Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ranking the Expansion Teams

Since I became a conscious sports fan in the mid-1980s, each of the four major sports leagues has added at least four expansion teams.  I thought it would be fun to rank how successful they've been in order.

  1. Miami Heat 2 championships, favored to win another.  With the best current basketball player, another top 5 player, and another top 20 player.  Run by one of the top basketball minds ever, with an up-and-coming coach. Established as a desirable free agent destination.  This is the best-case scenario.
  2. Anaheim Ducks -- One Stanley Cup, another run to the finals, currently solid, positioned for success.
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks - One championship, generally in contention since. Firmly established.
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning  -- Yes, a Stanley Cup, and currently 3 top talents, but largely anonymous otherwise.
  5. Carolina Panthers -- One Super Bowl run, now in possession of a top QB talent.
  6. Ottawa Senators -- One run to the Stanley Cup finals, firmly established
  7. San Jose Sharks -- Solid fan base, usually in contention.
  8. Houston Texans -- Seem to be in the middle of a decent run of contention, though it took a while.
  9. Colorado Rockies -- One run to the World Series; generally competitive
  10. Orlando Magic -- Develop franchise center, reach finals, lose center to Lakers, repeat.
  11. Tampa Bay Rays -- Competitive on the field; struggling at the box office.
  12. Miami  Marlins -- 2 championships, not much else in other seasons
  13. Florida Panthers -- One Stanley Cup Finals run, not much else.  Buried in a crowded scene.
  14. Nashville Predators  -- We now enter the "no specific recollection" portion of our list.
  15. Cleveland Browns  -- No QB.
  16. Minnesota Timberwolves -- KG's heyday seems long ago.
  17. Columbus Blue Jackets  -- Who?
  18. Minnesota Wild -- ?
  19. Toronto Raptors -- One playoff run with VC and T-Mac
  20. Jacksonville Jaguars -- Not a good sign when an NFL team regularly covers up seats.
  21. Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies -- Oops
  22. Atlanta Thrashers / Winnipeg Jets -- Oops again.
  23. Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets -- Oops once more, then league takeover
  24. Carolina Bobcats -- Maybe #23 wasn't an oops. Or maybe it was.


One model franchise, a few solid citizens, then it goes downhill pretty fast.  Three teams ended up moving themselves. One was taken over by the league.   The best memories most teams in the second half have offered is a first round upset.

Of course, several established teams -- I'm looking at you, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Islanders -- haven't given their fans much to cheer about, either. But it does appear these teams are doing worse than a random sampling of 24 teams, even though many of these franchises have been in place for 20 years.

As a contrast, let's take a look at the established franchises that changed locations in that same rough amount of time.

  1. Cleveland Browns -> Baltimore Ravens
  2. Baltimore -> Indianapolis Colts
  3. Colorado Rockies -> New Jersey Devils
  4. Quebec Nordiques -> Colorado Avalanche
  5. Minnesota -> Dallas Stars
  6. Oakland -> LA -> Oakland Raiders
  7. LA -> St. Louis Rams
  8. Houston Oilers -> Tennessee Titans
  9. Seattle SuperSonics -> Oklahoma City Thunder 
  10. Montreal Expos -> Washington Nationals
  11. Hartford Whalers -> Carolina Hurricanes
  12. St. Louis -> Arizona Cardinals
  13. San Diego -> LA Clippers
  14. Kansas City -> Sacramento Kings -> Seattle SuperSonics?
  15. Winnipeg Jets -> Phoenix Coyotes
Now we're talking

For all the talk about "franchise free agency," it's interesting that there's been about half as many franchise relocations as expansions in the past 30 years (though this list does exclude expansion teams that moved).  Even more interesting when you consider that some of these (Devils,Clippers, Kings, the Raiders northward move) were before the first of the expansions.   Expanding the scope includes the success of the Devils and Raiders' LA run, but also brings in the Clippers and Kings.

The first group includes 23 teams, the defending NBA champions, and seven total champions.  The second list includes 13 teams, the current Super Bowl champions, 11 total champions, and a couple teams poised for runs.

The lesson is if you're a city with no team hoping for a champion, better to lure someone else's team than to go for expansion.
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