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Second chance cities: When sports leagues return after franchise relocations

How long did it take for the major sports leagues to return to various cities after relocation?

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

As top-tier professional football returns to Los Angeles after a 21-year absence, we ponder just when the stars will align and the powers that be will make Seattle whole on the basketball front.

While hope seems to be at a premium for many nowadays, history shows us that the return of the SuperSonics is far more likely than not. Given the kind of market Seattle represents, especially one that continues to grow in stature, it would appear this is a when-not-if situation.

Short of calling it inevitable, we can look back at cities that have gotten second (or even third) chances at teams after losing one to that fickle beast known as relocation to gain some perspective.


Second Chance 1: MKE

Milwaukee Brewers to Milwaukee Braves to Milwaukee Brewers

Times Gone: 1902 to 1953 (51 seasons); 1966 to 1970 (4 seasons)
Return Methods: Relocation; Relocation

The original Brewers were there in the beginning of the American League in 1900. They only played one season when the league went major in 1901 before leaving to become the St. Louis Browns. A minor league club called the Brewers played from 1902 to 1952. They became affiliated with the Boston Braves in 1947, and owner Lou Perini moved his major league club there in 1953 after attendance problems in Beantown. The Braves were popular in Milwaukee, and it's still the only major league team to never have a losing season when playing more than one season. Perini sold the team in 1962 and the new owners immediately looked for a bigger TV market to move the team, settling in Atlanta in 1966. It would be four seasons later that Bud Selig would purchase a cash-strapped Seattle Pilots team and move them to Milwaukee as the new incarnation of the major league Brewers.

Second Chance 2: BAL

Baltimore Orioles to Baltimore Orioles

Time Gone: 1903 to 1954 (51 seasons)
Return Method: Relocation

An Orioles squad played in the National League from 1882-1899. The new major American League fielded a Baltimore Orioles team for two seasons before it moved to Brooklyn in 1903. That team would eventually be known as the New York Yankees. A minor league Orioles team played in Baltimore until 1953. The St. Louis Browns, originally the Milwaukee Brewers, had requested to move to Baltimore as part of a sale, but the relocation was denied supposedly because the Yankees were attempting to get the team moved to Los Angeles. The reality is that league owners wanted Browns majority owner Bill Veeck, who would've become a minority owner in Baltimore, completely out. He eventually agreed and the sale and move to Baltimore were approved. The team became the current Orioles in 1954.

Second Chance 3: WAS

Washington Senators to Washington Senators to Washington Nationals

Times Gone: No time (Same year); 1971 to 2004 (33 seasons)
Return Methods: Expansion; Relocation

MLB in "the other" Washington is a bit of an odd case. The original Washington Senators were founded in 1901 as part of the first season of the American League as a major league. They changed their name to Nationals in 1905, but they were called both names until the club relocated to Minnesota as the Twins in 1960. Worried of losing their politically influential fanbase in D.C., MLB quickly added a replacement Senators club in expansion. The second Senators were awful during their time in the nation's capital, and they went through multiple ownership changes before former Lakers owner Bob Short bought the club in 1968. Short had to deplete the team to right its financial course, and eventually offered to sell the team in 1970 for $12 million or he'd move the team. No one bought, so off to Arlington, Texas, he went, renaming the club the Texas Rangers. In 2001, MLB had actually voted to contract from 30 teams to 28 with the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos as the intended targets. A new CBA with the MLBPA aborted the contraction vote, but the Expos' time in Montreal was nearly done. Owner Jeffrey Loria sold the team to MLB. To boost interest, the Expos played a number of games in Puerto Rico with the possibility of relocating to the island. Washington was chosen as the relocation spot, and the team became the Nationals.

Second Chance 4: SEA

Seattle Pilots to Seattle Mariners

Time Gone: 1970 to 1977 (7 seasons)
Return Method: Expansion

Seattle had been an exciting and emerging market for major league sports for a while, and the NBA were the first to plant their flag with the Sonics. That had to burn baseball a bit as the city was a dynamo in the minor leagues. MLB followed suit in 1969, and the Seattle Pilots were pretty much a disaster. Sick's Stadium was not a major league ballpark, the team played poorly, and the ownership had to borrow money to pay for the expansion team to begin with. Having lost money on the season and unable to find more cash, majority owner group head Dewey Soriano had agreed to sell the team to Bud Selig, who planned to move it to Milwaukee. The other majority group owners were against the sale. Attempts to find other local ownership to buy the team were denied by MLB. The city, King County, and state were quick with legal action, getting an injunction to stall the sale and relocation. The majority owners filed for bankruptcy, which actually allowed MLB to approve a sale to Selig and move the team in 1970. The city, county, and state filed a lawsuit against the majors for breach of contract, and it finally went to trial in 1976. Seattle was offered an expansion team to drop the lawsuit, and the Mariners came into existence in 1977.

Second Chance 5: KC

Kansas City Athletics to Kansas City Royals

Time Gone: 1968 to 1969 (1 season)
Return Method: Expansion

Through a series of backroom deals, Arnold Johnson purchased the Philadelphia Athletics in 1954 with the intention of moving the team to Kansas City. Johnson was more concerned with profit than paying top talent, so even though the A's were popular in KC, they weren't very competitive. Charles Finley eventually bought the team when Johnson died in 1960. Finley was looking to get out of Kansas City, and the team nearly ended up in Louisville in 1964 before relocation was denied. A request to move to Oakland was also shot down. He looked at a number of other cities over the next 3 years, including Seattle, but tried again with Oakland and was finally approved to move in 1968. Expansion came quickly the next year with the Kansas City Royals joining the Seattle Pilots in the majors.


Second Chance 6: LA

Los Angeles Rams & Los Angeles Raiders to Los Angeles Rams

Time Gone: 1995 to 2016 (21 seasons)
Return Method: Relocation

The Los Angeles area had played host to NFL football for 49 seasons, the last 13 of those seasons with two teams. The Rams had moved out to Anaheim in 1980, and the Raiders had already begun exploring options for a return to Oakland as early as 1989. Both teams pulled the trigger on moves in 1995, citing stadium issues, leaving the nation's second largest market without NFL football. With the imbalance created by the expansion Browns in 1999, the NFL moved forward on 32nd team, eventually awarding expansion to Los Angeles. The ownership group's stadium deal fell apart and the expansion was pulled. 16 years later, the Rams got approval on a stadium project in Inglewood and to return to SoCal from St. Louis.

Second Chance 7: BAL

Baltimore Colts to Baltimore Ravens

Time Gone: 1984 to 1996 (12 seasons)
Return Method: Relocation, officially recognized as expansion

Seen by many as the most egregious sports franchise relocation in the history of professional sports in the United States, the Irsay family absconded with the team in the middle of a March 1984 night after fighting with Baltimore city and Maryland state officials for years over a new stadium. Not to be outdone, after coming to an impasse with Cleveland officials over his own new stadium, Browns owner Art Modell relocated his team to Baltimore prior to the 1996 season. The Charm City had hosted a championship Canadian Football League team for a few seasons, but the arrival of the Ravens truly returned the apex of professional football to the city after 12 seasons.

Second Chance 8: STL

St. Louis Cardinals to St. Louis Rams

Time Gone: 1987 to 1995 (7 seasons)
Return Method: Relocation

One of the original franchises that formed the NFL, the Cardinals had relocated to St. Louis from Chicago after it was clear the Bears were the more embraced team. The Bidwills, owners of the team, had considered moving it to Atlanta after just four years in St. Louis before the threat got them a new stadium. After 28 mostly mediocre seasons, though, they eventually chose to move the team to Phoenix over Baltimore and Jacksonville in 1987. It would be another stadium issue (and, some would argue, poor team management) that would bring the Los Angeles Rams to the Gateway City starting in the 1995 season.

Second Chance 9: HOU

Houston Oilers to Houston Texans

Time Gone: 1997 to 2002 (6 seasons)
Return Method: Expansion

Familiar stories abound. Houston ponied up on renovation of the Astrodome in 1987 after Oilers owner Bud Adams threatened to move the team to Jacksonville. Soon after, Adams lobbied to get a new stadium for which there was no public support. After the 1995 season, with no movement on a stadium, Adams announced that the team would relocate to Nashville for the 1998 season. They left a season early after fan, corporate, and media support crashed in Houston, spending two years in Memphis before making home in the Music City as the Tennessee Titans. A new ownership group and a new stadium plan placed Houston as a finalist with Los Angeles for the 32nd team expansion in 1999, but L.A. initially got the nod. After the L.A. stadium deal fell apart, Houston was awarded expansion and the Texans started play in 2002.

Second Chance 10: CLE

Cleveland Browns to Cleveland Browns

Time Gone: 1996 to 1999 (3 seasons)
Return Method: Expansion, officially recognized as continuation of original franchise

The dedicated Browns fanbase was crushed by Modell's move of their team. Seeking an easy fix to approve the team's relocation (and avoid legal issues), the NFL negotiated a deal that would see the Browns' name, colors, stats, and records remain in Cleveland and a team returned via expansion or relocation by the year 2000. Expansion resurrected the team in 1999, and the negotiated deal meant the Baltimore Ravens were retroactively considered an expansion team and the Browns were effectively on a 3-season hiatus. Though, don't ask Clevelanders about it.


Second Chance 11: OTT

Ottawa Senators to Ottawa Senators

Time Gone: 1934 to 1990 (56 seasons)
Return Method: Expansion

The original Senators helped to found the NHL in 1917. The ages-old tale of financial woes led the team to move to St. Louis in 1934 before it folded a year later. The remnants of the team formed various Ottawa "Senior Senators" teams in leagues through 1954. Other leagues, including the World Hockey Association, would host teams in the Canadian capital over the years. The failed Colorado Rockies sale to an Ottawa group in 1982 precipitated the 1990 expansion that brought the Senators back to top-level hockey. An effort similar to the Las Vegas campaign for NHL demonstrated enough support for the league to consider and then approve the expansion.

Second Chance 12: ATL

Atlanta Flames to Atlanta Thrashers

Time Gone: 1980 to 1999 (19 seasons)
Return Method: Expansion

Atlanta has struggled with a reputation of spotty or poor fan support. MLB's Braves were a strong draw for many years, but lack of recent postseason play has dragged on attendance. Falcons and Hawks support has also been streaky. New stadiums and a possible new basketball arena are hoped to right the ship. As for hockey, Atlanta has the distinction of losing two franchises to mediocre performance and attendance. First, the Flames to Calgary in 1980. Then, the expansion Thrashers to Winnipeg as the resurrected Jets in 2011.

Second Chance 13: WIN

Winnipeg Jets to Winnipeg Jets

Time Gone: 1996 to 2011 (15 seasons)
Return Method: Relocation

The drop in the value of the Canadian dollar relative to the U.S. dollar in the mid-'90s led to a few franchise relocations to be able to compete. An arena deal that fell through prevented the original Jets from moving to Minneapolis, but they left Winnipeg to become the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes in 1996. Though the market is significantly smaller, the move of the Thrashers from Atlanta to Winnipeg in 2011 was justified because the support for the team was far more rabid in Manitoba.

Second Chance 14: COL

Colorado Rockies to Colorado Avalanche

Time Gone: 1982 to 1995 (13 seasons)
Return Method: Relocation

Kansas City nailed an expansion team in 1972, but the perfect storm of underfunded ownership, high player salary, weak showing on the ice, and bad attendance led the Scouts out of town for Denver after two seasons. Things didn't improve for the team in six seasons as the Colorado Rockies. The club was sold in 1978 with the intention of moving it to New Jersey, but the sale was nixed when an arena wasn't ready. A failed sale nearly took it to Ottawa in 1982, but the team eventually made it to Jersey as the Devils. The same financial troubles that cost Winnipeg the original Jets also cost the NHL's then-smallest market, Quebec City, the Nordiques, who came to Denver as the Colorado Avalanche in 1995.

Second Chance 15: MIN

Minnesota North Stars to Minnesota Wild

Time Gone: 1993 to 2000 (7 seasons)
Return Method: Expansion

In addition to sharing green and gold as team colors, the North Stars came into the NHL in 1967 just as the Sonics joined the NBA. Following attendance issues in the late '80s, the team's owners, the Gunds, threatened to move to San Francisco. The NHL negotiated a deal for the Gunds to take ownership of the new expansion San Jose Sharks while a Bay Area group became owners of the North Stars. After 2 seasons, the owners tried to move to California as the L.A. Stars, but Disney was already working with the NHL on the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The owners then decided on Dallas for relocation. After the Winnipeg Jets move to Minneapolis failed and they went to Phoenix, the NHL decided to expand by 4 teams to 30. In June 1997, expansion was awarded to Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, and Columbus. The Predators took to the ice in 1998, the Thrashers in 1999, and the Wild and Blue Jackets in 2000.

And last but not least...


Second Chance 16: MIN

Minneapolis Lakers to Minnesota Timberwolves

Time Gone: 1961 to 1989 (28 seasons)
Return Method: Expansion

The Lakers were losing money in Minneapolis and new owner Bob Short couldn't turn it around. With two of baseball's New York teams relocated to California and having strong financial success, the Golden State looked appealing to Short. He originally considered San Francisco but eventually settled on Los Angeles, where the team has had its greatest success and become an institution. The ABA played in Minnesota in the late '60s, two franchises at a season apiece. In the mid-'80s, the NBA was dead-set on a three-team expansion. When they approved expansion in April 1987, it was four teams. Following the Hornets and Miami Heat in 1988, the Timberwolves and Orlando Magic took the court in 1989.

Second Chance 17: NO

New Orleans Jazz to New Orleans Hornets

Time Gone: 1979 to 2002 (23 seasons)
Return Method: Relocation

The Jazz spent five seasons as an expansion team in New Orleans before moving to Salt Lake City. Lack of success, arena issues, minimal corporate support, and already dwindling attendance contributed to the move. For whatever reason, Utah stuck with the Jazz name. Charlotte Hornets owner George Shinn had worn out his welcome in that city following sexual assault allegations and a campaign to replace their 24-year-old arena. The city agreed to fund a new arena if the NBA removed ownership of the team from Shinn. Not willing to set precedent, the NBA allowed Shinn to relocate to New Orleans. Financial troubles for Shinn would eventually force him to sell the team to the NBA, who would in turn sell it to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson.

Second Chance 18: MKE

Milwaukee Hawks to Milwaukee Bucks

Time Gone: 1955 to 1968 (13 seasons)
Return Method: Expansion

The Hawks were one of those wayward franchises in the earlier days of the NBA. Starting in Illinois as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, they moved to Milwaukee in 1951 and shortened their name. After little success and poor attendance, the club would leave the Cream City four years later for St. Louis and eventually end up in Atlanta in 1968. 1968 is the same year the Bucks entered the league through expansion.

Second Chance 19: SD

San Diego Rockets to San Diego Clippers

Time Gone: 1971 to 1978 (7 seasons)
Return Method: Relocation

San Diego was Seattle's expansion partner in 1967. After 2 seasons of poor performance and low attendance, owner Robert Breitbard began looking to sell the team. In 1971, he sold it to Texas interests who relocated to Houston, a perfect destination given the team name. Now, follow this: Across the country, the Buffalo Braves had nearly been sold and moved to Miami in 1976, but the western New York city blocked the sale with a lawsuit. Owner Paul Snyder sold the team to John Y. Brown, former owner of the ABA's Kentucky Colonels. In Boston, Celtics owner Irv Levin wanted to move his team to Southern California, which the NBA was never going to allow. In a deal brokered by one David Stern, Brown and Levin swapped franchises, and Levin moved the Braves to San Diego as the Clippers in 1978. Levin eventually sold the team to Donald Sterling, who wanted to move the team to Los Angeles, was denied, and then sued and moved the team in 1984 anyway.

Second Chance 20: CHA

Charlotte Hornets to Charlotte Bobcats

Time Gone: 2002 to 2004 (2 seasons)
Return Method: Expansion

To avoid potential legal complications following the NBA's approval of the Hornets relocation to New Orleans, and to take advantage of the city's willingness to pay for a new arena, the league granted an expansion team to Charlotte to start play in the new venue in 2004. After New Orleans rebranded as the Pelicans in 2013, the Bobcats were given approval to reclaim the Hornets name. A unique agreement also allowed them to take ownership of the original Hornets history in Charlotte from New Orleans and combine it with the Bobcats history. The Pelicans retain the New Orleans Hornets history from 2002 to 2013.

Second Chance 22: PHI

Philadelphia Warriors to Philadelphia 76ers

Time Gone: 1962 to 1963 (1 season)
Return Method: Relocation

Charge card company Diners Club decided to head an effort to bring basketball to San Francisco after the successful relocation of the Lakers to L.A. Taking a 1/3 stake in the team, they got together a Bay Area group of 30+ investors, including Franklin Mieuli, to purchase remainder of the Philadelphia Warriors and move them across the country in 1962. Even with Wilt "the Stilt" Chamberlain -- his record 100 points in a single game was in 1962 -- the Warriors had been a weak draw toward the end of their time in Philly. Miueli would purchase full control of the team after Diners Club and other investors threatened to drop out following horrible attendance in their first season in Fog City. A move to Oakland in 1971 and name change to Golden State Warriors would find their greatest success, including championships in 1975 and 2015. They plan to return to San Francisco in 2018. The gap left by the Warriors in the City of Brotherly Love was quickly filled when owners purchased rival NBA founding team the Syracuse Nationals in 1963 and moved them to become the 76ers.

And the next to add to the list...

Second Chance 21: SEA

Seattle SuperSonics to Seattle SuperSonics

Time Gone: 2008 to 201? (? seasons)
Return Method: To be determined


Updated from original article to include information about Philadelphia Warriors/76ers. All logos featured are the last primary logo used by the team that relocated and the first primary logo used by the new team.