Lightning ranked best major franchise by ESPN

Image 1 of 9

Ahead of storied franchises like the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Lakers and America's team, the Dallas Cowboys, is the Bay Area's own Tampa Bay Lightning.

That's according to ESPN the magazine, in its 14th annual Ultimate Standings article, which ranks teams in all four major sports - baseball, basketball, football and hockey. This year, the Bolts took the top spot.

It's no surprise to us here in the Bay Area. Already off to a 3-0 start, this season is another reason for Lightning head coach Jon Cooper to be proud.

"For our organization to be number one, that's a heck of an accomplishment, and gosh, it all starts at the top," he said.

At the top is owner Jeff Vinik, who bought the team in 2010, (the Bolts were No. 70 on ESPN's list that year). Since then, the Bolts have had a steady climb, and finally broke through to the top after coming in at third on ESPN's list last year.

For his part, and it's a big one, Vinik has poured millions of dollars into the franchise and Amalie Arena, renovating the facility nearly top-to-bottom.

Aside from improvements at the fan-experience level, Vinik launched the $50,000 Community Hero program and headed a major project to completely transform parts of downtown Tampa. 

His commitment to the community only increased fan excitement for a team the Bay Area was obviously ready to throw its support behind. And possibly the most important aspect of the team's success - a dedication to winning helped secure Tampa's No. 1 ranking. 

Also on the list, but nowhere near the top - the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came in at No. 73. It was a vast improvement from last year, when they were No. 91. And the Tampa Bay Rays actually fell to No. 90 this year, from their spot in the top 50 at No. 45 last year.