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When a Professional League Leaves a City Behind

Posted by Andrew McKillop on June 3, 2011

This week it was announced that the Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL would be moving to Winnipeg.  It marks the first time in NHL history that one city has lost its team to another city on two different occasions; Atlanta lost the Flames to Calgary in 1980, and now the Thrashers to Winnipeg.

The Thrashers didn’t receive a lot of support in Atlanta, so their departure isn’t going to leave significant shock waves, but anytime a city loses it’s only franchise in one of the “big four” professional leagues, it leaves a hole in that city’s sports landscape.

Listed below is a breakdown of every instance in which a city lost it’s only team in one of the “big four” professional leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL).

Note: The list doesn’t include defunct professional leagues (i.e. ABA, AFL, etc.).  Keep in mind this rule works both ways; meaning that the city of Cleveland didn’t officially get a major professional football team (NFL) until 1950, despite their participation in the AAFC.  The list also only includes current franchises.  Also important to keep in mind the only qualification.  Meaning when the New York Giants left town, New York still had a professional baseball team in the New York Yankees.  Thus that franchise move doesn’t qualify, and neither do similar moves.

City Losing Tm Lge Team Moved To Seasons Lost #
Atlanta NHL Flames Calgary 1980/81-98/99 19
Atlanta NHL Thrashers (?) Winnipeg
Baltimore MLB Orioles (Yankees) New York 1903-53 51
Baltimore NBA Bullets (Wizards) Washington 1973/74 38
Baltimore NFL Colts Indianapolis 1984-95 12
Boston NFL Redskins Washington 1937-69 33
Buffalo NBA Braves (Clippers) San Diego 1978/79- 33
Charlotte NBA Hornets New Orleans 2002/03-03/04 2
Chicago NBA Zephyrs (Wizards) Baltimore 1963/64-65/66 3
Cincinnati NBA Royals (Kings) Kansas City 1972/73- 39
Cleveland NFL Browns Baltimore 1996-98 3
Cleveland NFL Rams Los Angeles 1946-49 4
Decatur (IL) NFL Staleys (Bears) Chicago 1921- 90
Denver NHL Rockies (Devils) New York/NJ 1982/83-94/95 13
Fort Wayne NBA Pistons Detroit 1957/58- 54
Hartford NHL Whalers (Hurricanes) Raleigh 1997/98- 14
Houston NFL Oilers Nashville 1997-01 5
Kansas City MLB Athletics Oakland 1968 1
Kansas City* NBA Kings Sacramento 1985/86- 26
Kansas City NHL Scouts (Devils) Denver 1976/77- 35
Los Angeles NFL Raiders Oakland 1995- 16
Los Angeles NFL Rams St. Louis 1995- 16
Milwaukee MLB Braves Atlanta 1966-69 4
Milwaukee MLB Brewers (Orioles) St. Louis 1902-52 51
Milwaukee NBA Hawks St. Louis 1955/56-67/68 13
Minneapolis NBA Lakers Los Angeles 1960/61-88/89 29
Minneapolis NHL North Stars (Stars) Dallas 1993/94-99/00 7
Moline NBA Blackhawks (Hawks) Milwaukee 1951/52- 60
Montreal MLB Expos (Nationals) Washington 2005- 7
New Orleans NBA Jazz Salt Lake City 1979/80-01/02 23
Oakland NFL Raiders Los Angeles 1982-94 13
Philadelphia NBA Warriors San Francisco 1962/63 1
Portsmouth NFL Spartans (Lions) Detroit 1934- 77
Quebec City NHL Nordiques (Avalanche) Denver 1995/96- 16
Rochester NBA Royals (Kings) Cincinnati 1957/58- 54
San Diego NBA Rockets Houston 1971/72-77/78 7
San Diego NBA Clippers Los Angeles 1983/84- 28
San Francisco NBA Warriors Oakland 1971/72- 40
Seattle MLB Pilots (Brewers) Milwaukee 1970-76 7
Seattle NBA Sonics (Thunder) Oklahoma City 2008/09- 3
St. Louis NBA Hawks Atlanta 1967/68- 44
St. Louis NFL Cardinals Phoenix 1988-94 7
Syracuse NBA Nationals (76ers) Philadelphia 1963/64- 48
Vancouver NBA Grizzlies Memphis 2001/02- 10
Washington MLB Senators (Rangers) Dallas 1972-04 33
Washington MLB Senators (Twins) Minneapolis 0
Winnipeg NHL Jets (Coyotes) Phoenix 1996/97-10/11 15

*The Kansas City Kings also played in Omaha Nebraska from 1972/73 – 74/75.

The cities of Baltimore, Kansas City, and Milwaukee on three occasions have lost their only franchise in one of the “big four” leagues.  The most by any city.

Atlanta is probably getting a favor returned to them.  On two occasions they were the destination city of a moving team (Milwaukee Braves & St. Louis Hawks).  Meanwhile the city of Los Angeles has been the destination of four franchises, the most by any city.

The city Oakland owes all of it’s current franchises to other cities (KC Athletics, Los Angeles Raiders, San Francisco Warriors).  Although the Raiders were original to Oakland.

The city of Washington owes three of it’s four professional teams to other cities (Baltimore Bullets – now Wizards, Boston Redskins, Montreal Expos – now Nationals).

The NBA is the league that has left the most cities behind.





Historically when a league leaves a town, there is a 53% chance that the league will return to that city, either by another team moving there, or the league granting that city an expansion team.  When a league does return to a city, that city usually has to wait through 14 seasons before they get a franchise again.

As mentioned before Atlanta is the first city to lose two NHL franchises to other cities.  The city of Milwaukee lost two MLB franchises (Brewers – now Orioles, Braves).  The city of Washington lost MLB franchises nicknamed the Senators on two occasions (Twins & Rangers).  The city of Cleveland had two NFL franchises move (Browns – now Ravens & Rams).  The city of Los Angeles lost two NFL franchises in the same year (Raiders & Rams).    The city of San Diego lost two NBA franchises (Clippers & Rockets).

One more interesting note.  Cities in the state of Florida have never lost a sports franchise to another city, and have never taken a franchise from another city.


Reference: Sports-Reference.com (BB, BK, FB, HK)

12 Responses to “When a Professional League Leaves a City Behind”

  1. Tex Noel said

    Played As:
    Milwaukee Brewers
    1901

    St. Louis Browns
    1902-1953

    Baltimore Orioles
    1954-Present

    • Andrew McKillop said

      I should have initially emphasized “when the only team in the sport” leaves town. That is why I don’t have the Browns move listed, because when they left town the Cardinals were still in St. Louis.

      I did list the Brewers though leaving Milwaukee at the end of 1901. Most people don’t know that the Baltimore Orioles were once the Milwaukee Brewers, and that the New York Yankees were once the Baltimore Orioles. You could confuse somebody for sure.

  2. Interesting tidbit about Florida not losing a team to another city considering how many times both the Marlins and Rays have threatened to leave. Both have terrible attendence.

    • Andrew McKillop said

      Teams (at least MLB) always threatened to go to Florida too. I remember the Giants almost moving to the Tampa area back in the 1990’s.

  3. Eaglesfan said

    The Atletics called Philadelphia home from 1901 to 1954.

    • Andrew McKillop said

      I have now emphasized in the article, “only” a bit better. When the Athletics moved out of Philadelphia, the Phillies were still left behind. I only included instances when the league completely left the city behind. Meaning I also didn’t include the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals move to St. Louis in 1960, or any of the MLB New York teams moves to the west coast. Sorry for the confusion.

  4. Eaglesfan said

    Athletics, that is.

  5. oneblankspace said

    The Suncoast Dome, now known as Tropicana Field, was used as political leverage for state support for Comiskey Park II/US Cellular field for the White Sox in the late 1980s.

    Also, it is interesting to note that both the St Louis and Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore (NFL technicalities aside).

    • Andrew McKillop said

      That’s an interesting point about the Browns both going to Baltimore. Both teams also renamed themselves after birds (Orioles & Ravens).

  6. John Reeder said

    I thought Philadelphia was without an NBA team for one season, 1962-63. The Philadelphia Warriors last season was in 1961-62, when they lost a 109-107 decision to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Division finals (the year Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game and average 50.4 points a game). The next season, 1962-63, the Syracuse Nationals played their last year in Syracuse while the Warriors played their first year in San Francisco (interestingly, there was a Syracuse vs. San Francisco @ Philadelphia regular season game that year). For the 1963-64 season, the Nationals became the 76ers.

    (Also, in something that is nothing but an odd tidbit, during the 1959-1960 season, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 1960, the Philadelphia Warriors and Minneapolis Lakers played a two-game series in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Chamberlain set what was then the Cow Palace scoring record in the January 31, 1960 game.)

    • Andrew McKillop said

      Thanks for the correction John. I have updated the post.

      That is pretty interesting about the Laker/Warrior series in California. I’m assuming the turnouts for both games were strong.

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