (77-77-23-13) should have watched his back: He was fired Jan. 17. The coach (T. Dungy) and the players (P. Manning, M. Harrison) are in place, but where will the Colts be -- Indy or LA? Owner Jim Irsay holds an escape clause for after the '06 season, and the LA rumors are flying. With the smallest NFL stadium (56,125), he wants the city to add $10M to the $12M taxpayers annually fork over for the privilege of having an NFL team. You can't blame fans for not trusting this owner: It was Irsay's dad who fled Baltimore for Indy in the first place. Fans who've stuffed 41,341-seat Pac Bell the past two years (99.3% capacity, tops in MLB) will howl when they hear six stadiums got a higher rating. How do you beat gorgeous Bay views, kayaking in McCovey Cove and garlic fries that are replacing sourdough as the city's iconic food? No wonder owner Peter Magowan, who kept the Giants from skipping town in '92, outscored his players and the now-departed Dusty Baker. But that Bonds guy is turning into a pretty decent hitter. H-E-R-M! HERM! HERM! HERM! In just his second year, coach Herm Edwards may be the third-most-popular guy in Jersey. (Hello? Bruce, Bon Jovi.) He turned 1-4 slugs into the second Jets team in franchise history to win its division, giving fans something -- anything -- to cheer about. Rowdy crowds, lines that make the DMV seem breezy, an average ticket price of $57 ($7 over the NFL average), green mud, uh, grass, hey, at least they made it farther than the team they share the dump with. When Mario Lemieux bought the Pens in 1999, support wasn't a concern. "There's no bigger draw around here," says PR director Tom McMillan. Super Mario boosted his approval rating even further with gimmicks like the Lemieux Family Section, where 16-and-unders get in for $10. The sole beef is the oldest barn in the NHL, which is nearly as dated (35) as Lemieux (37), and doesn't hide it as well. Two Cup banners add to the decor, but The Igloo still leaves 'em mighty cold. The 2003 media guide cover is done in puzzle motif, with the motto "One Team." But fans aren't sure about the big picture (the sushi sold at Air Canada Centre sits better than the lack of talent) or about coach Lenny Wilkens. Players like Lamond Murray, Eric Montross and Lindsey Hunter inspire a different motto: "Oh, that's where he ended up!" And then there's the piece that got away: One-time rap star T-Mac has nearly twice as many 30-point games this season as hobbled VC has games. Sonics/Starbucks boss Howard Schultz should offer free vente mocha lattes. Attendance is at its second-lowest (15,451) since the revamping of KeyArena in 1995. A perplexing mix (the two highest-paid players, Gary Payton and Kenny Anderson, play the same position) makes the team a shadow of what it was in the George Karl days. But if anyone's to make sense of it, it's coach Nate McMillan, a 12-year Sonic vet almost as popular as those mocha lattes. Compared to tickets for the Lakers ($66 a pop) and Kings ($46), a day at Dodger Stadium is like a field trip to Costco ($16 per stub). In fact, LA is the only major-market MLB team to finish with an above-average record last season (92-70) and lower-than-average ticket prices. So what if the faceless denizens of Chavez Ravine haven't made the playoffs since the first Clinton administration. And big deal that the Anaheim Angels won the World Series. The really good news is that the Fox Group (which never connected with fans, traded Mike Piazza and ripped the roof out from over the Radar Gun Guy's head) is rumored to be selling (they deny it). Rupert Murdoch could get as much as $500M for the franchise he bought for $311M in 1998, which figures: In the end, he'd still get way more bang for his buck than the Dodger faithful did. When Charles Wang bought the Isles in 2000, he had a suggestion: Put a sumo wrestler in goal. But it's the creases in the big bills Wang gives to talent that have won fans over. Last season, behind Alexei Yashin ($87.5M) and Michael Peca ($20M), the Islanders made the playoffs with the fourth-best turnaround in NHL history. For a team that once took home four straight Cups (1980-83), it's a skate in the right direction. Another would be a revamped Uniondale, but first things first. Two years ago, the Bucks were A.I. away from making the NBA Finals. But last season they died in the stretch amid nasty public squabbling between coach George Karl and stars Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson. Big Dog's gone, but the Bucks are aiming for their second straight postseason on the couch. Owner Herb Kohl raised ticket prices 2.5% in hopes of a much-needed $75M expansion of the Bradley Center. Wonder who the Senator thinks is dying for those seats? The Padres don't rank remarkably high or low in most categories. They don't have a villainous owner. They win some, they lose some. They play in a crummy stadium, sure, but it's perpetually 75 degrees and they don't let Roseanne sing the national anthem anymore. Their stars are more Big Boy than big screen. But a family of four can hit Qualcomm for $87. These days, folks, that's pretty darn remarkable. Heat fans are torn. They think the team is overpriced ($51 average ticket, fifth in NBA) and underperforming, yet they still love Pat Riley. (But just the coach, not the prez.) This may be Riley's toughest gig -- with no Zo, he's having to juggle like a South Beach street performer. As Riles suffers his second straight losing season, fans are losing hope of ever basking in the postseason sun. Can't blame 'em, the Heat have got past the first round only twice in 15 years. Houston is killer in nearly every category. The Rockets won back-to-back NBA titles in '94 and '95. Yao Ming is a giant among giants, and Stevie Franchise looks even bigger next to the big man. Rudy T? Rocketeers love him. Prices? Heck, a hot dog is a buck cheaper than up at Mark Cuban's joint. So why aren't the Rockets ranked any higher? Because their Bang for the Buck is so low. And why is that? Because in the past three years (the span of time over which we measured B4B) the Rockets spent $152M in payroll for a nauseating regular-season record (28-54 in 2001-02) and exactly zero playoff appearances. And if you think the team's last postseason appearance wasn't that long ago, consider this: In the lockout-shortened '99 campaign, Charles Barkley could still fit into the uniform. You hear funny things from the Merlot-sipping luxury-boxers at America West Arena lately. Cheers. Whistles. Chants. With 20-year-old Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Stephon and Penny, gone are those grind-it-out teams that bailed in the first round. "We haven't had this kind of energy in a while," says Ron Clifton, a 22-year season ticket-holder. He has reason to smile -- he sits in the second row, so there's no danger of getting hit with any spilled wine. When hockey hit the desert in 1996, Nathan Learner dropped his Cards tix and adopted the Coyotes. "One of the easier decisions I've ever made," says Learner. But he and his uncomfortable pals in the stands (quicksand is more hospitable than America West) wonder when the Great Owner will make a greater franchise? Next season's opening of Glendale Arena should help, but Phoenix needs help on the ice, too. A dreadful rush-hour commute gives fans too much time to ask why they're rushing. When the NFL said, "Hello, Cleveland" in 1999, it was love at second sight. The objects of locals' affection: new-edition Browns owner Al Lerner (his death in October from brain cancer was mourned citywide), a new Dog Pound (a.k.a. Cleveland Browns Stadium) and coach Butch Davis. It seems there were only two miracles Davis couldn't pull off this season: 1) "Al didn't get to see them make the playoffs," says season ticket-holder Gabe Zelwin, and 2) beating the Steelers. Fans got a hefty ticket hike last off-season, which tasted as good as a Tie Domi elbow. (Forbes reported the Leafs made an NHL-high $24.2M profit in 2001-02.) "We must spend to stay competitive, and that might mean having to increase ticket prices at times," says Maple Leaf Sports prez Richard Peddie. Spend they do. The Leafs have the NHL's sixth-highest payroll ($54M U.S.), tops among Canadian teams. Some call them the Yankees on skates. A big difference: They're Cupless since '67. News flash: Cavernous Continental Airlines Arena leaves a lot to be desired. High prices (average ticket: $50) and horrible traffic keep the place less than full (average attendance: 14,128). And sometimes the Jersey guys who are there can get crass. (Remember the "Will Somebody Please Stab Paul Pierce" sign?) But you don't go to the swamp for scenery, you go for coach Byron Scott, Jason Kidd and friends, who last season led the Nets to their best finish since the ABA days. A Philly sports fan could easily pay more to see a regular-season hockey game ($40 to $170) than to see an Eagles playoff game ($75 to $85) this January. In fact, a typical family of four spent a tuition-sapping $261 at a Flyers game last season. Which could explain why attendance is at a low (19,221) since the team's relocation to First Union Center in '96. True, the Flyers don't jack up playoff tix, but lately that's hardly been a PR boon: They've been tossed in the first round two years straight. A disappointing coaching hire (Bruce Cassidy) after a disappointing season (second playoff miss in four years) cut attendance 12%. Horrific traffic and a $20 parking bill (the NHL's second-highest) don't help. But owner Ted Leonsis is taking charge, signing top players like Jaromir Jagr (seven years, $78M) and Robert Lang (five years, $25M). Plus, Cap fans love a guy who answers 150 fan e-mails a day. ("At 6 a.m., noon, 5-ish and before I go to bed," says Leonsis.) The first team to draw four million fans (1991) saw attendance sag to 1.6 million last year (sixth-lowest in MLB). Blame the once state-of-the-art, now artless SkyDome (hotel rooms with field views are so last century) and a vanilla team that finished 25-and-a-half games out. After paying $112M (U.S.) for 80% of the Jays in 2000, Rogers Communications forked over an estimated $55M to keep the team afloat. Payroll dropped to $60M in 2002. Expectations are even lower in 2003. Christmas came late for Jags fans when, on Dec. 30, drill sergeant Tom Coughlin (the only coach in the team's eight-year existence and the architect of two AFC title game appearances) was fired. That happens when you go a combined 10 games under .500 in three straight losing seasons. Attendance remains mired in the bottom third of the NFL. That happens when you saddle fans with the league's third-highest average ticket price ($63). So much for the idea that gritty Philadelphians love their ugly, often-rowdy, always cavernous (62,418 seats) home-field advantage: Last year, attendance at the Vet, a relic from the bigger-is-better '70s, was less than a third of capacity. Two Opening Days from now, a new 43,000-seat park will test the premise that less is more. Meantime, 700-level favorite Larry Bowa had better prove that more (Jim Thome, David Bell, Kevin Millwood) can also be more. Second-highest beer prices in the bigs. Second MLB park named after orange juice. Second (by 13 games) to Cards in NL Central. Second time missing playoffs in three seasons. Second-fiddle sport in football-mad town (soon to be third, if Yao know what we mean). And now playing second, with the second-biggest off-season free agent deal, the second-most unpopular guy in the 2002 Giants Clubhouse: Jeff Kent. (Okay, so maybe he was the first-most.) After deserting Vancouver (where they made it to 300 losses faster than any team in NBA history) for the Birthplace of the Blues, the Grizz started strumming the same old sad-sack song on the banks of the Mississippi: a 23-59 record last year, an 0-8 start this fall. But then Jerry West, 64, brought in Hubie Brown, 69, and their grandson-aged players (24.6 years average) eventually responded (after losing their first five under Grandpa Hubie to go 0-13) with a hugely promising 11-9 run. Last year's Rookie of the Year (Pau Gasol) and this season's nominee (Drew Gooden) foreshadow a bright future. But the Grizz with the toughest inside game is owner Michael Heisley, who muscled state and local pols into underwriting his new, $250M FedExForum in downtown Memphis with $230M in public bonds. Music City puckheads may not be the NHL's savviest, but after four years of mediocrity, they know bad when they see it -- attendance is down 13%. Luckily for the diehards in Section 303, the Gaylord Entertainment Center has diversions aplenty: stunt-mascot GNASH, free programs and celeb season tix-holders like Vince Gill and Frank Wycheck. And then there are the johns: "They built more women's than men's," says big fan Wynonna Judd. "Talk about a power play!" Fans here have a caring hockey team that's highly visible off the ice (charity events include Casino Night, Mini-Golf Tournament, Dux in Tux dinner). Too bad the on-ice problems are just as visible. The Pond's perfect sight lines leave fans with nothing to protect their eyes from the glaring absence of eight-time All-Star Teemu Selanne (traded in '01), or the carnage of three straight last-place finishes. At least there's a juicy Super Star burger from Carl's Jr. (section 226) to ease the pain. You get what you pay for, especially at the Saddledome, which offers entertainment on the cheap: suds ($2.86 U.S.), dogs ($1.91) and seats (average price: $28). The exchange? An ugly streak (six-year playoff drought) and an uglier streaker (that naked guy who fell on the ice). New coach and homeboy Darryl Sutter should outdo his predecessors, brother Brian (87-117-37-5) and Greg Gilbert (42-56-17-6). But Calgary's best score is still the above-street walkway, Plus 15. Bud/MLB Intracontinental Enterprises Inc. came in dead last in ownership ranking. Nice job, guys. Bruce Jenner's javelin made more noise landing in Olympic Stadium in 1976 than the average "crowd" (9,048) at an Expos game in 2002. Since les habitants don't think Vladimir Guerrero's worth paying $9 U.S. (the lowest average price in the majors) to see, Montreal will play 22 home games in Puerto Rico in a packed 18,000-seat park. Hola Vlad! For the playing surface of their glimmering new $430M stadium, the Seahawks used 35,000 recycled tennis shoes and 30,000 junk tires to create FieldTurf, a grass-synthetic, fiber-rubbish amalgam. Problem is, Mike Holmgren picked his roster off the same trash heap. Or so it would seem, based on the 31-33 record he's produced in four years as Mr. Everything in Seattle. How much longer before owner Paul Allen sends Holmgren to the recycling bin? Owner Bill Davidson is a Lightning rod for disgruntled Floridians, who think the Detroit native takes better care of his Michigan teams -- the NBA Pistons, the WNBA Shock and the Arena Football League Fury. The Lightning are both cheap ($28.8M payroll, 26th in NHL) and historically bad (one playoff bid in 10 seasons). Despite low ticket prices ($37 average, 22nd in NHL) and a fast start this season, fans have still been treated Lecavalier-ly through the years. Pucks. Key chains. Posters. Put Joe Thornton's face on just about anything and it sells. But despite having the NHL's next merchandising monster (Jumbo Joe and Super Mario go back and forth as the league's top jersey sellers) and a solid team, fans aren't plopping their fannies down at the FleetCenter (14,250 average; 23rd in the NHL). Why? Maybe because ticket prices ($49, NHL's fourth-highest) and parking ($18) are steep. Maybe the Bruins should put Joe's mug on their tickets. Three face-lifts. Many tuck jobs. Years past prime. But still there. Cher? Her too, but we mean Qualcomm Stadium, the 35-year-old fossil that is the Chargers' home -- and the site of SB XXXVII. You've got a problem when the standout feature of your stadium is its 19,000-space parking complex (second-biggest in the NFL). Public funding for a new house is a long haul with a doubtful outcome. And at some point, face-lifts start yielding diminishing returns. Ask Cher. For Cubs fans, there's Sammy and Wrigley. Jon Lieber goes down with a year-ending injury? What'd Sammy do today? Moises Alou craps out? Which way's the flag blowing? Team eliminated from playoffs by Mother's Day? Hey, is Sammy great, or what? The 95 losses in 2002 sealed their 94th season without a World Series championship. And the franchise's civic rating has been hurt by an ongoing legal battle over Waveland Avenue rooftop seats. But hope accelerated like a Mark Prior heater after a flurry of winter pickups: new manager (Dusty Baker), bullpen help (Mike Remlinger, Dave Veres), catcher (Damian Miller). "I'm cautiously optimistic," says diehard Jeff Hackney, 53. In Chicago, though, optimism costs. Season ticket-holders learned in November of beefy price hikes (as much as 25%) to what was already baseball's fourth-priciest seat ($24). You'd think the A's and Twins would offer hope to dinky KC. Think again. "We look at those teams and say, 'We could never do that,'" says Royals fan Judd Choate, an occasional columnist for the Topeka Capital-Journal. Not with management that won't spend ($47.3M payroll in 2002, 22nd in MLB) and managers who can't manage (Tony Pena's the seventh in 15 years). "It would be one of the great miracles if we finished .500," says Choate. What brings these cynics to the park? Well, it's a cheap laugh (average ticket price: $12, 27th in MLB). It's Nugget-cracking time. Time for GM Kiki Vandeweghe's long-term plan (two years of pain) to pay off this summer, when he'll have $20M to splurge on FAs Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd and Michael Olowokandi. (Not that any of them will wind up wearing the Nuggets' home uni, despite such team-paid perks as massage therapists, dry cleaning, car washes and karate classes.) Fans have kept the faith (average attendance: 14,060; winning percentage since '90: .498), but they're not saints -- or idiots. You can't choose your relatives, but Pale Hose fans desperately want a new dad. "If Jerry Reinsdorf disappeared, everything else is in place here to win," says Jason Gage, who operates the fan site soxnet.net. "He's the worst owner in baseball." Hard to disagree. The Sox don't win much (three postseason appearances since 1960) and the new Comiskey Park is a sterile nightmare. No wonder Reinsdorf gets the blame (see above). Still, things could be worse. "At least," Gage says, "the Cubs stink too." During the Panthers "It's a Ritual" marketing campaign in 2000, Friar Puck, a monk, donged a bell after each Florida goal. He lasted four games (all losses). "People are still amazed nobody was fired over that," says Miami Herald beat writer David Neal. The Panthers' failure in SoFla (average attendance: 14,849) is the result of bad hockey (31% home WP) and too much high-profile competition (Miami's Canes, Dolphins and Heat). And, of course, promotions that deserve demotions. To catch the Skins (who've made the playoffs just once in the past decade) at FedEx Field, it wrecks a C-note: $68 per ticket (second-highest average in NFL), $20 to park, $6 for a beer, $9.95 for a program (keep the change). And yet they fill more seats (86,949 for 278 consecutive games) than anybody. "People don't whine about the prices," says Mark Solway, owner of fan site thehogs.net. Oh yeah? Take a look at the score they gave above. If you're a Met, you're a Met all the way, from your first six-buck beer to your last dying day. You endure pricey tix (fifth-highest in MLB), LaGuardia overflights and 0-for-August home streaks. This off-season GM Steve Phillips added by subtracting (Rey Ordonez) and adding (Cliff Floyd, Tom Glavine). Shea is still a lousy place to watch a flawed team (near the bottom in runs and DPs turned) that raises expectations before routinely shattering them. But ya gotta believe. Sure, Fenway's got The Monstah. And Nomah. And chowdah. But fans at the rundown stadium (opened in 1912, it's MLB's oldest park) moan about tiny, unforgiving seats that are also the most expensive in baseball (average price: $40, or $15 more than No. 2 Seattle). And for what? The chance to watch a team that's missed the playoffs three years running while praying that this might actually ... be ... the ... year? We don't think so. Fans of the Buffalo-wing capital like to joke that HSBC Arena stands for Hot Sauce and Bleu Cheese -- the only things that could spice up such boring hockey. Hasek? Gone. Peca? Gone. Interest? Gone (attendance down 25% this year). All thanks to a disgraced ex-owner who has Buffalonians praying for Mark Hamister (owner of the AFL's Buffalo Destroyers) to rescue Nickel City hockey. Says season ticket-holder Stuart Scheff: "When your marquee player is a guy named Satan, you know you're in trouble." Normally, paying an average of $45 per ticket (the NBA's ninth-highest) to watch a team that's had two winning seasons in 15 years wouldn't fly. But for the honor of watching MJ soar, fans don't mind (61 straight sellouts). They do mind losing studs like Googs, CWebb and the Wallaces (Sheed and Ben). As for controversial draft picks like high schooler Kwame Brown, season ticket-holder Bruce Bereano is used to it: "The Wizards always have an experimental project going. It's their nature." Cleveland, despite Drew Carey and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has long had an inferiority complex, and penny-pinching Tribe owner Larry Dolan hasn't exactly helped by cutting payroll 30% since last April. Fans voted with their feet, a 19% attendance drop-off last summer. Good thing game programs are only $2.50 (third-lowest in MLB): With all the big names gone, the faithful will need a scorecard to figure out who's on first. And second. And in center. And ... Not even the cheapest red hots in baseball ($1.75) keep Reds fans from seeing red. Happy that Cinergy Field was imploded to make way for the Great American Ball Park, Queen City supporters would be happier still if Bob Boone and Carl Lindner were to vanish. Thanks to the overmanaging skipper (129 different lineups last year) and the underspending owner (eighth-lowest payroll), the over/under on Cincy's 2003 win total remains overly underwhelming. In one move, Jerry Jones may have solved two problems: fan disgust with their owner and their coach. Now it's up to Bill Parcells to fix a Quincy Carter/Chad Hutchinson-led "attack" that produced an NFC-worst 13.6 points a game. Best hope: a big war chest of cap money. Biggest question: Texas Stadium seats 65,595, but can it hold Jerry Jones and his prize Tuna? By the time Hog-Butcher-to-the-World tailgaters have made the two-hour hump down I-57 to Champaign, they're delighted by the plethora of portable johns outside Memorial Stadium. But their wallets have already been tested more severely than their bladders by a 20% price hike for the thrill of cheering a team that's made the playoffs just once in eight seasons. The long drive's only temporary. Too bad Da Bears' QB situation isn't. Everything's big in Texas. Payroll ($105.3M, third-highest in majors). Price of a program at The Ballpark ($6, most expensive). Team ERA (5.36 since 1999, MLB's second-worst). A-Rod's W-2 form. Everything, that is, except Ranger win totals the past three years: 72, 73, 71. Unless the new logo packs some mighty special mojo, the only AL team (besides Tampa Bay) never to reach the ALCS won't be getting there anytime soon. This is your basic case of all hat, no cattle. PNC Park is a swell new yard, but attendance last year still fell 28%. That happens when the home team (last in the NL in BA in 2002 and second to last in runs) racks up 189 losses in the two seasons since the park opened. "One of the safest bets in sports," says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook, "is that the Pirates will have a losing season." Bright side: Fans dislike milquetoast manager Lloyd McClendon, but he's more popular than his players! The location's perfect: Babe Ruth was born two blocks away. The chow's still the best in the bigs: Boog Powell's barbecue, Baltimore crab cakes, microbrewed beer. But ambiance can offset incompetence for only so long -- last year, Camden Yards attendance dropped to its lowest level in the ballpark's 11-year history. Stuff happens when you cap five straight sub-.500 seasons by finishing 4-32, the worst 36-game stretch in franchise history. Blame Peter Angelos (owner) and Syd Thrift (former de facto GM), who threw big bucks at free agent flops and let a once-great farm system go to seed. (Rochester, their Triple-A flagship for 42 years, filed for free agency and signed with the Twins.) Can new execs Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie get back to the Oriole Way? They'd better, because Baltimore has a lot of places with superior crab cakes. In 1996, the second-year Panthers played for the NFC title. Since then? Free agency bombs: Eric Swann, Sean Gilbert, Chuck Smith. Flop at the top: George Seifert. Failure on the field (15-33 since 2000) and off it (Lamar Smith's DUI arrest, Rae Carruth). No wonder fans don't think they get much for what they put in. New coach John Fox fixed the D, won six more games and vowed to spend wisely and keep his players' noses clean. Check back in a year. If it weren't for cynicism, Marlins fans wouldn't have anything to believe in. "The sense of betrayal is incredible," says Miami Herald writer Kevin Baxter. Start and end with ownership: Garbage-magnate Wayne Huizenga, who built, then strip-mined the 1997 World Champions. Then financier John Henry, who bolted to Boston. And now, art-dealer Jeffrey Loria, who abandoned the Expos. Then there's that infernal rain, every summer afternoon. Who's in charge of that? Rockies fans want to share the love, but with whom? Rosters change faster than a Trading Spaces family room: 107 players in black and purple the past three seasons. That wouldn't matter if they hadn't been so relentlessly mediocre: one .500-plus season (82-80 in 2000) in five years. Yet despite a 17% attendance drop since 2000, Coors Field (with an on-site microbrewery and cup holders at each seat) remains a swell place to catch a ball game. Just ask Mike Hampton. What's opera, Doc? Ask the football team in Minneapolis. Owner Red McCombs threatens to move the show to San Antonio. Randy Moss squirts officials and rewrites traffic rules. Add Korey Stringer's death to only 22 wins in three seasons and (go figure) fans won't give McCombs a new stadium. Now rumor has it that the unhappy McCombs wants to sell, but is fielding offers that are $200M below his $600M asking price. So hard to imagine why. Since obtaining sole ownership of the Warriors in '95, Christopher Cohan has steamrolled through eight coaches, been sued by the city for not paying his rent on the Arena in Oakland, traded the draft rights to Vince Carter for the draft rights to Antawn Jamison (okay, jury's out on that one) and presided over a team that has averaged 63 losses a season since '99-00. No wonder Cohan was booed during the 2000 All-Star Game -- on his home floor. The Jerrys have done nothing right since dissing MJ, Scottie and Phil, turning off fans (the sellout streak ended at 610 in the 2000-01 season) and destroying what was certainly the best brand in Chicago and possibly in sports. Clearing cap space backfired when no one would take their money. Stockpiling draft picks has left coach Bill Cartwright playing nursemaid to confused teenagers. All of which leads to the question: How come Bulls ownership isn't ranked dead last? Same arena, concessions, parking, amenities -- even cheaper tickets. So how come the Clippers are at the opposite end of the food chain from the Lakers? One word: championships. Jack Nicholson and his courtside cronies have boatloads of 'em, while Billy Crystal and pals have a .328 "winning" percentage during the 21 seasons that inept cheapskate Donald Sterling (NBA-lowest payroll of $26.6M) has signed the checks. Talk about a Clip job. To set the tone for the current season, the Cavaliers adopted a brand-new slogan: "This is Cleveland!" Local authorities should go to court to stop them from slandering the city's good name. Carrying the NBA's worst record (only eight wins through mid-January), the Cavs have suffered a 29% drop in attendance since 2000-01, a not-surprising side effect of losing 50-plus games a season. Owner Gordon Gund specializes in low payrolls (fifth from the bottom), bad drafts (where have you gone, Trajan Langdon?) -- and turning his team's home into a joke by imposing his name on it. (Gund Arena? Say it fast and it sounds like it requires a shot of penicillin.) The Gund was built in part from taxes levied against liquor and cigarettes -- a little weird, since you need both to suffer through a Cavs game. Since Miller Park opened in 2001, only the sausage races have been competitive: 200 losses, including 106 last season when almost 900,000 fewer fans scheduled Miller time. Thank goodness for MLB's luxury tax: Milwaukee is one of a handful of teams to admit turning a profit. Meanwhile, the Brewers brain trust holds down payroll and jacks up ticket prices. Shouldn't somebody report this outfit to the Commissioner for impersonating a major league operation? The Blackhawks are a lot like old Russia: a mystery wrapped in an enigma -- and not of this century. (They have virtually no televised home games.) Creating an exclusive viewership out of season ticket-holders is either quixotic or nuts, depending on your view. And it's not like fans are storming the United Center: High ticket prices ($47 on average) have helped keep the gate to 69% of capacity (third lowest in the NHL). This season, the Hawks have a pretty good club. Alas, it's a private one. Maybe Cablevision Systems Corp. is better suited to broadcasting teams than owning them. The Rangers' NHL-high $68.5M payroll has financed a roster of old (Mark Messier), brittle (Pavel Bure) and both (Brian Leetch) -- though the Garden still averages 99.5% capacity. Is it the lackluster team? The ninth-priciest tickets in the NHL ($45)? A league-high $30 parking tab? No, it's fan loyalty, which is showing hints of crumbling, as "ree-fund" becomes the nightly arena chant. Ruben's nanny-charming skills. Bonzi's spitfire aim and range. Rasheed's -- take your pick. And still enough time between suspensions and arrests for Trader Bob's ill-conceived crew to snipe at one another. Is it any wonder the Blazers ranked dead last in Players and Fan Relations? On the bright side, fans get to pay about three bucks above the league average for the pleasure of watching this expensive ($105M) reservoir of pure talent go to waste. Need a quiet place in Atlanta? Try Philips Arena. The Hawks were 27th in NBA attendance last season (12,344 a game) and will challenge for the cellar (in the standings and fan interest) this season. The reasons are clear: Their best player (Shareef Abdur-Rahim) is their least exciting, the big trade for Big Dog is a big bust and new coach Terry Stotts is a lame duck. Season ticket-holders do have one thing to get excited about: a $125 rebate when the Hawks miss the playoffs. With just one playoff visit since 1982, the Cardinals are at least consistent. No NFL team is less willing to shell out for free agents, worse at judging talent or more inclined to stall on contract negotiations. (Hello, David Boston.) Is owner Bill Bidwill incompetent, indifferent or both? Fans can't decide. Coach Dave McGinnis is popular; Sun Devil Stadium (with its rah-rah ASU atmosphere) isn't. No wonder the league's second-cheapest ticket feels pricey. With a $40 average ticket (mid-pack in the NHL) and just 56 wins in three seasons, what's getting Thrashed in Atlanta are the fans. Originally a Ted Turner vanity project (sort of like Jane Fonda), the Thrashers have had a 26% attendance slide, not as precipitous as the drop in Turner's AOL Time Warner stock, but the bang for the buck is just as miserable. They have good young players (and we're not just saying that) but the corporate overlords won't be patient. Sell! Tropicana Field is the pits. Ownership can afford only a $34M payroll this season, lowest in MLB (below even the Expos'). Attendance was a shade over a million, third-worst in the majors. So why do the D-Rays exist? To serve as a semiretirement home for Lou Piniella, silly. The team traded its best player, Randy Winn, for the gregarious ex-Seattle field boss, who promptly set an ambitious goal for 2003: 70 wins. See you at Malio's, Lou! The Lions haven't been a threat since your grandpappy's ride had tail fins. God gave them Barry, and they still managed to win only one playoff game. But c'mon now, a joke's a joke. One divisional win in 2002? Five W's in the past two years? We are not amused. To get ranked below 100 in seven of our eight categories, you almost have to try. Bang for the buck? Fans would like to bang on the myopic M&M Boys and owner Bill Ford. The decision to keep Millen and Mornhinweg is almost inexplicable. Almost. "It's the easiest," explains longtime Detroit columnist Mitch Albom. "And least expensive. Those are two directions that Ford's compass often seems to point." Alas, his team only seems to go south. Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch obviously knows what he's doing. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch ought to put his skates back on. He sank $200M into Comerica Park, but cost overruns forced him to freeze payroll. A revolving clubhouse door (98 in uni since 2000, MLB's fifth-highest turnover) erodes fan loyalty. (Attendance fell 21% from 2001.) Local legend Alan Trammell has nowhere to go but up as the new manager. Can he persuade Al Kaline to make a comeback? Don't blame the odor at Madison Square Garden on the circus. Cablevision's Dolan family oversees not one (see: Rangers, 109) but two sad-sack franchises with surly old players and crippling money issues. If a $92M payroll seems absurd, consider that $16.5M goes to ex-players Luc Longley and Larry Johnson. But even as they flounder on court, the Knicks are fiercely competitive in ticket prices, edged only by LA's Lakers for the NBA's priciest ($64). Columbus players love Nationwide Arena (11 home W's vs. 6 on the road). So do Columbus fans (11th in attendance despite only 40 points). That's because even when their team loses, there's plenty to do in the concourses. Like playing six-on-six Big Hockey on a 5' x 12' rod-hockey rink (with a ref), or trying one of six arcade-style Bubble Boy machines. Says SVP Mike Humes: "We want hockey to be an interactive experience." Maybe they should let the fans lace 'em up. PA Announcer: "David!" Houston fans: "Carrrrrrr!" So go the introductions at noisy $365M Reliant Stadium. The NFL's first retractable-roof park saw the second-ever opening win by an expansion team. Despite the league's worst offense (76 sacks allowed), Dom Capers' Texans finished 4-12, not bad for a fledgling. Since dropping a record $700M to bring the NFL back to Houston, owner Bob McNair has done everything right. If only he could play left guard. The Wild's tagline reads, "The State of Hockey." It shows, and not just because this third-year franchise has sold out all of its home games. In the Xcel Energy Center concourse, 8-year-olds hawk $2 programs to fund 150 PeeWee teams. Owner Bob Naegele Jr.(a 63-year-old ex-Minnetonka High goalie) still gets between the pipes at the annual celeb game. Despite a league-low $21M payroll, the Wild have the fifth-best record in the West. The State of Hockey is good. Last October, an analyst for Channel Five joked, "Next week, the Bengals have a bye, where they are six-point underdogs." Not Channel Five in Cincinnati, mind you. Channel Five in the United Kingdom! True fact: The Bengals have transcended geography to become an international laughingstock. We're not being cruel. It's just that when you lose as often as the Bengals, certain things pile up. Like wisecracks: What are the two words Takeo Spikes fears more than "root canal"? Franchise player.

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