Sports can sometimes be a cruel business, both for the multi-millionaire owners of the teams we adore and for the loyal fans that sometimes have those teams snatched from them. Whether because of decreasing revenues, fluctuations in the Canadian dollar, or even the promise of a new, exciting market where owners can increase prices at will, team relocation can be a tough pill to swallow for sports fans.
This list will comprise the top 10 most valuable teams to have been relocated in the last 20 years (in the big four leagues: NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL), with their yearly value according to Forbes as the barometer. An interesting aspect of this list is that it not only shows the financial disparities between teams, but between leagues as well. There is a clear separation between these sports leagues and the values of their teams from one league to the next. This will become more apparent as we go through the list and make some fans relive painful memories they have been trying to forget.
10. Dallas Stars (1993) Current Team Value: $333 Million
The writing was on the wall for the Minnesota North Stars in 1990. With a new owner, declining attendance and an inability to secure a downtown arena, the new investors were looking for a new home. Even though Minnesota made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1991, where they ultimately lost to Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the owner was looking to San Jose and Anaheim to potentially relocate the team. When those two cities were used for expansion teams, new owner Norman Green decided to look elsewhere and gained permission to move to Dallas in 1993. They removed “North” from the team name and had the good fortune of having young superstar Mike Modano come along with them. Modano helped build the sport in Texas and soon thereafter the team became competitive, even winning the Stanley Cup in 1999. The Stars have been sold twice since then and are now the 18th most valuable team in hockey at $333 million.
9. Colorado Avalanche (1995) Current Team Value: $337 Million
The Quebec Nordiques were notorious losers, but by 1993 they had begun to build a strong team. Led by Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote, the team looked built to win well into the future. Unfortunately for them, the winning would take place miles away in Colorado. The Nordiques were located in the smallest city to house an NHL team and the Canadian dollar was substantially lower than the American. Every Canadian team was having difficulty competing, especially the Nordiques which forced their move to Colorado. The old owners asked for a bailout, to no avail, and were forced to sell to the owners of the Denver Nuggets. The team was moved to Denver’s home stadium and remained the Avalanche. To make matters worse for Quebec fans, the season after they moved (and after trading for legend, Patrick Roy), the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup.
8. New Orleans Pelicans (2002) Current Team Value: $340 Million
This may be the most confusing story of them all. This franchise began in Charlotte, North Carolina as the Hornets, enjoying moderate success on the court. Unfortunately, failing attendance hurt revenues, mainly because team owner George Shinn had allegedly raped a woman and fans decided to boycott games in protest. The league allowed Charlotte to move to New Orleans and promised they’d be back in 2004-05 with a new team. They did return with the expansion Charlotte Bobcats and they have stunk ever since, even with Michael Jordan as a part-owner. While in New Orleans, the team did not fare much better and even moved to Oklahoma City for 2 years because of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. To continue their shame, the NBA had to purchase the team from the struggling Shinn. The team had superstar Chris Paul on their roster, but he quickly demanded to be traded and the Hornets have been quite bad ever since. They were eventually bought by New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and renamed the Pelicans in 2013, which is not doing them any favours. They are currently the 27th most valuable NBA franchise at $240 million.
7. Winnipeg Jets (2011) Current Team Value: $340 Million
The Winnipeg Jets are another curious case to be included on this list and began as another casualty of the low Canadian dollar. They played in the smallest arena in the league and had increasing difficulty paying salaries. The Jets initially tried moving to Minnesota to replace the North Stars, but that fell through. They then decided to move to Phoenix and re-named the team the Phoenix Coyotes. With Phoenix being the iceless desert that it is, the natural assumption would be that they realized their horrible mistake, moved back to Winnipeg and lived happily ever after. Wrong. For some reason there was a hockey team in Atlanta, and a struggling one at that. The city of Winnipeg saw this as a golden opportunity to bring hockey back to their town and built a large new stadium. Coincidentally, Atlanta’s attendance was falling drastically so the NHL agreed to move the Thrashers to Canada as the new Jets and attendance has been through the roof. With the Canadian dollar at around par, Winnipeg can become competitive once more and they are actually the 16th most valuable NHL franchise at $340 million.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (2001) Current Team Value: $377 Million
Yet another casualty of the Canadian dollar. The Vancouver Grizzlies were one of 2 Canadian teams (along with the Toronto Raptors) to join the league in a 1995 expansion. The team struggled for their 6 years in Vancouver, never once making the playoffs. They selected future star Steve Francis, who refused to play there and was subsequently traded, and wasted other high picks on busts like Bryant “Big Country” Reeves. When attendance fell drastically and the Canadian dollar made it impossible to compete with huge US salaries, the team was sold and applied for re-location. They ended up in Memphis and remain the only professional sports team in that city. The Grizzlies have been far more competitive in Memphis with star players like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph leading the way recently. The Memphis Grizzlies are the 25th most valuable franchise in the NBA at $377 million.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (2008) Current Team Value: $475 million
After 41 years in Seattle and a lone title in 1979, the Seattle Supersonics were purchased by investors from Oklahoma City. After successfully hosting the New Orleans Hornets during Katrina, the new owners felt an NBA team could thrive there. The old ownership group failed to get the money to re-model or build a new stadium and could not continue to exist in Seattle with the smallest venue in the league. The Supersonics became the Thunder, inspired by the frequent storms that ravage Oklahoma City. The Thunder have been successful in their short time in the league, drafting superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and looking to be on the verge of winning championships in the next few years. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the 12th most valuable franchise in the NBA at $475 million.
4. Brooklyn Nets (2012) Current Team Value: $530 Million
As the most recent entrant on our list, the Nets completed their move two summers ago and have just begun their second season in Brooklyn. After failing to secure funding for a new stadium, the New Jersey Nets owners were forced to sell their team to Russian businessman Mikhail Prokhorov who decided to quickly move the team to Brooklyn. The Barclays Center was built, and Brooklyn native Jay-Z was brought in as a part owner of the team. The Nets rebranded by changing their logo and colours, and in the first week that their new apparel was made available to fans, they sold 10 times what they would have sold in New Jersey. The Brooklyn Nets are now the 9th most valuable team in the NBA at $530 million.
3. Washington Nationals (2005) Current Team Value: $631 Million
What a surprise, another entrant who was forced to move partly because of the weak Canadian dollar. Damn you, Canada! The Montreal Expos first moved to the island of Montreal in 1969 and were never overly successful during their time in the city. Montrealers will swear that if there had been no strike in 1994 that halted play, they definitely would’ve won the World Series as they were first in their division. After moving to the horrible Olympic Stadium – located in the middle of nowhere and which to this day needs massive renovations – the owners attempted to build a downtown arena. After Jeffrey Loria failed at all his endeavours, he asked to relocate the team to Washington and it was approved. Later in 2006, Loria sold the team and went to ruin another franchise in Miami. The team has been successful since, drafting star pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper. The Washington Nationals are the 14th most valuable MLB franchise at $631 million.
2. Tennessee Titans (1997) Current Team Value: $1.055 Million
The Tennessee Titans story began in 1960 as the Houston Oilers of the now defunct AFL. They never won any major titles in the NFL, but did win two AFL titles before the leagues merged in 1970. In the mid 90s, owner Bud Adams was looking to build a new, modern stadium but was rejected and began to look elsewhere for a city that would allow him to do so. At the end of the 1995 season, he announced that they had found a partner in Tennessee and would move there for 1998. However, attendance was so horrible for Houston in the 1996 season that they agreed to end the lease and move immediately. The Oilers were renamed the Tennessee Titans and have been moderately successful since, making one Super Bowl appearance in 2000. The Titans are the 19th most valuable NFL franchise at $1,055 million.
1. Baltimore Ravens (1996) Current Team Value: $1,227 Million
It is difficult to be a sports fan in Cleveland. The Indians last won a title in 1948, Lebron James left in “the decision” and the Browns stink. The hardest part of that news is that the original Cleveland Browns became the Baltimore Ravens who won two Super Bowls in the last 10 years. Browns owner Art Modell decided to move the team to Baltimore in 1996 where he would provide the funds to build a top class stadium. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue promised that they would relocate a team or expand to Cleveland no later than 1999 and he held true to that promise. Unfortunately, when the Browns became the Ravens they took their players with them and drafted two future hall of famers in Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis. They quickly won a Super Bowl in 2000 while the newly-formed Cleveland Browns were a two-year-old expansion team. The Ravens have been yearly contenders while the Browns have remained a joke. Baltimore recently won the Super Bowl again this year while the Browns did not make the playoffs… again. The Baltimore Ravens are the 9th most valuable NFL franchise at $1,227 million.
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