Special Report

The Greatest Pro Sports Teams That Disappeared

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

While the franchises in the four major U.S. sports may seem like long-standing and solid institutions, many teams have failed or disappeared over the years. The history books of the National Football League, National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball are littered with long-forgotten franchises that once played at the highest levels of their sports.

Some teams from the early 1900s and even late 1800s struggled financially, despite lots of in-game success. The first iteration of the Ottawa Senators won four NHL championships in the 1920s, but still folded because of financial hardship brought on by the Great Depression. Before the MLB as we know it existed, there were many pro baseball teams that were unable to establish a foothold in the American sporting landscape.

But before these teams went away, many of them were very successful on the court, rink, or field, winning lots of games and bringing home championships for their fans.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical win-loss records and championship counts to determine the greatest pro sports teams that disappeared.

Click here to see the greatest pro sports teams that disappeared.

Teams can disappear for a number of reasons. Most of the recently defunct franchises moved to a new town and changed their name, effectively making them a completely different team. Franchises like the Houston Oilers and Seattle SuperSonics were relocated and renamed, despite years of success in their original homes.

In the early days of American professional sports, franchises had owners that couldn’t keep them afloat financially. Some baseball teams in the American Association and National League, the forerunners of the MLB, lasted for just a season or two before being moved, renamed or simply going away. The NFL purged 10 teams after the 1926 season to ensure financial stability.

Many of the best defunct teams played in leagues that competed with the big four that we now have. In the 1970s, the NBA, NHL, and NFL absorbed other leagues in their respective sports. The WHA sent four teams to the NHL in 1979, the NFL and AFL merged in 1970 after playing the Super Bowl as two separate entities, and the NBA took on four ABA teams in 1976. Some WHA and ABA teams were left out of the merger and had to cease operations. Three of the four WHA teams that were brought into the NHL were later sold off and became different teams.

Over the past four decades, professional sports have become more and more lucrative, due in large part to multi-billion dollar TV contracts. Each of the four major sports leagues added several franchises in the past few years as the number of U.S. sports fans continue to grow.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

22. Washington Senators
> Sport: MLB baseball
> Years active: 1901-1960
> Win pct.: 0.465
> Championships: 1

Before the Washington Nationals came to town in 2005, the Washington D.C. metro area had struggled to hold on to its baseball teams. The Senators played there for 60 years before moving to Minnesota and rebranding as the Twins. A new Senators team emerged in 1961, then left for Texas after the 1971 season.

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Source: Wasted Time R / Wikimedia Commons

21. Hartford Whalers
> Sport: WHA/NHL hockey
> Years active: 1972-1997
> Point pct.: 0.467
> Championships: 1

The New England Whalers won the first championship in the upstart World Hockey Association in 1973, and made the playoffs in each WHA season. The Whalers moved from Boston, Massachusetts to Hartford, Connecticut, in 1974 and became one of the WHA teams to join the NHL for the 1979-1980 season. Interest in the team declined, and the team left for North Carolina in 1997, becoming the Hurricanes.

Source: Michiganensian / University of Michigan

20. Buffalo Bisons
> Sport: NFL football
> Years active: 1920-1929
> Win pct.: 0.519
> Championships: 0

Buffalo had one of America’s first pro football franchises. The Buffalo All-Americans were founded in 1920 as part of the inaugural season of the American Professional Football Association, which was renamed the National Football League two years later. The team later changed its name to the Rangers and Bisons before folding after the 1929 season.

Source: JGHowes / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

19. Baltimore Orioles
> Sport: AA/NL baseball
> Years active: 1882-1899
> Win pct.: 0.519
> Championships: 0

Though the Baltimore Orioles are a current MLB team, that name dates back to 1882. The first Orioles played for 18 seasons in early iterations of professional baseball. The team spent 10 seasons in the American Association and eight in the National League, but was one of four teams that folded when the NL contracted after the 1899 season. The current Baltimore Orioles franchise moved to Maryland from St. Louis, Missouri in 1954.

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Source: Courtesy of Quebec Nordiques / Sportslogos.net

18. Quebec Nordiques
> Sport: WHA/NHL hockey
> Years active: 1972-1995
> Point pct.: 0.488
> Championships: 1

The Quebec Nordiques were one of the few teams that were able to join the NHL from the WHA starting in the 1979-1980 season. The team won one WHA championship and made the playoffs seven of its first eight NHL seasons. But it became the first Canadian hockey team to leave for the U.S. when the team became the Colorado Avalanche. Adding insult to injury, the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup its first season in Colorado.

Source: Philadelphia Athletics / Public Domain

17. Philadelphia Athletics
> Sport: AA baseball
> Years active: 1882-1890
> Win pct.: 0.529
> Championships: 0

The Philadelphia Athletics were one of the better teams in the American Association, an early professional baseball organization, in the late 1800s. But the creation of the Players’ League in 1890 drove up player salaries and drove the A’s out of business. A new Athletics franchise popped up in 1901. It moved to Kansas City in 1955, then Oakland in 1968, where the team remains to this day.

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Source: Courtesy of Houston Oilers / Sportslogos.net

16. Houston Oilers
> Sport: AFL/NFL football
> Years active: 1960-1996
> Win pct.: 0.463
> Championships: 2

With players like George Blanda and Billy Cannon, the Houston Oilers were the class of the AFL, winning its two first championships. The Oilers joined the NFL in the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 and remained in Houston until 1997, when owner Bud Adams moved the team to Tennessee and changed the name to the Titans two years later. The Houston Texans took their place in 2002.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

15. Cincinnati Royals
> Sport: NBA/BAA basketball
> Years active: 1948-1972
> Win pct.: 0.504
> Championships: 1

The Cincinnati Royals date back to 1948 and the Basketball Association of America, which later became the NBA. The Royals won the second ever NBA championship in 1951, when they were located in Rochester, New York. The team was a perennial contender in the 1950s and 1960s, but struggled in the 1970s. The Royals moved to Kansas City in 1972 and changed their name to the Kings before settling in Sacramento, California in 1985.

Source: Brown University

14. Akron Indians
> Sport: APFA/NFL football
> Years active: 1920-1926
> Win pct.: 0.509
> Championships: 1

Ohio is the birthplace of modern football. The Akron Indians were one of the teams to help launch the NFL’s precursor, the American Professional Football Association. The team, then known as the Akron Pros, won the first ever APFA championship in 1920, going undefeated with eight wins and three ties. Despite success on the field, Akron’s team was one of 12 squads that folded after the 1926 season to cut down on financially weak franchises.

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Source: compujeramey / Flickr

13. Seattle SuperSonics
> Sport: NBA basketball
> Years active: 1968-2008
> Win pct.: 0.524
> Championships: 1

The Seattle SuperSonics are one of the most recently defunct franchises in American pro sports. The Sonics enjoyed four decades of success and support in Seattle, Washington, including the 1979 NBA title. But the SuperSonics were purchased by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett in 2006 and moved to Oklahoma soon afterwards.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

12. Utah Stars
> Sport: ABA basketball
> Years active: 1967-1976
> Win pct.: 0.541
> Championships: 1

The Utah Stars franchise got its start as the Anaheim Amigos. After a season, it became the Los Angeles Stars before moving to Utah two years later. The team found immediate success after the move, winning a title in 1971 — its first year in Utah. The Stars folded after the 1976 season, along with the rest of the ABA that wasn’t absorbed by the NBA.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

11. Montreal Maroons
> Sport: NHL hockey
> Years active: 1924-1938
> Point pct.: 0.509
> Championships: 2

The Montreal Maroons were one of the first dominant franchises in the NHL. The team made the playoffs in 11 of its 14 seasons, winning two championships. Despite the success, the Maroons struggled financially, largely due to the Great Depression. The team fell under the same ownership as the Montreal Canadiens and the owners decided to fold the Maroons, as their crosstown rivals were more popular with the French-speaking population.

Source: Courtesy of Winnipeg Jets / Sportslogos.net

10. Winnipeg Jets
> Sport: WHA/NHL hockey
> Years active: 1972-1996
> Point pct.: 0.479
> Championships: 3

The Winnipeg Jets were one of the most successful teams in the former WHA , winning three league titles. The Jets were buoyed by hockey icon Bobby Hull and were among the first teams to bring European players to North America. The Jets were one of four WHA teams to join the NHL after the WHA collapsed in 1979. However, they did not find the same level of success in the NHL. The Winnipeg Jets, a small-market franchise, lacked a modern arena and struggled with escalating player salaries and operating costs. The team eventually moved to Phoenix in 1996.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

9. Providence Steam Roller
> Sport: NFL football
> Years active: 1925-1931
> Win pct.: 0.562
> Championships: 1

The Providence Steam Roller joined the NFL in 1925, finished under .500 just twice in seven years, and won the 1928 NFL title. The star of the team was Jimmy Conzelman, who played quarterback and coached the team for four seasons. The Steam Roller ran out of steam after the 1931 season as fan interest declined because of the Great Depression. The team’s owners had to suspend operations.

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Source: Courtesy of Syracuse Nationals / Sportslogos.net

8. Syracuse Nationals
> Sport: NBA basketball
> Years active: 1949-1963
> Win pct.: 0.569
> Championships: 1

The Syracuse Nationals were a perennial contender for the earliest NBA titles, making the playoffs each year of their 14-season history. The team also won an NBA title in 1955. The Nationals were sold to a Philadelphia native and the team became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

7. Kentucky Colonels
> Sport: ABA basketball
> Years active: 1968-1976
> Win pct.: 0.602
> Championships: 1

The Kentucky Colonels were one of the marquee franchises of the maverick American Basketball Association. The Colonels featured dazzling guard Louie Dampier, who had more points and assists than any player in ABA history, high-scoring forward Dan Issel, and intimidating center Artis Gilmore. The Colonels won the most games all time of any team in the ABA, but when the two leagues decided to merge in 1976, the NBA would only take four ABA teams, and the Colonels were not one of them.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

6. Frankford Yellow Jackets
> Sport: NFL football
> Years active: 1924-1931
> Win pct.: 0.609
> Championships: 1

The Frankford Yellow Jackets, who played in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, were an amateur football squad that built a reputation as a regional powerhouse. They took on, and beat, professional teams, and were eventually invited to play in the NFL. In their first season in the league in 1924, the Yellow Jackets went 11-2-1. Two years later, they would become the first Philadelphia football team to win an NFL title. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, the Great Depression, plus a series of stadium fires, would hurt them financially, and the team folded.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

5. Providence Grays
> Sport: NL baseball
> Years active: 1878-1885
> Win pct.: 0.612
> Championships: 1

The Providence Grays were one of the best teams in the early days of professional baseball. The team won most of their games and claimed the first World Series championship in 1884, though that World Series is not the same as the one played today. The team folded after enduring financial problems in 1885.

Source: Courtesy of Rock Island Independents

4. Rock Island Independents
> Sport: APFA/NFL football
> Years active: 1920-1925
> Win pct.: 0.650
> Championships: 0

The Rock Island Independents, founded in Rock Island, Illinois, were one of the first NFL teams to ever take the field. They included on their roster the immortal Jim Thorpe, who played for them in 1924. In the six years they played in the NFL and its precursor the APFA, the Independents compiled a record of 26-14-12, and had just one losing season. The Independents bolted from the NFL after the 1925 campaign to join the fledgling American Football League, a move that proved disastrous. The team faltered to a 2-6-1 record and fan interest fell off. The upstart circuit was poorly run and collapsed after one year. The Independents were unable to rejoin the NFL and folded.

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Source: Spalding Ice Hockey / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

3. Ottawa Senators
> Sport: NHL hockey
> Years active: 1917-1934
> Point pct.: 0.534
> Championships: 4

Before the current iteration of the Ottawa Senators came back to Canada, the first version of the team was an NHL powerhouse. The team won four championships in the 1920s, but was hit hard by the Great Depression in the 1930s. Ottawa was not large enough to support a professional hockey team, so the owners moved the Senators to St. Louis and renamed them the Eagles in the hope of keeping the team alive. The Eagles continued to bleed money and folded after one season in St. Louis.

Source: Courtesy of Houston Aeros / Sportslogos.net

2. Houston Aeros
> Sport: WHA hockey
> Years active: 1972-1978
> Point pct.: 0.621
> Championships: 2

The Houston Aeros were one of the premier teams in the now-defunct WHA in the 1970s. With a roster that included all-time hockey great Gordie Howe and his two sons, the Aeros won back-to-back league championships in the mid-1970s, finished atop the western division four consecutive years, and never had a losing season in six campaigns. The more-established NHL sought to merge with the WHA, but balked at adding a Sun Belt team to the league and the Aeros eventually disbanded.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

1. Canton Bulldogs
> Sport: APFA/NFL football
> Years active: 1920-1926
> Win pct.: 0.667
> Championships: 2

Canton, Ohio is the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was also once home to one of the greatest early pro football teams. The Canton Bulldogs were a founding member of the American Professional Football Association in 1920, which became the NFL two years later. The Bulldogs won the first two NFL championships in 1922 and 1923, going undefeated both seasons. The new league swelled to 22 teams in 1926, which the league’s president determined was too many to support financially. Canton was one of the teams disbanded to keep the NFL alive, leaving surviving teams like the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, and Green Bay Packers.

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