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 from the Sports Reference family of sites to determine 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. However, money is not everything, as some teams have been able to win titles despite being outspent by most of their opponents. These are the teams that have won championships on a shoestring budget.