The stories of five heartbreaking team moves to new cities
News broke this week that the Oakland Raiders are considering a move to San Antonio. While it's unclear how serious the Raiders' wanderlust is, it would certainly be a devastating blow to their fiercely loyal fan base. As with most breakups, this one would probably involve a lot of sad music, going through old photos where they're tagged together with the team, and eating cookie-dough ice cream straight from the carton. But don't worry, Raiders fans. Lots of other teams have broken up with their cities, and everyone's doing just fine now.
This move was a covert operation staged under the cover of darkness (after a long, protracted, public battle very much in the light). The Colts had complained for years about the condition of their decrepit Memorial Stadium, but both the city of Baltimore and the Orioles, who shared space with the Colts, blocked multiple plans for reconstruction or renovation. Meanwhile, Indianapolis was trying to build itself up as an actual city instead of vast, boring farmland. They were trying to woo a major sports team to, you know, make them seem more interesting. They invited Colts owner Robert Irsay to see the construction of the Hoosier Dome. When Irsay saw it, “he was visibly moved… Emotionally, he was making the move.” On March 29, 1984 Irsay finalized his deal with the city of Indiana. The Colts were leaving Baltimore.
This is where the story turns into a spy movie. There was a risk that the Maryland House of Delegates would be allowed to seize the team that night under eminent domain (the power of a government to take private property for public use by the state). To ensure the team’s safe passage to its new home, the Indiana-based moving company Mayflower sent a fleet of trucks to secretly pack up everything in the Colts’ complex and drive back to Indiana at 2:00 AM. Each truck had to take a different, complicated route to avoid detection from state troopers. If they got caught, they risked impound. Once the trucks crossed the border into Indiana, they received a police escort all the way to the new complex.
The move was complete and Baltimore found out what had happened, and the rest reads like every other breakup story. Baltimore, the jilted lover, tried to win the team back. They swore they’d be different – they tried to repeal their vote in opposition of a new stadium, and a newspaper used a photograph of the mayor crying as their cover photo. Meanwhile, the Colts ran off with a new guy that would treat her right, and Indianapolis became a cool, hip metropolis (well… kind of).
The Cleveland Browns were another team that needed a new stadium. After losing revenue from the Cleveland Indians, who moved to their own new field in 1994, the Browns’ then-owner Art Modell tried to get $174 million from taxes to replace worn-out Cleveland Stadium. After being denied these funds, the team had a pretty disappointing 1995 season. Modell decided it was time for a change, and he announced his decision to move the Browns to Baltimore.
Interestingly, Modell's reason for selecting Baltimore was that he thought they would put up the money for a beautiful stadium (apparently they learned their lesson from the Colts incident). And just like in Baltimore, fans at home tried to get the team to stay. The announcement of the move prompted over 100 lawsuits and a “Fan Jam” hosted by actor Drew Carey. Pittsburgh Steelers fans were angry about the move, as well, since it would change their long-standing rivalry with Cleveland. But all this outcry was too little too late. The Browns were on their way to Baltimore.
A deal was struck that would “deactivate” the Browns for three years while a stadium was built for a new team that would begin playing in 1999. These new Browns would technically be a continuation of the old team, and Modell’s squad in Baltimore would be a brand new franchise.
The Browns really found themselves after their breakup with Cleveland, and like so many women, they completely changed their look. They ditched the drab orange and brown colors and embraced a sultry purple and black wardrobe as they became The Baltimore Ravens. Hey you do you, girl.
The Nordiques had a really great relationship with Quebec City, but like so many couples, money drove them apart. A combination of factors led to the team’s financial downfall. The increasing popularity of hockey led to higher player salaries, which was a problem compounded by the US-Canadian exchange rate (the Canadian dollar was worth about $0.70 American). The Nordiques revenues were earned in Canadian dollars, but player salaries were paid in US dollars, which made them an expensive team. Not to mention the fact that Quebec City was just too small to support the team.
The Nordiques requested a bailout from the Provincial Government, but they were denied. They had no other option but to move. COSMAT, the same group that owned the Denver Nuggets, purchased the team and moved them to Colorado. This whole incident led to the creation of the Canadian Assistance Plan, a system by which the NHL subsidizes the remaining Canadian teams to make sure they still make money off of Canadian TV… uh… I mean… to make sure that the legacy of Canadian hockey stays strong.
However, as any recent divorcée will tell you, the process of changing your name is one of the most difficult things about legally separating from your ex. The Nordiques new ownership wanted to change their name to the Rocky Mountain Extreme (in an attempt to keep it regional and attract fans from states outside Colorado). Hockey fans everywhere can thank Denver Post reporter Adrian Dater for putting an end to that. Dater says when he broke the story, “all I remember was [Dave] Logan fielding call after call during his afternoon radio talk show from fans just ripping the hell out of the hockey team’s new name. It was just an, ahem, avalanche of negative public opinion.”
Denver comedian and writer Ryan Mattingly told us, “Within about 24 hours, a huge number of the pre-sold season ticket purchasers were asking for refunds because the name was so stupid. I remember the day I heard that Denver was getting an NHL team. I called my friend Andy and we were freaking out. So happy. Then two days later when we heard the proposed name, Andy called and we were in agreement that we couldn’t – in good conscience – root for a Mountain Dew commercial on ice.”
Thanks to public pressure, the Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche, and from there things only got better – they won the Stanley Cup in their first year in Denver.
Here’s a love story I bet you’ve heard before – two young lovers are pulled apart for an arranged marriage. So it was with Brooklyn and their beloved Dodgers, the beleaguered baseball team that called Ebbets Field home. After finally winning the World Series for their borough, owner Walter O’Malley wanted a new stadium to replace the outdated Ebbets Field. After a long time spent butting heads with City Planner Robert Moses and an ultimately unsettlable disagreement about a location for the new stadium, O’Malley decided he was going to take the team far, far away from its home. MLB executive Buzzie Bavasi “was not at all surprised, recalling how many times O’Malley said to him that if were going to move to Queens he might as well move three thousand miles away.”
Indeed, this was the first time in history that a team reasonably could move three thousand miles away. As air travel replaced train travel as a primary means of transporting a team, it became feasible for the first time for a team to move across the country and maintain a consistent playing schedule. And who happened to be across the country and looking for a new team but Los Angeles.
The Dodgers weren’t even on the short list of teams Los Angeles was considering – how could you move such a Brooklyn institution? But when O’Malley reached out to them, they made him an offer he couldn’t get anywhere in the five boroughs: not only a new ballpark, but complete control over all revenue streams there. With such an impressive dowry to be had, it was no surprise that O’Malley forbade the Dodgers from seeing Brooklyn again, and instead arranged a marriage with Los Angeles.
Brooklyn, understandably, was angry and hurt. Like a young lover who checks her ex-boyfriend’s Facebook page to see how bad he’s doing, they delighted in the fact that The Dodgers got off to a rocky start in their new city. “The Los Angeles Dodgers franchise in chaos? The Dysfunctional Dodgers? How sweet it was, how very sweet. … We in the East were gloating, of course, but it was short-lived. The very next year, after only two years on the Coast, aging as they were, they won the pennant ant the World Series.” Looks like living well really is the best revenge.
The most recent team relocation on our list is still painful to Seattle residents. Like so many of these stories, this one begins with disagreements about updating a stadium. KeyArena was still in relatively good condition, but it was too small for one of the most popular teams in the NBA (and they only stood to get more popular with recent additions Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Maybe you’ve heard of them?). When Supersonics owner and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz didn’t get the new arena he wanted, he decided to sell the team to a man from Oklahoma City named Clay Bennett.
Schultz believed Bennett would genuinely try his best to keep the team in Seattle, but shortly after Bennett bought the team, he announced their move to Oklahoma City. He maintained that he wanted to keep the team at home, but emails within the ownership group were released suggesting that that wasn’t the case (when you snoop through your significant other’s email, sometimes you find things you don’t want to find).
Seattle wasn’t ready for the relationship to be over, and they mounted a huge legal effort to get the team to stay. Howard Schultz even got involved with a lawsuit claiming that Bennett didn’t make a good-faith effort to keep the team in Seattle. Supersonics fans staged protests and tried to make the team stay in the city through 2010, the end date on the KeyArena lease. Even though Seattle knew the relationship was over, they were trying to spend one last night with the Supersonics (but doesn’t that one last night always make a breakup more painful?).
My advice to Seattle: go listen to some Noah and the Whale, cry into your pillow, and with time, you’ll move on. You’ve got a great thing going with the Seahawks now. I think you two will be very happy together.