The Green Bay Packers enjoy the most passionate local fan base of any pro team - at least they did before the club's messy divorce from Brett Favre.
The franchise has the strongest brand in its local market of any North American team in the major sports leagues, according to a consumer survey of thousands of fans.
"What this is saying is the following the Packers have is more intensely loyal to supporting the Packers than any other team," said Len Perna, president and chief executive of New Jersey-based Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, which released the 2008 Turnkey Team Brand Index on Monday.
"What this basically says is that all other things being equal, a sponsor gets more value in sponsoring the Packers than any other team."
The Packers ranked first among 122 team brands in the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. Some 12,000 fans in 47 U.S. and Canadian markets participated in the second annual survey in June by the market research and executive search and recruiting firm.
The Montreal Canadiens were the top-ranked Canadian team, coming in 12th.
They were followed by the Edmonton Oilers (24th), Calgary Flames (29th), Ottawa Senators (31st), Vancouver Canucks (49th), Toronto Blue Jays (66th), Toronto Raptors (80th) and, surprisingly, the Toronto Maple Leafs (91st).
Nikolay Panchev, Turnkey's research director, says the Maple Leafs' low ranking was a result of poor scoring in fan perceptions of ownership, the team's commitment to winning and how well managed the club is.
He also said that in a measure of 36 brand attributes associated with the team, profit maximization was the one most commonly chosen for the Maple Leafs.
Fans chose profit maximization as the survey's second-most negative brand attribute, behind only arrogance.
The study also measured a team's following among fans outside the local market. The New York Yankees ranked No. 1, followed by the Packers, Boston Red Sox, Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Lakers.
The Red Sox, were second in the local market survey, followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who topped last year's list. The Packers, the only publicly owned team in major professional sports, were fifth in the survey a year ago. Three of the top 10 teams were from the Boston area, and each had something in common: a recent championship.
"The Packers moved up because they had such an emotional year with Brett Favre," Perna said. "His popularity. His longevity. They just really cement the relationship between the brand and fans in Green Bay."
The 38-year-old Favre led the Packers to the NFC championship game last season before losing to the New York Giants. He then tearfully announced his retirement in March, changed his mind and was traded to the New York Jets as Packers management decided it was Aaron Rodgers' time to lead the team.
Given the survey's findings, the Packers made a marketing mistake in letting Favre get away, Perna said.
"Maybe there's some kind of football reason that is not clear to me that they wanted to move on," he said. "But just from a brand perspective, big mistake."
His new team, the Jets, are 8-4 and ranked 92nd in Perna's study.
"They are going to be higher next year, yes," Perna predicted.
The online survey measured such things as team popularity, fan loyalty and assessments of owners. It asked participants about their perceptions of teams: How entertaining it is to attend games? Is the organization's appreciation of fans genuine? Does the team have likable players?
Rounding out the top 10 franchises with the strongest team brand in their local market were the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Red Wings, San Antonio Spurs, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Celtics and St. Louis Cardinals.
The Celtics, who won the NBA championship last season, vaulted into the top 10 after finishing 104th in the first survey.
The Seattle SuperSonics, the NBA team that recently moved to Oklahoma City, ranked last in the survey, Perna said. They were preceded by the New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, Indiana Pacers and New York Islanders.