National Football League franchise moves and mergers

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Throughout the years, a number of teams in the National Football League (NFL) have either moved or merged.

In the early years, the NFL was not stable and teams moved frequently to survive, or were folded only to be resurrected in a different city with the same players and owners. The Great Depression era saw the movement of most surviving small-town NFL teams to the large cities to ensure survival. Franchise mergers were popular during World War II in response to the scarcity of players. Few of these relocations and mergers were accompanied with widespread controversy.

Franchise moves became far more controversial in the late 20th century when a vastly more popular NFL, free from financial instability, allowed many franchises to abandon long-held strongholds for perceived financially greener pastures. Despite a Pete Rozelle promise to Congress not to relocate franchises in return for a law exempting the league from certain aspects of antitrust laws, making possible the AFL-NFL merger, several franchises have relocated in the years since the merger and the passage of the law (Public Law 89-800) which sanctioned it.

While owners invariably cited financial difficulties as the primary factor in such moves, many fans bitterly disputed these contentions, especially in Baltimore, St. Louis, and Cleveland, each of which eventually received teams some years after their original franchises left. However, Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the United States, has not had an NFL team since 1995 and the league is promoting an expansion there.[1] Another city that is often mentioned as a potential site for a moved franchise is Toronto, the largest city and media market in Canada and the subject of frequent speculation regarding a future franchise.

Additionally, with the increasing suburbanization of the U.S., the building of new stadiums and other team facilities in the suburbs instead of the central city became popular from the 1970s on, though at the turn of the 2000 millennium a reverse shift back to the central city became somewhat evident.


Teams making more significant moves, in chronological order[edit]

Quasi-moves: movement of more or less intact teams from one city to another[edit]

The NFL considers these separate franchises but there is significant continuity from one to the other

Franchise mergers[edit]

Teams moving between cities/boroughs within their metropolitan area, chronologically by team's first such move[edit]

Temporary moves, in chronological order[edit]

The following are not actually relocations, but temporary moves because these teams' home stadiums were either under construction or otherwise adversely affected:

Ultimate disposition of the 15 charter franchises[edit]

By the start of the 1920 APFA season, the nascent National Football League was composed of 15 franchises. Of those teams, only two are still in operation as of 2014 (denoted in bold):

The case of the Indianapolis Colts[edit]

The Indianapolis Colts have perhaps the most complex history of any football team in the NFL. The Colts can trace their history as far back as 1913, with the founding of the Dayton Triangles. The team then went through the following changes:[6]

Officially, all of these teams except for the second Baltimore Colts and the Indianapolis Colts are considered separate franchises.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Canadian expansion not on NFL radar, CBC Sports, 2/3/2006
  2. ^
  3. ^ Willis, 2010, p. 323–325.
  4. ^ Peterson, 1997, p. 122.
  5. ^ McDonough, 1994, p. 50.
  6. ^ "HOW TO GET FROM DAYTON TO INDIANAPOLIS BY WAY OF BROOKLYN, BOSTON, NEW YORK, DALLAS, HERSHEY AND BALTI MORE". Professional Football Researchers Association. Retrieved 2014-04-17. 


  • Official 2005 National Football League Record and Fact Book. New York: Time Inc. Home Entertainment. (2005). ISBN 1-932994-36-X
  • Carroll, Bob; with Gershman, Michael, Neft, David, and Thorn, John (1999). Total Football:The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-270174-6
  • McDonough, Will (1994). 75 Seasons: The Complete Story of the National Football League. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc. ISBN 1-57036-056-1
  • Peterson, Robert W. (1997). Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507607-9
  • Willis, Chris (2010). The Man Who Built the National Football League: Joe F. Carr. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 978-0-8108-7669-9