In the world of professional sports, there are multiple reasons why a franchise may disappear.
A team may fail to attract fans, which leads to low revenues, and an unprofitable team.
The Atlanta Thrashers faced this problem in 2011 and were sold to a Canadian ownership group, who promptly moved the team to Winnipeg.
Mega-millionaire and billionaire sports club owners also hold municipal authorities and fans hostage by demanding that taxpayers fund gleaming new palaces as an homage to their largesse — or lose their teams entirely.
In the NBA, Seattle found this out the hard way, losing their beloved SuperSonics because the city would not help subsidize a new arena. Despite the team’s history in Seattle, the lack of an NBA-quality arena resulted in the franchise moving to small market Oklahoma City.
Currently, there are many teams in the Big Four sports in North America that face the threat of relocation.
The Tampa Bay Rays and Florida Panthers play in front of empty seats almost every night. Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s and most certainly the Oakland Raiders will be fleeing the city for a new stadium, leaving Oakland without a professional sport franchise.
There are, in our estimation, 20 pro sports franchises suffering from one or all of the ills we have described, threatening to either have them moved, or deep-sixed into oblivion.
20. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets entered the NHL in 2000 as an expansion franchise. Since then, they have made the playoffs just three times and have won a grand total of three playoff games. An expansion franchise is not expected to have immediate success, but the Blue Jackets haven’t had any. While the team has made strides to being competitive the last couple of seasons, building a fan base in a state that loves any sport but hockey is a challenge. According to Forbes, they are the third least valuable team in the league (estimated value $315 million) and have filled their arena, on average, to just 87.4% capacity for the first half of the 2017-18 NHL season – that percentage being last in the NHL. That number, despite a pretty good campaign in 2016-17, hasn’t changed. Even with a newer barn, the fickle nature of the fan base might not save this franchise from relocation in the coming years.
19. Charlotte Hornets
Ever since basketball returned to Charlotte in 2004, the Hornets have gone through six different head coaches, a name change (from the Bobcats), made the playoffs just three times and have a measly three playoff game victories. They consistently have one of the lowest attendance figures in the NBA, and according to Forbes, they are the third least valuable team in the league at an estimated valuation of $780 million (consider that the perenially horrible Knicks are worth $3.3 billion, tops in the NBA). The Hornets fail to generate as much revenue as other franchises, and, as a result, they are one of the top beneficiaries of the league’s revenue sharing system. Charlotte is in a state with many passionate basketball fans but have not caught fire in that department filling the seats to just 88.2 percent capacity this season, which is just 20th best in the NBA. There are several markets that can handle relocation, including Vegas, St. Louis and even Seattle. The folks in North Carolina ought to support their club better, or else.
18. Tampa Bay Rays
By our count, the Rays are the least valuable franchise in any of the Big 4 sports leagues. They are definitely the least valuable team in the major leagues, according to Forbes, coming in at $825 million (the Yankees are first at $3.7 billion, for perspective). Despite relative success in the toughest division in baseball — four playoff appearances in the last 10 seasons — fan support has been sparse at the worst stadium in sports, Tropicana Field. The Rays have ranked last in attendance for the past six seasons, with a new low established this past season at just over 1.25 million for 80 home dates (15,670 average). By comparison, 23 other MLB teams had over two million fans in attendance. The location of the stadium is a major inconvenience, sitting 20 miles away from downtown Tampa – the area’s largest concentration of population — not to mention the poor quality of it. If the Rays don’t fix it, baseball will.
17. Milwaukee Bucks
Yes, the Bucks are building a new arena, to be completed in time for the 2018-19 season. This after NBA commissioner David Silver stated Milwaukee needed a new facility by 2017. Even still, Milwaukee is a small market, and even with a budding superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo and an improved club, fan interest still isn’t near where it should be . The NBA’s fourth least valuable franchise has drawn just 16,207 fans average in 19 home dates so far in 2017-18, which is just 86.6 percent capacity (sixth worst in the league). So, even if the Bucks are kept in Milwaukee and playing in splashy new digs, if they can’t draw fans and increase revenue in a small market, they may face the threat of relocation some time down the road. As we stated earlier, there are a few under-served big league markets who would welcome a franchise with open arms.
16. Buffalo Bills
The writing, it seems, has been forever on the wall for the Buffalo Bills. According to Forbes, they are the least valuable team in the NFL, coming in at $1.6 billion (Dallas is most valuable at $4.8 billion, for argument’s sake). Founder and owner, Ralph Wilson, was extremely loyal to Western New York and keeping the team in Orchard Park, but his death signaled the end of an era and a change of ownership to Sabres owner Terry Pegula. Toronto and Los Angeles are possible relocation cities, however, Pegula put a stop to the “Bills in Toronto” series suggested that maybe Toronto is not as ready for an NFL team as people thought. The Bills have a lease with Ralph Wilson Stadium until 2019, so a new stadium is years away from fruition. And as of 2017, the playoff-bound Bills (first time since 1999) filled the old stadium to just 91.4 percent capacity in eight home dates, which was eighth worst in the NFL. Pegula may say he is committed to Western New York, but money talks and BS walks, so we’ll see.
15. Florida Panthers
If ever there was a more disastrous expansion in sports, please let us know. Hockey in football mad south Florida made, and still makes, as much sense as a swimming pool at the North Pole. The Panthers been among the five worst drawing teams in hockey since they came into existence. Not even an early trip to the finals in 1995-96 boosted the attendance fortunes of this club in Miami. Since that halcyon year, the team has made the playoffs just four more times, never getting out of the first round. On most nights, television cameras capture far more empty seats than filled ones, and in the current season, there is no difference, with the team filling the rink to just 77.7 percent capacity (fourth worst) in 19 home games. As of this season, the Cats are the second least valuable franchise, according to Forbes, coming in at $305 million. We say it’s not a matter of if, but when, the NHL finally pulls the plug on hockey in South Beach.
14. Oakland Athletics
The Oakland A’s need a new stadium, and fast, or risk following their football counterpoints to Las Vegas. While that may seem to be a bold statement, the fact the storied Athletics are a baseball team playing in a lousy football stadium is not lost on fans or the league. Sight lines are poor and an over large foul territory places fans further away from the field. The A’s did discuss Cisco Field in San Jose as a proposed stadium site in the past, but the San Francisco Giants contested that it infringed upon their territorial rights. A new site near Laney College in Oakland has been proposed, with a soft target of ground-breaking in 2021 and completion in time for the 2023 season. However, the Billy Ball adherents, always revenue challenged, have not drawn near enough fans to remain competitive in their small market. The A’s, who are the second least valuable franchise at $880 million, were also the second worst drawing team in baseball, averaging just 18,446 fans per game in 2017 and have been among the bottom 10 for quite a while.
13. Arizona Coyotes
Ice hockey in the middle of the desert may sound like an oxymoron, but since 1996, it has been a reality. But, a check on the vitality of the forever revenue and fan-challenged Coyotes sees a team in poor, poor health. They are the NHL’s least valuable franchise (and least valuable in the Big 4) at $300 million. They are the third worst drawing team in hockey, getting just an average of 13,103 bums into seats at the Gila River Arena in suburban Glendale in 18 home dates so far in 2017-18. Even when they were a playoff team, going all the way to the 2012 Western Conference finals, the ‘Yotes were dead last in attendance. Fans have filled the arena for home playoff games, which is great, they have missed the post-season five years running and with just 23 points at the midway point of this season, they are as good as toast again. If there is any one NHL team in need of relocation, other than Florida, the Coyotes fit the bill.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
If the NFL ever puts a team in England, it might likely be the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the team has already played five home games in London between 2013 and 2017, the latest a 44-7 victory over Baltimore at Wembley Stadium on Sept. 24, 2017. It seems as if the NFL is allowing them to grow a London fan base, just in case their stay is permanent. Shahid Khan, the owner of the Jags, is no stranger to the sport market in England as he bought Fulham, an English Premier League team not that long ago. Quite bluntly, Jacksonville is a small market and fans are not supporting a team that has will make just its third playoff appearance since 2000 when they welcome Buffalo this weekend in a wild card game. The team has been bottom 10 in average attendance (just clearing 90 percent home capacity most of the time) in more years than they have not and are currently the league’s eighth least valuable franchise (Forbes estimates the value at $2.075 billion.
11. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders stay in Oakland is not quite over yet, but might be as early as 2019. The NFL approved the third most recent re-location, allowing the Raiders to leave their loyal fan base behind for new digs in Las Vegas. Years of failed efforts to renovate and modernize the deplorable Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum finally came to a head, with the NFL approving relocation last January. It’s no coincidence that they have been among the worst attended teams in the NFL, and even though Forbes ranks them as the 19th most valuable franchise in the league at $2.38 billion, their revenues of $321 million were rock bottom. With a cruddy stadium and a team that has made the playoffs just once since going to Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003, little wonder the team regularly sports around 90 percent stadium capacity most Sundays.
10. Calgary Flames
Sorry Flames owners, the mayor and the taxpayer base have spoken and there won’t be public money spent on a long-needed new arena to house your team. Mayor Naheed Nenshi said no to a new stadium deal using public funds, which may force the Flames to sell, possibly to Houston or Seattle, who will pay far more than the $430 million value of the team (again, according to Forbes) to acquire the Flames. Fact is, the team can’t squeeze another dime in revenue from the 34-year-old Saddledome, especially while their provincial confreres in new edifices like Edmonton reap the rewards. Calgary still does nearly fill its arena most nights, with 96.9 percent capacity reported in 21 home games so far this season, but that is a moot point when ownership wants a splashy new multi-use building to put more corporate bucks into the coffers. The ownership and the city’s mayor, who just got re-elected to serve four more years, are at an impasse. The team’s fate will be decided long before Nenshi’s time is up, though.
9. Atlanta Hawks
The greater Atlanta area is no stranger to losing sports teams, namely the Flames and Thrashers of the NHL. Another one that could follow them out of town are the NBA’s Hawks, who are the league’s worst drawing team this year, by far. Percentage-wise, Atlanta has put filled their arena to just 75.9 percent capacity in 18 home dates, which is 6.9 points below Minnesota in 29th. Sure, the team lost star Paul Millsap in the off-season and is currently dead last in the Eastern Conference, but over the last 10 seasons, when they were a playoff team, they were consistently in the bottom 10 in attendance. The Forbes franchise value rankings has the Hawks at $885 million, which is eighth least valuable. Getting more fans to go to Hawks games — no easy feat — is just one way to keep the team in town, but it may not be enough long term.
8. Miami Marlins
If giving away popular players like superstar Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna, then having the temerity to up ticket prices is a recipe for success, sign us up. The Marlins, put succinctly, were a tire fire of a team under dimwit owner Jeffrey Loria. They are not any better off, apparently, under new ownership group that includes the great Derek Jeter. The Marlins, who can’t draw flies to their cruddy home ballpark (they were third last in attendance in 2017 and have been a poor draw for years), dealt Stanton, Gordon and Ozuna, popular and good players all, after a dismal 77-85 campaign. Those deals were done to save money, but who in their right mind, corporate or otherwise, will pony up more money — part of Jeter’s “Project Wolverine” — to watch a second-rate baseball team? We think that the underlying plan is to strip this club of all big-name talent, saving enough money so it can be moved easily to a more welcoming baseball market.
7. Cincinnati Bengals
The Browns may not have the distinction of being the only Ohio city to move a team out of what is a football mad state. The Cincinnati Bengals, coming off a second straight season out of playoff contention, are football’s third least valuable franchise and the worst drawing team not named the Los Angeles Chargers, who played in the smallest venue in football this season until their new digs are finished. The Bengals 81.3 percent capacity rate was third lowest in the league and for the last few seasons, they have been in the bottom 10 in attendance. It was so bad that at the Bengals final home date against Detroit on Christmas Eve, upper bowl seats could be had for as little as $9 and the Lexington, Kentucky FOX outlet just across the river opted to air the New Orleans-Atlanta tilt instead. With the team not in a lottery position in 2018, they aren’t going to get any better, either. Don’t think for a minute that Mike Brown isn’t considering re-location.
6. Ottawa Senators
Stuck with an under-performing team in a rink in the middle of nowhere, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk spelled it out for Senators fans just in time for Christmas and a historic outdoor game. He said to reporters before an outdoor game with Montreal, “I’m not going to blow a lifetime of working hard to support a hockey team. It’s not gonna happen. The bigger question is whether I’m prepared to blow all that money I made over many years in a different industry in a different country. How long can you underwrite a team?” While he vehemently denied that he isn’t looking for buyers, he is not a fan of the Canadian Tire Center, which is located way out in the ‘burbs of Kanata. It can’t be gotten to easily and the team couldn’t even fill it during a run to the Eastern Conference finals last spring. This year, they are the worst drawing Canadian team and seventh worst overall, percentage-wise — getting just 91.8 full in 19 home games so far. Melnyk’s words ought to be heeded.
5. Washington Wizards
Despite the fact the Wizards are in a playoff position now and likely to be post-season participants, they are one of the worst drawing teams in the NBA. Not to mention that the Wiz are also just the 18th most valuable franchise in the league. So far in 2017-18, Washington is filling its arena to just 86.2 percent capacity, fifth worst in the NBA. That figure is no aberration, as the team has been in the bottom 10 for 10 seasons running and that percentage hovering between 80 and 90 percent. Wizards ownership has got to be a trifle worried that even though they put superstars like John Wall on the floor and the team competes for playoff positioning, fans don’t bother to show up to see him or his mates play. Not cool.
4. Carolina Hurricanes
Other than list mates Columbus and Florida, the Carolina Hurricanes own the third lowest revenue total as given by Forbes at just $108 million. With that the league’s fifth least valuable franchise can barely cover its player personnel costs. The ‘Canes problems in the cash flow department are also compounded by the fact they are the worst drawing team in hockey this season, with their arena only 67 percent full on average. This is nothing new for a team that is actually on the upswing right now, as Carolina has been under 70 percent for a few years in a row. Attendance has been in steady decline since the ‘Canes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, exacerbated by the fact they have made the playoffs just once since. The team moved to Raleigh from Hartford 20 years ago. Don’t think for a minute they couldn’t be on the move again in the not-so-distant future.
3. Cincinnati Reds
We may be picking on Cincy, but the fact remains both its two big league teams are having awful attendance problems. Not to mention lack of success on the field. The Reds, more so than the Bengals, have had limited success since the turn of the century and have now missed the playoffs in four straight years, while losing nearly 100 games three seasons running. Reds fans voted with their feet and mostly stayed away from the Great American Ballpark in 2017, as the team averaged just 22,667 fans per game in a stadium that holds 42,271. That mark was fifth worst in baseball, down sharply from the last years the team was in the playoffs, 2012 and 2013. The Reds are also baseball’s third least valuable team, which can’t be lost on ownership, for sure. The Reds have been a fixture in Cincinnati for a long time, but how much longer can ownership overlook attendance woes?
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
The T-Wolves, unlike many teams on this list, are actually quite good. Which makes their lousy attendance figures look even worse. Even after bringing in a superstar like Jimmy Butler to augment a core that includes Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota is second last in average home attendance at a dismal 82.8 percent. That’s only an increase of just under six points from when they were a non-contender last year. The Timberwolves, who are the NBA’s second least valuable franchise, according to Forbes, have been in the bottom five in attendance since 2013-14 and that trend doesn’t show signs of abating much. Of course, a playoff appearance for the first time in 14 years and maybe a few home wins in the post-season will placate fans enough to show up regularly in the next couple of seasons.
1. Cleveland Browns
Maybe it’s not the Browns. Maybe it’s just that Cleveland is cursed when it comes to its football team. Whatever the case, the Browns situation, on the whole, is fugly. The greatest indignity for a team that has made the playoffs just once since re-joining the NFL in 1999 was an 0-16 mark this year. That precipitated all kinds of talk about firing the coach, Hue Jackson, or just plain the whole team. They have auditioned what seems like a whole team’s worth of quarterbacks since ’99 and have won just 88 games in that span (while losing 216). Nothing, absolutely nothing, has worked for the ‘new’ Browns. Fans showed their displeasure by making the Browns a disappointment at the gate, filling the stadium to just 87.3 percent capacity in 2017, good for fifth worst. With just 19 wins since taking over ownership of the Browns seven games into the 2012 season, we have to wonder if Jimmy Haslam might pull his own “Art Modell.” And who could blame him, really?