Why They Left: 10 Franchises That Relocated
Professional sports as a whole embraces a philosophy of business matters over anything else. When you remove yourself from being a fan, you begin to realize dollars make cents and franchises are meant to be shuffled around in order to facilitate the pursuit of loot.
There have been countless teams that have changed cities throughout the course of history. Some have done it for financial gains, while others were sold off for spare parts.
The list you're about to dive into explains why 10 distinct franchises left their respective homes. Striking a sense of balance between the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL, we've covered a good portion of the North American sports landscape.
Performance tends to be a great judge of character when it comes to the lifespan of franchises. Ask the Hartford Whalers. Originally conceived during the World Hockey Association's heyday, the Whalers faced tremendous issues when it came to making a dent in the NHL postseason.
Hartford was an interesting city to host a professional sports team to begin with. It's sandwiched on Interstate I-95 between New York City and Boston. That means the Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and New York Islanders were all within driving distance of the Whalers.
Despite fizzling out and being transitioned over to North Carolina, where they became the Hurricanes, Adam Gretz of CBSSports.com spoke about the club's lasting legacy: "They are also perhaps the most popular NHL team that no longer exists."
A tough draw location-wise and a failure to make any significant impact in NHL were two critical reasons why the Whalers were finally forced out of Hartford.
San Diego Chargers
The great arms race to claim Los Angeles as an NFL host city raged on for close to a decade. Last year, the first move was made official when the St. Louis Rams bailed on the Midwest and wound up choosing L.A. as its new destination.
Following in the heartache and despair of the Rams' move, the Chargers exercised their team option to leave San Diego in favor of Los Angeles in January.
It was a decision made to ensure growth—remember, the Chargers first called L.A. home in 1960. Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today spoke about how owner Dean Spanos was looking to compete with other high-profile NFL franchises by moving to a new stadium. He used Los Angeles as a destination for extended income.
Both the Chargers and Rams moving to Southern California has turned two fanbases upside down. But each franchise was moved strictly for competitive reasons.
Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants
The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants leaving the Big Apple remains a pivotal moment in Major League Baseball's rich history.
In 1957, the MLB collectively allowed both teams to move across the United States, setting up shop in California. The Dodgers would wind up in Los Angeles, while the Giants would call San Francisco their home for the foreseeable future.
An interesting caveat at the time, something that may not be remembered by most fans, is that both teams had to leave in order for the agreement to be ratified, as History.com unveiled.
So, why did these two staples of New York baseball venture out west? The almighty dollar and a clouded look at the future. According to Steven Goldman of SB Nation, the Giants and Dodgers bailed due to a lack of proper transportation—an issue New York City has since fixed—ailing stadiums and limited parking.
Timing is everything in life. And for the Giants and Dodgers, it was a completely different era of doing business. Nevertheless, both teams helped send California's baseball market in orbit, while the Mets and Yankees eventually took over New York.
The story of Art Modell moving the Cleveland Browns turned out to have a happy ending, as the franchise came back to life in 1999. But for a period of time, the Buckeye State had lost one of its core members, and Modell was to blame.
"Like almost every relocation story, Modell's dissatisfaction with the Browns' lack of revenue spurred the move to Baltimore," Alex Reimer of SB Nation explained. To make matters worse, the move came at a time when the Browns were on the verge of becoming AFC contenders.
Bill Belichick was inserted as head coach—yeah, that Belichick—the team was fresh off a postseason run in 1994 and the roster itself was juiced with talent. Modell didn't care. He wanted dollar signs to dance, so he announced halfway through the '95 campaign the Browns would be leaving for Baltimore.
The next year they did just that, becoming the now-famous Baltimore Ravens. Two Super Bowl rings later, we'll never know what could have been for the Browns.
Cleveland never fully recovered, despite fighting for its team and winning, as Cleveland.com's Brent Larkin detailed. Since the team's return in '99, we've seen nine head coaches walk through the door, a single playoff appearance and just two winning seasons.
The city of Atlanta was awarded an NHL expansion team in 1997, 27 years after its original franchise, the Atlanta Flames, left town for Calgary.
That offer by the NHL turned into the Thrashers. For years, the Thrashers struggled to do anything worthwhile. In the 11 years the franchise remained in Georgia, fans only got to witness the club reach the postseason once.
When you lose consistently, poor finances tend to follow. Because of that, there wasn't a sustainable market in Atlanta. So in June 2011, the franchise was once again sold and moved to Winnipeg.
The city of Atlanta has now lost two NHL franchises to Canada, becoming the first team in the modern era to do so.
The image of Kevin Durant running off the court in a Seattle SuperSonics uniform serves as a haunting reminder that this once prestigious franchise does not exist anymore.
It all started when former Sonics owner Howard Schultz sold the team to Clay Bennett in 2006 for $350 million, per Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. A working timeline after the sale—as seen in Farmer's article—details how the team moved two years later, much to the dismay of Seattle residents and NBA fans.
On par with the majority of relocation stories, the Sonics' move was full of miscommunications and controversy. Bennett said he wanted the team to remain in Seattle but seemed to have every intention to move them to Oklahoma City. After a constant back-and-forth between the city and Bennett—which ended with a $45 million payment to the city—the team officially became known as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Today, they remain a successful NBA franchise, led by superstar point guard Russell Westbrook.
Robert Irsay took the longstanding Baltimore Colts and, in the middle of the night, moved them across state lines to Indianapolis.
The whole relocation process was ripped straight out of a movie. Phillip B. Wilson over at USA Today wrote a detailed, informative piece on how the entire thing went down: "Fourteen tractor-trailer trucks were dispatched to the Baltimore Colts facility in Owings Mills, Maryland. Drivers weren't told their destination until the next day: the soon-to-be-famous 600-mile trek to Indianapolis."
Packing up Mayflower-branded trucks, Irsay escaped Baltimore after being threatened with the loss of his team. He responded by not announcing the Colts would be leaving their home city, choosing to take the franchise to Indianapolis where he was awarded a second chance.
Baltimore eventually got the Ravens to fill the void of football in their city. Still, losing the Colts was a difficult blow to the community.
Before they had established themselves as a professional baseball team, the Colorado Rockies were actually a young NHL franchise.
The story behind the Colorado Rockies and the lineage they've had as a club is amazing when you go back and read about it. In 1976, the franchise was known as the Kansas City Scouts. After being purchased by Jack Vickers, the team was moved to Denver.
Struggles in Denver led to the Rockies' rapid demise despite reaching the postseason in 1978. "Regardless, Vickers quickly realized that Denver wasn’t going to fill McNichols Sports Arena just because it was the NHL," Terry Frei at the Denver Post explained (anyone looking to properly learn about the culture of this club should read Frei's article).
The team was sold to Arthur Imperatore, who wanted to move the club to his home state of New Jersey, where they would go on to become the Devils in 1982—Imperatore proceeded to sell to John McMullen, who completed the transition from Denver to New Jersey.
A fractured market in Colorado and a hasty sale resulted in the Rockies being disbanded after six seasons. To this day, the Devils remain a stalwart of productivity in the NHL's Eastern Conference, but Colorado would get a second shot at having a pro NHL franchise when the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver to become the Avalanche in 1995.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, this has nothing to do with the Oakland Raiders' attempt to play football in Las Vegas—a move they're gearing up for, per Elliott Almond of the Mercury News. The decision we're talking about dates all the way back to 1982, when Al Davis forced the Raiders to ditch Oakland for a favorable spot in Los Angeles.
The move remains an important note in league history. Davis proved he could be a shrewd businessman, taking the Raiders to Los Angeles, directly defying the NFL and its owners in the process.
After a legal battle about where the franchise should reside, Davis won and stuck to his word: The Raiders would relocate to L.A., according to Mike Puma's report for ESPN.com. It wasn't a decision made without reason: "Davis sought to leave Oakland after city officials refused to make improvements to Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, mainly the addition of luxury boxes," Puma mentioned.
In the end, the Raiders stayed in Los Angeles for 12 seasons before returning to the Bay Area.
New Orleans Jazz
Do you ever sit back and wonder why the Utah Jazz are named the Jazz? Well, it all started in New Orleans, a city famous for great Jazz and a vibrant culture.
The New Orleans Jazz started off as an expansion franchise in 1974 led by "Pistol" Pete Maravich. Attendance and a rapid fanbase weren't a concern, as Jimmy Smith of the Times-Picayune pointed out. Patrons of the city loved their Jazz.
Financial issues combined with an ownership team that wanted out of the city created this problem. Taxes played a huge factor in the decision as well. "New Orleans also had a burdensome 11 percent amusement tax on tickets to entertainment events, including sports, which severely affected the Jazz's bottom line toward the end of its residency," Bill Baker of the Times-Picayune explained.
The NBA agreed to honor the Jazz's divorce from the Big Easy, sending the team to Salt Lake City in 1979. All these years later, the Jazz remain in Utah, while New Orleans received the Pelicans for their troubles.
All stats, box scores and information via Sports-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.