Over the last two years, three NFL teams announced relocation plans: the St. Louis Rams returned to Los Angeles, the San Diego Chargers also went back to Los Angeles, and the Oakland Raiders moving to Las Vegas. Before this, the last NFL team to move was the Houston Oilers, who left for Tennessee in 1997. Here are some other high profile team exits that almost happened, but didn’t.
Toronto Maple Leafs
In 1981, the storied Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL were in dire financial straits. Owner Harold Ballard contacted Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington and offered a bizarre deal: move the Oilers, who at the time had superstar Wayne Gretzky on its roster, to Toronto and become the Toronto Oilers. The Toronto Maple Leafs would then become the Edmonton Maple Leafs…and the Oilers would additionally give Ballard the $50 million bailout he needed. Ballard called off the proposal a week later when he got the money he needed when he signed a partnership with a large brewery.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues entered the NHL in 1967, and are the oldest team in the league yet to win a championship. Maybe fortunes would’ve improved if a 1983 deal to move the team to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan had worked out. A consortium from the Canadian city finalized a deal to buy the Blues from its owner, the Ralston Purina company…but the deal and move were nixed by the NHL’s board of governors, which voted 15 to 3 against the transaction. The league didn’t want to move a team from the relatively large market of St. Louis to a city half its size.
The Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins
Most realignment in pro sports happens when the league adds new teams, or a team moves. In 2001, Major League Baseball team owners met to discuss an entirely different option: contraction, or the elimination of two teams. The Montreal Expos of the National League and the Minnesota Twins of the American League were both on the chopping block. The Expos were losing money, having never really attracted a huge fan base since they entered the league in the ’70s. For example, in 2001, minor league teams attracted more fans than Expos home games. Twins owner Carl Pohlad, meanwhile, was willing to accept a buyout from the league (about $200 million) and walk away from a team that he’d had difficulty running, especially since he couldn’t get local governments to build his team a new stadium. Then left with 13 teams in the AL and 15 in the NL, the league was to be realign, with the Texas Rangers moving from the AL West to the AL Central. Owners ultimately opted to keep 30 teams, although the Montreal Expos soon thereafter was purchased by the league and moved to Washington, D.C.
Robert Isray bought the Baltimore Colts of the NFL in 1972. Before long, he was trying to secure funding for improvements to the stadium, but couldn’t get them. As early as 1979, Isray started looking at moving the poor-performing team that played in a rundown stadium to another city. He seriously considered Jacksonville, Florida. At a pro-Colts move rally held in Jacksonville in 1979, Isray arrived via helicopter that landed midfield to screaming fans. Ultimately, Isray moved the team to Indianapolis in 1984. But Jacksonville kept trying to get an NFL team to relocate. Hearing that the Houston Oilers wanted to move, mayor Tommy Hazouri gave Oilers owner Bud Adams a guarantee that the “Jacksonville Oilers” would sell out every game it would play in the 82,000-seat Gator Bowl for a decade. The Oilers moved to Tennessee instead, but Jacksonville would get an expansion franchise, the Jaguars, in 1995.