Pro Sports teams Relocations: History and Heartache
"Here today, gone tomorrow". From the Brooklyn Dodgers to the Minnesota North Stars, professional sports teams have been packed up and moved to seemingly greene
There is a strong sense of communal pride intrinsically interwoven into the fabric of society in regard to professional sports teams. If a city is seen as a living organism, then its sports franchises are its Central Nervous System. Sports fans invest so much time and emotion into the teams that they love, the team’s successes and failures actually become an integral part of their identity. The existence of a sport in any given market provides hope and pride through competition. Rivalries between cities based on competing sports franchises would be nonexistent had sports franchises never been introduced into the mix. Sports accentuate a sense of community. A piece of every diehard fan’s soul lies at half court, home plate, midfield, and center ice of their respective arenas, ball parks, stadiums, and fields. With such an emotional investment comes the potential for heart break. When a team loses, disillusionment, disappointment, and frustration are normal fan reactions. When a team leaves town, however, deep rooted scars and broken hearts can have a devastating effect on an entire demographic. Some moves reverberate louder than others in the history of North American professional sports. Some fade from headlines faster than others, but they never completely fade from memory. Congratulations are appropriately in order for cities that are awarded expansion teams. A new history is born when a team is imagined and realized by and for a particular city, but franchise relocation is bittersweet. It’s sweet for the recipient, but for the thousands of fans who have to rationalize and accept the loss of a piece of their collective heart and soul, bitterness is an understatement.
Because North American professional sports leagues don’t use the International relegation and promotion tactics to form and reform sports at a professional level, areas that are interested in securing their own franchise have to rely on expansion or relocation primarily. Competing leagues such as the WHA and THE USFL generally don’t fare well. Teams generally relocate for monetary reasons. Weak fan showing, coupled with the allure of more promising markets often sets the wheels in motion for a team to seek greener pastures. Sometimes a team finds itself at the tail end of an unfavorable lease with a city’s arena or stadium, and its ownership opens itself up for negotiations with cities that promise higher revenue based on a more favorable location. Income and housing is what it boils down to, I suppose. From a historical perspective, tracing teams back to their origins is an interesting field of research. Because history, especially sports history, is often heavily sprinkled with nostalgia, it is easy to reminisce about a team’s existence during a bygone era. Many of the most profound moves of the past century or so are still discussed and talked about today, while some are only remembered by those who were there. Some sports franchises have changed cities and names more than a handful of times. A lot of teams have just disappeared. Defunct teams or teams that merged with other franchises also contribute to the musical chairs of professional sports. Defunct teams vanish off of the grid of competition, never to be seen again. Unless they are resurrected, as has occurred notably in Cleveland (The Browns) and Winnipeg (The Jets). Sometimes a team relocates and changes its name, the original host city is later awarded a franchise for which the original moniker is used, then the reincarnation of the team is later dissolved (The Washington Senators).
Each of the big four professional sports leagues in America has seen their fair share of relocations, and defunct franchises. Each has its own veritable laundry list. Some of the more prominent moves generate interest in the movable lore of sports history. The NBA has seen The Jazz move from New Orleans to Salt Lake City, The Lakers from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, The Kings from Kansas City to Sacramento, and The Supersonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City where they would be rechristened The Oklahoma City Thunder. How many people, however, remember that The Atlanta Hawks originally played in St. Louis, or that The Detroit Pistons once played their home games in Fort Worth, Texas? Major League Baseball has seen The Brooklyn Dodgers move to Los Angeles, The New York Giants move from Manhattan to San Francisco, The Braves move from Boston to Milwaukee and then on to Atlanta, and the Montreal Expos to Washington DC where they were renamed The Washington Nationals. Who knew that The New York Yankees were once called The Baltimore Orioles (not to be confused with the current Baltimore Orioles franchise), or that The Baltimore Orioles were once The Milwaukee Brewers (again, not the same as the modern Milwaukee Brewers)? How many New York Mets fans know that their team's colors are a mix of Giant orange and Dodger blue. The NHL bore witness to The Minnesota North Stars move from a hockey hub to Dallas, and due in large part to rising salaries conflicting with the value of the Canadian dollar, two teams relocated from Canada, The Winnipeg Jets and The Quebec Nordiques, to The United States, and became The Phoenix Coyotes and The Colorado Avalanche respectively, within a few years. Cleveland fans remember the loss of their Browns to Baltimore, and Colts fans in Baltimore remember losing their team to Indianapolis. But how many hockey fans know that Hamilton, Ontario once was home to a team called the Tigers, or that The New Jersey Devils were originally The Kansas City Scouts then The Colorado Rockies?
Sometimes league expansion heals the wounds left by relocation. The New York Mets color scheme does not replace the two teams it borrowed from, but over the course of a half century millions have only identified with that team. While The Dodgers and Giants are very important parts of the history of New York, a lot of Mets fans weren’t even born yet in 1957. Fans of hockey in Minnesota have unanimously adopted the expansion team The Minnesota Wild as their home team, but the emotional wound caused by the departure of The North Stars has not been quick to heal. Although reasons for the move were financially motivated somewhat, in a bizarre twist of fate The North Stars left for Dallas in 1993 ultimately because their owner at the time was facing a sexual harassment lawsuit to which his wife used as leverage to convince him to move the team to Dallas, Texas. The wild even pay homage to the former Minnesota team by wearing a logo that strategically incorporates a star as a reminder and link to the past. Atlanta has lost both of the hockey franchises they’ve received, but the underwhelming lack of fan support at their home games doesn’t mean people weren’t twice hurt. The first time when The Flames moved to Calgary, then again when The Thrashers moved to Winnipeg to become the reincarnated Winnipeg Jets.
Rumors of relocation spawned by financial trouble and stadium issues derail fans in certain cities from enjoying their team because they are constantly afraid that they won’t have one for future seasons. The NHL’s Coyotes are always discussed as a candidate for relocation. But while Quebec City, Seattle, and Hamilton express their desire to bring the team to their market, how can one not consider the feelings of their current fans in Phoenix? I know that The Coyotes caused heartbreak when they left Winnipeg, and many purists believe that hockey never belonged in the desert in the first place, but shouldn’t sports fans who once found themselves in the same situation display a certain degree of empathy? The New York Islanders’ fans breathed a sigh of relief when they learned that their team would be moving only to Brooklyn from the outdated Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.
It is interesting, at the very least, to fully examine one’s favorite sports teams. Where did the come from? How long were they there? Why are they here? Will they ever leave? The future is always uncertain. Teams that have deep roots in their hometown usually aren’t plagued by the possibility of relocation, but with a few decades of under- performing teams that don’t yield optimum revenue, anything is possible.