Heartbreaking Pro Sports Team Relocations

By Michael Macklon | June 23, 2011 AAA
Heartbreaking Pro Sports Team Relocations

A local pro sports team packing up and leaving can cause some serious heartbreak – just ask anyone from Winnipeg about the Jets. Even the return of their beloved NHL franchise may not completely heal the wounds of the team's 1996 departure, but keeping the team name will at least mean the fans can pull their old jerseys out of the closet for a second chance.

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In general, guys are reluctant to blatantly express their love. However, many men follow the exploits of their favorite sports teams with a passion their wives haven't seen since their honeymoons. These men carry unbreakable faith in their team's ability to succeed; they scream support to their favorite players amid a stadium of people, and they bawl like desperate babies when their team wins or loses a championship game. Just as it is in a marriage, sports fans may find faults in the team they love, but most often, they simply couldn't love another. However, when a partner's love goes unreturned, hard feelings are bound to happen. Sadly, both spouses and sports teams are consistently finding reasons to leave town. Breaking up is hard to do, and that's never truer than when a pro sports team breaks it off with their hometown. Here's a look at four sports teams that have gone through chaotic divorces with the cities that loved them. (For those who would like to diversify their portfolios with some alternative investments, check out Home Run Hitting Stocks For Sports Fans.)

The Hartford Whalers (NHL)
The thought of a small New England town like Hartford (population 121,578) having a professional sports team is about as dubious as the pairing of Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts. Miraculously, both events occurred. Tragically, neither union was destined to last. The Whalers got their big-league status in 1979, when a handful of teams from the World Hockey Association were admitted into the National Hockey League. Despite amassing only three winning seasons in 18 years, hockey fans in Hartford were loyal to the team and the level of support was exceptional for such a small market. Their tradition of celebrating to a big-band opus known as the "Brass Bonanza" was so passionate that the custom is currently honored at Boston Red Sox and Bruins games.

But like so many ill-fated romances, outside influences conspired to force the Whalers to find warmer waters. Their small stadium stifled the team's revenue potential, and attempts to grow the fan-base were hampered by the team's close proximity to the established NHL markets of Boston and New York. A touch of conspiracy also comes into play, as it was suspected that ownership intentionally packaged season tickets to be unaffordable for fans. Convinced that Hartford couldn't support the team, the Whalers moved to North Carolina in 1997, where - as the Hurricanes - they won the Stanley Cup in 2006. (For those who live in cities where sporting events cost a considerable amount to attend, see Money-Saving Tips For Sports Fans)

The Cleveland Browns (NFL)
Cleveland sports fans must have kicked a lot of kittens in another life, because karma has taken a special interest in ensuring their ongoing misery. The city hasn't celebrated a championship team since 1964. But Clevelanders know that you must support the one you love in good times and bad, and they've proven to be among the most loyal sports fans in United States. But in the case of the Cleveland Browns' relocation in 1994, devotion can have violent consequences.

Perhaps the most hated man in Cleveland (although, LeBron James is now in the running), former Browns owner, Art Modell decided to move the Browns to Baltimore to make a quick (and considerable) buck. Fans were furious, and the rally to save their team was enormous. Then mayor, Michael White, summed up the feelings of Browns fans at one rally: "You don't kick us in the teeth and expect us to take it. I'm not saying we're going to win, but at least we will have tried to stand up and say we did the very best we could so we'll have no regrets." Unfortunately, the Browns most zealous fans - known as The Dawg Pound - had an odd strategy for shucking regret. In the Browns last game, the Dawg Pound did their best to destroy the stadium, tearing out seats, damaging the bathrooms and starting fires in the stands. Sensing the travesty of the situation, in 1999 the NFL played Cupid and resurrected the Browns franchise in Cleveland. (Even with Lebron James being disliked by many, his value can not be denied. Check out Sports Stars Worth Every Penny.)

The Winnipeg Jets (NHL)
The demise of Winnipeg's hockey team mirrors much of the happenings around the Whalers' downfall: former WHA team in small market playing in a small stadium with a consistent losing record. However, the Jets' had an even bigger obstacle to overcome - a weak Canadian dollar. The team generated income in Canadian dollars and paid its multi-million dollar payroll in U.S. dollars, of which a loonie was worth about half of a U.S. buck in 1995. But the hockey-loving Winnipeggers frantically tried to convince the team for one more chance. A fundraising rally was held in which children were dumping the contents of their piggy banks into Save-The-Jets buckets. But the collective coffers of every child in Manitoba wasn't going to be enough to offset the Jets' losses. In 1996, the team was moved to Phoenix, where the Coyotes have continued the tradition of unsuccessful seasons and are currently embroiled in a battle to once again move the incredibly unprofitable team.

Winnipeggers may have been dumped for a sexier city, but rather than wallow and whine over their misfortune, the city got itself into shape by building a new arena and putting its full support behind a minor-pro team until it could gain notice from an NHL suitor. On May 31, 2011, with a modern facility and the CAD on par with the USD, the jilted people of Winnipeg learned that the Atlanta Thrashers franchise would be relocated to the Manitoba capital for the 2011-12 season. Having loved and lost once, you can bet the city will never take its new team for granted. (With currency fluctuating all the time, it is important to identify the positives and negatives of a strong Canadian dollar. Check out The Pros And Cons Of A Strong Loonie.)

Seattle SupersSonics (NBA)
In November, 2007, SuperSonics' owner, Clay Bennett announced he would be moving Seattle's first pro sports team and only championship winner to Oklahoma City. The reason? Ostensibly, the move was needed because the city wouldn't revamp the aging and cramped KeyArena. However, one detail in the transaction smelled fishier than the Pike Place Market.

Clay Bennett, an Oklahoma City native, had only recently bought the Sonics from Howard Schultz. Schultz only sold the team because he couldn't get the city to fund renos to KeyArena. Bennett knew this, yet he bought the team and made another half-hearted attempt to solicit the city for funding. Once denied, Bennett quickly announced that he was taking the team to his hometown, leaving Sonics fans to stew over the apparent conspiracy. As so often happens in divorce, the kids are hit hardest, as was evident by one young fan's sign that read "Clay Bennett ruined my childhood."

Seattleites rallied to form the "Save our Sonics" group, and the city even filed a suit to keep the team throughout the term of the arena lease. However, the case was settled out of court and the city received $45 million, with a guarantee of another $30 million if the city doesn't get another NBA team within five years. Scorned Seattle basketball fans received nothing but disappointment.

The Bottom Line
In sports and in love, failed relationships often teach us that what we had is better than nothing at all. Each of these cities went from chanting "go team, go" to "stay team, stay," but only a fortunate few saw their favorite teams return. Commonly, the fate of a franchise is beyond the control of its fan base, and the best a sports fan can do is ignore the politics and make the most of the time they have with their respective home teams. (For more about how sports team fail, check out 4 Reasons Pro Sports Teams File For Bankruptcy.)

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