When we talk about “cursed” sports towns, it’s almost always in the context of things like postseason or championship droughts, heartbreaking losses, or just general futility. In other words, Cleveland. I kid, I kid.
But to my way of thinking there’s something even worse than falling just short of ultimate glory over and over again, and that’s losing a pro franchise entirely. Whether it’s the result of a greedy owner or a lack of fan interest, the death of a sports team is always at least a little sad.
And so I set out to document just with cities and states have lost the most professional teams from the four major leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL). I could expand it to other leagues as well, but I’m not sure that cities mourn the loss of indoor soccer teams quite like they do baseball or football franchises.
A few caveats are necessary. In the early history of pro leagues team movement was fairly common and it can be hard to differentiate between teams folding altogether or simply taking on new identities. Also, I have taken the liberty of lumping some geographic areas together that may get me into hot water with locals. So all the boroughs of New York City are counted as the same, as are other cities located in the same metropolitan area.
If I’ve made any noticeable blunders please let me know in the comments. Publication images courtesy my companion site, SportsPaper.info.
Which State Has Lost the Most Pro Sports Teams?
This one was closer than I thought it would be but indeed, Ohio can rightly be considered the unluckiest state when it comes to pro franchises folding or moving. To date the Buckeye State has lost 20 teams from the four major leagues.
It started with the Cincinnati Reds (or Red Stockings), one of the charter members of baseball’s National League, who were kicked out of the league in 1880 and subsequently dissolved. Since then two other baseball teams, the Cleveland Blues and Spiders (1884 and 1899 respectively) have vanished.
Ohio has also suffered the loss of two NBA franchises. The Cleveland Rebels were a charter BAA franchise in 1946-47 but went out of business after just one season. The Cincinnati Royals, themselves already relocated from Rochester in 1957, departed the Queen City for Kansas City/Omaha in 1972. The team now plays in Sacramento as the Kings.
But it’s the NFL where Ohio has lost the most, which makes sense given that the league was founded there and was heavily concentrated in the Midwest for its first few decades. A whopping total of 14 NFL franchises have either moved or gone belly up in Ohio, although to be fair most of that movement was done by the mid-1930s.
Of note, however, are some notable franchises that were lost. The Canton Bulldogs, one of the great teams from the NFL’s first decade, were kicked out after the 1926 season. In 1946 the Cleveland Rams moved west to Los Angeles. Of course I don’t think I need to get into what happened with the Cleveland Browns in 1996 — and if you think that doesn’t count because the city was awarded a new Browns franchise in 1999, ask local residents how they feel about that.
Coming in a surprisingly close second on this list is New York, which has seen 19 teams move or fold. Aside from the infamous moves of MLB’s New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, the Empire State has lost three NBA teams, one NHL team, and nine NFL teams. New York City’s five boroughs alone account for 10 teams on this list.
Here’s the full Top 10:
1. Ohio (20 teams)
2. New York (19)
3. Missouri (14)
4. Indiana (9)
5(t). California, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin (8)
8. Illinois (7)
9(t). Maryland, Michigan (6)
Which City Has Lost the Most Pro Sports Teams?
I guess I gave this one away already, but New York City has lost 10 pro sports teams in its history. Some people may take issue with lumping all five boroughs together, but this is my site so my rules.
The exodus began in 1876 when the New York Mutuals, a founding National League club, were expelled from the league as punishment for refusing to make a late-season road trip. Things remained calm for several decades, but the wild and woolly early NFL days brought a host of teams in and out of New York City.
Between 1921 and 1951 a total of six APFA/NFL teams vanished — the New York Brickley Giants (1921), Brooklyn Lions (1926), New York Yankees (1928), Staten Island Stapletons (1932), Brooklyn Dodgers/Tigers (1944), and finally the New York Bulldogs/Yanks (1951).
(See programs for more defunct NFL teams.)
Just behind New York City in the loss column are St. Louis and Cleveland, who have each seen nine teams go away. St. Louis most recently saw the NFL’s Cardinals move to Arizona in 1988 and the NBA’s Hawks fly to Atlanta in 1968. More recently, all signs point to the St. Louis Rams returning to their longtime home in Los Angeles soon, at which point the city will tie New York for this infamous honor.
In addition to the Browns’ move to Baltimore, Cleveland lost an entire league when the NHL’s Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978.
Here’s the full top 10:
1. New York City (10 teams)
2(t). Cleveland, St. Louis (9)
4(t). Baltimore, Detroit, Washington D.C. (6)
7(t). Kansas City, Milwaukee, Philadelphia (5)
10(t). Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Louisville, Minneapolis (4)
What Team Name Has Been the Unluckiest?
Just for fun, I decided to look at what nickname has been associated with the most defunct/relocated franchises. For this exercise, I only counted the name of a team when it went away, even if was known by another name for a longer period. This part is more art than science, unfortunately.
With that said, history indicates that the nicknames that most often portend doom are Maroons, Senators, and Tigers. There have been five teams each that had this name and then were no more.
The most recent Maroons team is probably the most well known, the Montreal Maroons of the NHL (1924-38), winners of two Stanley Cups. Three NFL teams bore the moniker and were from Kenosha, Wisconsin, Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and Toledo, Ohio.
All but one of the Senators teams were based out of Washington D.C., the exception being the original Ottawa Senators of the NHL. Three separate MLB franchises used the name, folding or moving in 1899, 1961, and 1972. Only hardcore NFL history junkies would know about the Senators that played just one season in the APFA/NFL (1921).
As for the Tigers, the last of them to go extinct was the NFL squad known for most of its existence (1930-44) as the Brooklyn Dodgers. Three other NFL teams were known as the Tigers and were from Chicago, Detroit, and Columbus. The latter of these was also known as the Panhandles.