Buffalo Sabres fans may not be completely happy with the team right now, but you wouldn't know it from a new survey ranking the Sabres No. 4 among all 122 major professional sports franchises.
The rankings compare how strong a team's brand name is in its market by measuring team popularity and fan loyalty.
In that respect, the Sabres have the No. 1 team brand outside the National Football League.
Only the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts dominated their respective markets more, according to the survey by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, a market-research firm.
The Buffalo Bills, meanwhile, finished in the top third of the rankings, coming in at No. 40.
The rankings were released on-line Monday in Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal.
"Fans gave Sabres games the highest marks in sports when asked if they were entertaining to attend," read the blurb on the Sabres. "They also scored them highest of any franchise when asked if they felt appreciated by the team. That's quite a turnaround for a franchise that was on the verge of moving or folding only five years ago . . ."
It's the second time this year the team and its fans have been recognized in a national publication.
In March, ESPN The Magazine ranked the Buffalo Sabres the No. 1 professional sports franchise when taking into account how well the 122 major pro sports teams pay back their fans for all the time, money and emotion fans invest in their teams.
But Sabres fans already may have guessed there's one big caveat with the Turnkey rankings: Fan polling was done in late May and early June, when Western New York was coming off the Sabres' playoff run.
It was also before the franchise lost co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to free agency and before the team was sitting at the bottom of the Northeast Division.
Turnkey recognizes the shortcomings of its survey and that the findings are influenced heavily by a team's recent success or failure, said Haynes Hendrickson, a senior vice president at Turnkey.
But the survey is meant to be a snapshot in time, he said.
It's the first year Turnkey has done an extensive brand study of professional teams, and the relevancy of the rankings will play out over time as the firm conducts the survey annually, he said.
The New Jersey-based firm polled some 12,000 adult sports fans in the 47 North American markets with teams in the NFL, National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.
Turnkey surveyed anywhere from 200 to 500 fans in each market, asking them 20 questions geared toward measuring team popularity and fan loyalty.
"The Sabres have built an image that resonates in their market," the journal blurb continued. "Five of the six attributes that fans in Buffalo say they value most -- professional, competitive, respected, hard-working, resilient -- were among the words they used most often to describe the Sabres. Few teams in sports match up that closely with their fan base."
The Pittsburgh Steelers came in No. 1 among sports franchises with the strongest brand name in their market.
Rounding out the Top 10, in order, were the Patriots, Colts, Sabres, Boston Red Sox, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Saints, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Cardinals and Green Bay Packers.
The Arizona Cardinals ranked last in the Turnkey study.