An expansion team is a new team in a sports league, usually from a city that has not hosted a team in that league before, formed with the intention of satisfying the demand for a local team from a population in a new area. Sporting leagues also hope that the expansion of their competition will grow the popularity of the sport generally. The term is most commonly used in reference to the North American major professional sports leagues but is applied to sports leagues in other countries with a closed franchise system of league membership. The term refers to the expansion of the sport into new areas. The addition of an expansion team sometimes results in the payment of an expansion fee to the league by the new team and an expansion draft to populate the new roster.
Reasons for expansion
In North America, expansion often takes place in response to population growth and geographic shifts of population. Such demographic change results in financial opportunities to engage with the new market as consumers of sports demand local teams to support. Major League Baseball (MLB) was limited to 16 teams located north and east of St. Louis, Missouri for the first half of the 20th century. During that time, the United States population doubled and expanded to the south and west. Rival interests explored the possibility of forming a rival league in the untapped markets. To forestall that possibility, one of the measures that MLB took was to expand by four teams in 1961 and 1962. Over the past four decades, MLB expanded further, to its current 30-team membership. In the context of MLB, the term "expansion team" is also used to refer to any of the 14 teams enfranchised in the second half of the 20th century.
Leagues that are new and/or financially struggling may also admit large numbers of expansion teams so that the existing franchises can pocket more revenue from expansion fees. Indoor American football leagues are notorious for doing so: the leagues can double the number of teams and have many new teams fail within a year or two. Major League Soccer, after spending most of its first decade of existence with relatively stable membership and struggling finances, adopted a policy of continuous expansion beginning in 2005, a policy that the league as of 2017 has no intention of stopping.
When an expansion team begins play, it is generally stocked with less talented free agents, inexperienced players, and veterans nearing retirement. Additionally, prospective owners may face expensive fees to the league as well as high startup costs such as stadiums and facilities. The team is also at a disadvantage in that it has not been together as a team as long as its opponents and thus lacks the cohesiveness other teams have built over years. As a result, most expansion teams are known for their poor play during their first seasons. Expansion teams must also compete with any expansion rivals for available talent, a common problem since leagues often expand by two or four teams in one season.
Expansion teams are not necessarily doomed to mediocrity, however, as most leagues have policies which promote parity, such as drafts and salary caps, which give some expansion teams the opportunity to win championships only a few years after their first season. In Major League Baseball (MLB) The Arizona Diamondbacks won the 2001 World Series in their fourth season, and the Florida Marlins won the 1997 World Series in their fifth season. In the NBA, The Milwaukee Bucks won the 1971 NBA Finals in their third year of existence, greatly helped by drafting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1969 draft and acquiring Oscar Robertson from the Cincinnati Royals before the 1970-71 season began. In the NHL, the Florida Panthers made the Stanley Cup Finals in their third season even though, like MLB, the league then had no salary cap. The NHL's Vegas Golden Knights quickly emerged as one of the NHL's best teams in its first season, thanks to a generous expansion draft, ultimately advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The National Football League (NFL), despite being considered the most generous in its revenue sharing and the strictest with its salary cap, has had far more difficulty bringing expansion teams up to par with their more established brethren: since the AFL-NFL merger. The soonest that any of the six expansion teams won a Super Bowl was 27 seasons (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, established in 1976, won Super Bowl XXXVII in the 2002 season); none of the four teams to hold expansion drafts since 1995[note 1] have ever won that contest, with only one, the Carolina Panthers (who reached the game in their 9th and 21st seasons of existence) playing in the game. In 1996, the Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars each made it to their respective conference championship games in their second season in the league.
Expansion teams are usually considered as such in their first season and sometimes in their second season, but especially for purists, Major League Baseball teams can be considered "expansion teams" indefinitely. A team that moves to another location and/or changes its name is not an expansion team. If it moves, it is known as a relocated team, and if the name changes, the team is known as a renamed team. In response to a negative attitude that some fans have towards relocated teams, there have recently been instances where relocating clubs change their identity completely; name, colors, and mascot; but because the roster is the same and the league does not expand as a result, they are not regarded as expansion teams. One exception is the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League (NFL): when the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore, an agreement was reached for which the trademark and history of the pre-1996 Cleveland Browns remained in that city and was claimed by the post-1999 Browns when the league placed a new franchise there, even though the personnel and roster had moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens. Another exception is the New Orleans Pelicans, who were previously known as the New Orleans Hornets after relocating to New Orleans from Charlotte, N.C., in 2002. After the 2012 sale of the Hornets, new owner Tom Benson changed the name, colors, and mascot from Hornets to Pelicans. The Charlotte Hornets segment of the franchise's history was sold to the then-Charlotte Bobcats (themselves formerly considered a 2004 expansion team) and the 2002 New Orleans Hornets are now officially regarded as an expansion team.
Cities and regions with large populations that lack a team are generally regarded to be the best candidates for new teams. In rugby league, the United Kingdom-based Rugby Football League's Super League has added teams from France and Wales to cover a great demographic spread. The operator of Super League, England's Rugby Football League, has also added teams to the lower levels of its league pyramid, specifically the Championship and League 1, from both France and Wales, and most recently Canada. In rugby union, the competition originally known as the Celtic League and now as Pro14, which began with sides only from the Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, has added teams from Italy and more recently South Africa. The U.S.-based NFL has been laying groundwork for a potential franchise in the UK, tentatively slated to launch in 2022.
Expansion teams in North America
- 1961: Chicago Packers (later Chicago Zephyrs, then Baltimore Bullets, then Capital Bullets, then Washington Bullets, now Washington Wizards)
- 1966: Chicago Bulls
- 1967: San Diego Rockets (now Houston Rockets); Seattle SuperSonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder)
- 1968: Milwaukee Bucks; Phoenix Suns
- 1970: Cleveland Cavaliers; Buffalo Braves (later San Diego Clippers, now Los Angeles Clippers); Portland Trail Blazers
- 1974: New Orleans Jazz (now Utah Jazz)
- 1976: New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn Nets), Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, and San Antonio Spurs join NBA after merger with American Basketball Association (ABA).
- 1980: Dallas Mavericks
- 1988: Miami Heat; Charlotte Hornets - The history of the Hornets is detailed as follows:
- 2002 - Franchise moves to New Orleans, keeping the Hornets name until becoming the New Orleans Pelicans prior to the 2013-14 season.
- 2004 - The NBA returns to Charlotte with the expansion Charlotte Bobcats franchise.
- 2014 - Following the New Orleans team's name change, the Bobcats reclaim the Hornets name effective with the 2014-15 season. In addition, the Hornets, Pelicans, and NBA agree that all history and records of every previous NBA team in Charlotte (including the original Charlotte Hornets) would belong to the revived Hornets.
- 1989: Minnesota Timberwolves; Orlando Magic
- 1995: Vancouver Grizzlies (now Memphis Grizzlies); Toronto Raptors
- 2002: New Orleans Hornets (now New Orleans Pelicans) - Following the 2014 assumption of the original Charlotte Hornets' history by the revived Charlotte Hornets, the Pelicans are now officially considered an expansion team that began play in the 2002-03 season.
Only extant teams are listed. Two charter franchises, the Chicago (now Arizona) Cardinals and Chicago Bears (originally Decatur Staleys), are still active.
- 1921: Green Bay Packers, previously an independent, join the league.
- 1925: New York Giants (replaced another team of the same name that left the league after one season in 1921)
- 1930: Portsmouth Spartans (now Detroit Lions), previously of the Ohio League, join the NFL.
- 1932: Boston Braves (now Washington Redskins) - replaced the 1931 Cleveland Indians, who in turn replaced the Orange/Newark Tornadoes, a 1929 expansion team that left the league in 1931.
- 1933: Philadelphia Eagles -- replaced the Frankford Yellow Jackets, a 1924 expansion team that folded in 1931; Pittsburgh Pirates (now Pittsburgh Steelers), previously the Rooneys of the Western Pennsylvania Senior Independent Football Conference, join the league.
- 1936: Cleveland Rams (now Los Angeles Rams) join from the 1936 American Football League.
- 1950: Three teams joined the NFL after a partial merger with the rival All-America Football Conference (AAFC), two of which survive:
- Cleveland Browns - The subsequent history of this franchise is treated as follows (for more details, see Cleveland Browns relocation controversy):
- 1996 - The team moves to Baltimore, becoming the Ravens.
- 1999 - Following the 1999 revival of the Browns, the revived Browns received sole possession of history and records from the Ravens' time in Cleveland. All history and records since the move to Baltimore remain with the Ravens.
- San Francisco 49ers
- 1953: Baltimore Colts (second) (now Indianapolis Colts); not to be confused with the AAFC Baltimore Colts, who were the third AAFC team to join the NFL but folded in 1950. They replaced the position held by several franchises, dating back to another charter franchise, the Dayton Triangles.
- 1960: Dallas Cowboys
- 1961: Minnesota Vikings
- 1966: Atlanta Falcons
- 1967: New Orleans Saints
- 1970: Boston Patriots (now New England Patriots), Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans), Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers (now Los Angeles Chargers) join NFL after merger with the 1960 American Football League (AFL).
- 1976: Seattle Seahawks; Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- 1995: Carolina Panthers; Jacksonville Jaguars
- 1996: Baltimore Ravens -- Following the 1999 assumption of the Cleveland Browns' history by the revived Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens are officially an expansion team that began play in the 1996 season.
- 2002: Houston Texans
Two teams from the AFL of the 1960s were expansion teams in that league. Both joined the AFL after the merger with the NFL was agreed to, but before it was finalized.
- 1917: Toronto Arenas (now Maple Leafs)
- 1924: Boston Bruins; Montreal Maroons (now defunct 1924-1938)
- 1925: New York Americans (now defunct 1925-1942 last season called Brooklyn Americans); Pittsburgh Pirates (now defunct 1925-1931 last season as Philadelphia Quakers)
- 1926: Chicago Black Hawks (respelled Chicago Blackhawks 1985); Detroit Cougars, 1930 renamed Falcons, now Red Wings since 1932; New York Rangers
- 1967: Los Angeles Kings; Minnesota North Stars, now Dallas Stars since 1993; California Seals (defunct; later the Oakland Seals 1967-1970, California Golden Seals (1971-1976, and Cleveland Barons 1976-1978. The Barons were merged with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978); Philadelphia Flyers; Pittsburgh Penguins; St. Louis Blues
- 1970: Buffalo Sabres; Vancouver Canucks
- 1972: Atlanta Flames, now Calgary Flames since 1980); New York Islanders
- 1974: Kansas City Scouts 1974-1976, later Colorado Rockies 1976-1982, now New Jersey Devils) since 1982; Washington Capitals
- 1979: Hartford Whalers (called New England Whalers in WHA 1972-1979) 1979-1997, now Carolina Hurricanes since 1997; Quebec Nordiques 1972-1995, now Colorado Avalanche since 1995; Edmonton Oilers (since 1972); and original Winnipeg Jets 1972-1996, called Phoenix Coyotes 1996-2014, now Arizona Coyotes since 2014 -- all join NHL after merger with World Hockey Association (WHA).
- 1991: San Jose Sharks
- 1992: Ottawa Senators; Tampa Bay Lightning
- 1993: Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 1992-2006, now Anaheim Ducks since 2006; Florida Panthers
- 1998: Nashville Predators
- 1999: Atlanta Thrashers 1999-2011, now the second incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets since 2011
- 2000: Columbus Blue Jackets; Minnesota Wild
- 2017: Vegas Golden Knights
- 2021: Seattle
Only extant members of the AFL are listed.
Expansion teams in Australia and New Zealand
AFL Women's, launched in 2017, is operated by the Australian Football League, with all teams fielded by AFL clubs. The first expansion occurred prior to the 2019 season, with a second expansion set for the 2020 season.
- 2006: Cheetahs and Western Force
- The Cheetahs and Force were both dropped from Super Rugby after the 2017 season. The Cheetahs immediately became an expansion team in Pro14. The Force later moved to Australia's National Rugby Championship.
- 2011: Melbourne Rebels
- 2013: Southern Kings
- The Kings were dropped from Super Rugby at the same time as the Cheetahs and Force, and joined Pro14 alongside the Cheetahs.
- 2016: Jaguares and Sunwolves
Expansion teams in Asia
Expansion teams in Europe
- Aironi - A team formed specifically for the competition by several existing clubs in Northern Italy, with Viadana the lead side. The team folded when the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) revoked its professional license effective with the end of the 2011-12 Pro12 season; it was replaced by the FIR-operated Zebre.
- Benetton Treviso - Founded in 1932, it competed in Italian domestic leagues before joining the competition originally known as the Celtic League, later known as Pro12 and now as Pro14.
- Southern Kings
- These teams had played in Super Rugby before that competition's governing body, SANZAAR, axed three teams at the end of the 2017 season. Both had themselves been Super Rugby expansion teams; the Cheetahs entered in 2006 and the Kings in 2013.
- 1995: Paris Saint-Germain RL (now defunct)
- 2006: Catalans Dragons -- Although Super League used a promotion and relegation system at that time, Les Catalans, as the only French team in the otherwise all-English competition, were assured of a place in the league through 2008. Super League instituted a franchise system effective with the 2009 season, and Les Catalans retained their place in the league.
- Celtic Crusaders (later Crusaders Rugby League) - An expansion team only in the sense that they were invited into Super League. The club were established in 2005. After the 2011 season, the club folded due to financial problems; their effective successor club, the North Wales Crusaders, currently compete in League 1, two levels below Super League.
- Salford City Reds - Also technically not an expansion team; they have existed since 1873 and played in Super League as recently as the 2007 season.
- 2012: Widnes Vikings - An expansion team only in the sense that they have been invited into the now-franchised Super League. The club have existed since 1875, were founding members of what is now the Rugby Football League in 1895, and participated in Super League as recently as 2005.
Expansion teams in Africa
- Welwitschias (a developmental side for the Namibia national rugby union team) - This was the second time Namibia participated in the competition; it entered a team from 1999 to 2001. The team withdrew from the competition after the 2011 season due to financial constraints. They remained in the Vodacom Cup until the competition was scrapped after its 2015 season. The team now features in the Vodacom Cup's successor competition, the Rugby Challenge.
- Pampas XV (a developmental side for the Argentina national rugby union team) - Argentina left the Vodacom Cup after the 2013 season, choosing instead to enter the IRB Pacific Cup from 2014. At that time, it was also expected that Argentina would be added to Super Rugby in the near future, and the country would eventually receive a Super Rugby team beginning in 2016.
- ^ While the Baltimore Ravens are officially considered an expansion franchise that began play in 1996, they did not stock their roster with an expansion draft, instead taking on the contracts of the former Cleveland Browns players, while the Browns suspended operations for three seasons. The Ravens later won the Super Bowl in their 5th and 17th seasons of existence. Conversely, when the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, while not an expansion franchise, their initial roster was stocked by an expansion draft and they were given the top pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. The Browns have not appeared in the Super Bowl since returning to the league.