Given the recent relocation decisions made in the National Football League, I thought it would be apropos to look at historical relocation in the Big Four pro sports leagues in the U.S. and Canada. As a St. Louisan, I’m well aware of the franchises we’ve lost since the St. Louis Browns first left town in 1953, but surely there are other cities that have suffered more, right?

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For the purpose of this topic, I’ve used the following start years:

  • Major League Baseball, 1901 (elevation of the American League to “major league” status)
  • NFL, 1920 (league’s founding as the American Professional Football Conference/Association) and American Football League, 1960 (inaugural season)
  • National Basketball Association, 1949 (merger between Basketball Association of America and National Basketball League)
  • National Hockey League, 1917 (league’s founding after the suspension of the National Hockey Association)

I also elected to ignore teams that simply went belly-up and folded; this list consists solely of teams in one of the aforementioned leagues that migrated from one metropolitan area to another^ since the years specified.

Without further adieu, the list

… and my observations…

  • Though it’s a little difficult to pin down in the form I chose, the following franchises have moved on three occasions:
    • Tri-Cities Blackhawks → Milwaukee Hawks → St. Louis Hawks → Atlanta Hawks
    • Rochester Royals → Cincinnati Royals → Kansas City Kings → Sacramento Kings
    • Cleveland Rams → Los Angeles Rams → St. Louis Rams → Los Angeles Rams (considering this, it’s a good thing the NFL owners didn’t approve a move that would have allowed for Oakland Raiders → Los Angeles Raiders → Oakland Raiders → Los Angeles Raiders)
  • Los Angeles…
    • … lost three professional football franchises to relocation, and none in the other three sports. Things that make you go “Hmmmm…”
    • … has acquired six teams via relocation
    • … evidently has no originality when it comes to relocating anymore. The three NFL teams vying to move there over the past couple years–the Chargers, Raiders, and Rams–all previously called the City of Angels home
  • I’m a little perturbed by franchises that renew a defunct nickname that was active less than a generation ago, and I’m not sure which is more confusing:
    • The Winnipeg Jets left for Phoenix (Coyotes) in 1996; the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg and became the Jets in 2011. Both teams bearing the “Winnipeg Jets” name are separate entities that played no more than fifteen years apart
    • The Cleveland Browns moved their roster to Baltimore in 1996 and became the Ravens, but the NFL retained the history and records of that name for the “expansion” Browns in 1999
    • Similarly, but even more confusingly, the Charlotte Hornets fled for New Orleans in 2002 and kept that nickname until 2013 (including a two-year post-Katrina stint as the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets), at which time they changed their nickname to the Pelicans. Meanwhile, the “expansion” Bobcats began play in Charlotte in 2004, but retained the history and records of the old Charlotte Hornets; after a season of obsolescence, the Bobcats rebranded (or is it re-rebranded?) themselves as the Hornets
    • At least in Milwaukee’s case, the two baseball teams named the Brewers were nearly seventy years apart
  • Baltimore took on two franchises in two different sports nicknamed the Browns
  • Milwaukee lost two franchises to St. Louis, albeit before 1960
  • St. Louis has actually obtained five franchises through relocation, though one folded and the other four have since re-relocated; that last number is also the greatest for any metro area on the list
  • For all the New York area’s teams (two apiece in the NFL, NBA, and MLB, and three in the NHL), they’ve only lost two additional teams.
  • Twelve metro areas have lost more than one major league franchise, though Chicago and Boston shouldn’t be too upset by their losses. Cleveland, too, since they’re accustomed to losing:
    • The NBA’s Zephyrs are the more recent team to depart the Windy City, all the way back in 1963
    • Boston’s Braves left their hometown a decade earlier, in 1953, and their two former NFL teams left even earlier than that
    • The Rams left Cleveland in 1946; the Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars nearly forty years ago; and the Browns, given the prior point, never relocated, as per NFL records
  • No city has been spurned, at least with relocation, by all four leagues. So that’s good
  • Baltimore, Kansas City, and St. Louis have lost franchises from three different leagues:
    • The American League’s first edition of the Baltimore Orioles moved to New York and wound up becoming the Yankees; more recently, the Bullets and Colts left town, though the former moved a mere thirty miles to a suburb of Washington, D.C.
    • Kansas City lost the Athletics, Scouts, and Kings in 1967, 1976, and 1985, respectively. They did receive the expansion Royals in ’69, and all four leagues were represented from ’74-’76; they’ve been at two since the NBA left over thirty years ago
    • The St. Louis Browns, second in their city in quality of play and attendance, moved in ’53; with the arrival of the NFL’s Cardinals from Chicago for the 1960 season and the Blues beginning play in 1967, St. Louis was a four-sport town for precisely one season (1967-68), after which the Hawks departed for Atlanta. The Big Red left nearly twenty years later and, while the arrival of the Rams from L.A. brought the metro area back up to three teams, that franchise’s departure after 21 seasons reduced that number to two.

So, all that said, sports fans in St. Louis (and those who make money off sports) are justified in being miffed by the latest team to spurn the town, especially given that Los Angeles has been somewhat flaky in the past in its support of the three pro football teams it once had.

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^ As such, teams splitting time between cities (e.g. Kansas City/Omaha Kings and New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets in the NBA); moving to a(nother) suburb in the same metro area while retaining name (e.g. San Francisco 49ers moving to Santa Clara, ); and moving to a(nother) suburb in the same metro area and changing the name (e.g. San Francisco Warriors moving to Oakland and becoming “Golden State,” Los Angeles Angels moving to Anaheim and becoming “California”)

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