When rumors surfaced that the Atlanta Thrashers were on their way to Winnipeg, I got to work on an article about how the NHL should realign its divisions. (I moved the Winnipeg Thrashers into the Western Conference and the Northwest Division, bumped Minnesota to the Central Division, and moved Nashville into the Eastern Conference and the Southeast Division.) But I decided against writing that article because the Thrashers haven’t moved to Winnipeg yet, and we don’t know if they ever will.
A few weeks ago, we were certain that the Sacramento Kings were on their way to Anaheim. But the Kings have decided to stay put and give Mayor KJ more time to build a new arena. Just last week the Phoenix Coyotes were presumed to be packing their bags for Winnipeg. Then the city of Glendale agreed to pony up $25 million to keep the Coyotes in Arizona for another season.
A franchise may appear ready, willing, and able to move to a new city, but appearances can be deceiving.
Threatening to move to southern California or Manitoba is a great way for owners to coax the city or state into funding a new building or to boost season ticket sales as fans rally to save the home team. Sometimes the rumors are true and a team loads up the Mayflower trucks, leaving behind a bitter and heartbroken fan base. Other times rumors are nothing more than rumors.
Here are some relocations that were supposed to happen but didn’t:
Indianapolis Arrows (1980s)
In the 1980s a group of local investors decided they were going to bring Major League Baseball to Indianapolis. The team, had it come to fruition, would have been called the Indianapolis Arrows.
Fred Simon, brother of the Simons who own the Pacers and all of the malls, was rumored to have been part of a group that made an offer to buy the Twins with the intent of moving the team to Indiana. Naptown baseball fans were also hopeful that either the A’s or Pirates, both of which were up for sale, would move to the Hoosier State. As many as 12,000 people put down deposits on season tickets, and Harry Caray spoke at a downtown rally in support of bringing a Major League club to Indianapolis.
But those who championed the Arrows had a big problem. The Hoosier Dome, which would have been the team’s home stadium, wasn’t built for baseball:
A baseball old-timers game there in August 1984 featured a right field fence only 182 feet from the plate. [Arrows investor Art] Angotti remembers Dome officials wincing when balls went into the stands, fearful they would crack the glass on the new suites.
He said the Chicago White Sox inquired about playing an exhibition game in the Dome, but workers couldn’t install sliding pits. Just beneath the concrete floor were a myriad of electrical wires installed for convention use, he said.
Renovating the dome for baseball proved too costly. And other owners didn’t like that Indianapolis was so close to Chicago and Cincinnati. By the time Major League Baseball decided to expand in the early 1990s (the expansion that gave us the Rockies and Marlins), the Arrows didn’t even submit a bid.
Florida White Sox (1988)
A May 30, 1988 Sports Illustrated article called “The Sunshine Sox?” opened with this kicker: “After 88 years of playing baseball in Chicago, the White Sox may be heading south to the lucrative market of Florida.”
In 1988, when there were no Major League Baseball teams in Florida, the Sunshine State was a baseball promised land. Warm weather. A huge population that would only get bigger. Big metropolitan areas in Miami and Tampa-St. Petersburg. No one imagined then that Florida baseball would one day give us images like this.
In the late 1980s, the White Sox wanted out of Comiskey Park and out of a market where they had to compete for fans with the Cubs. Jerry Reinsdorf appeared on the verge of taking the Sox to St. Petersburg. (They would have played in that thing the Rays play in now.) The city took the threat of moving seriously and raised $167 million in public money to build a new Comiskey Park (now U.S. Cellular Field).
Nashville Devils (1995)
In 1995 the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup amid rumors that the team would be moving south for the 1995–96 season. At the time Nashville was building an arena (currently Bridgestone Arena) and was prepared to offer the Devils a $20 million relocation bonus. Owner John McMullen decided it would be best not to move the team—and the Stanley Cup—to Tennessee, and the New Jersey Devils brought the Cup back to the Garden State in 2000 and 2003.
Hamilton Predators (2007)
After a decade as the owner of the Nashville Predators, Craig Leipold, frustrated by a lack of corporate support for the team, decided to sell the franchise to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie. Despite agreeing to keep the team in Music City (at least temporarily), Balsillie had every intention of moving the Preds to Hamilton, Ontario and was taking Hamilton Predators ticket orders even before the sale of the team was complete.
Upset that Balsillie had reneged on his agreement, Leipold backed out of the deal. After a “Save the Predators” rally gave season ticket sales a boost, a group of Nashville business owners purchased the team, keeping the Predators in Tennessee for the foreseeable future.
Saskatoon Blues (1983)
In 1983 the Ralston Purina Company, which owned the St. Louis Blues, decided that operating a hockey team wasn’t helping the company sell any more cat food. Ralston Purina got an offer Batoni-Hunter Enterprises, Ltd. out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Bill Hunter (the “Hunter” in “Batoni-Hunter”), certain that the deal would go through, prepared to move the team to the Canadian prairie.
The NHL Board of Governors, not wanting to lose the St. Louis market and not convinced that Saskatoon was large enough to support big-time hockey, rejected the sale. A series of legal battles between Ralston Purina and the NHL ensued. In the meantime, Ralston Purina refused to let the team participate in the 1983 Entry Draft. Eventually the NHL dissolved the franchise and took possession of a new St. Louis Blues team, which the league sold to a local ownership group later that year.
And thus we were spared one of the most geographically inappropriate nicknames in professional sports.
Louisville Rockets and Comets (2000)
In 2000 and 2001 everyone talked about moving to Louisville, but no one actually did. Louisville was rumored to be the future home of the Vancouver Grizzlies, the Charlotte Hornets, and the Houston Rockets, along with the WNBA’s Houston Comets. The Grizzlies and Hornets ended up relocating, just not to Louisville. The Rockets and Comets got a new arena and stayed in Texas (though the Comets folded in 2008).
Louisville is still eager to land an NBA club and can offer a brand new, NBA-ready, 20,000-seat downtown arena (if the potential tenet is willing to play basketball in a building called the Yum! Center).
Josh Tinley is the author of Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports. Follow him at twitter.com/joshtinley.