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Expansion team

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An expansion team is a new team in a sports league, usually from a city that has not hosted a team in that league before, formed with the intention of satisfying the demand for a local team from a population in a new area. Sporting leagues also hope that the expansion of their competition will grow the popularity of the sport generally. The term is most commonly used in reference to the North American major professional sports leagues but is applied to sports leagues in other countries with a closed franchise system of league membership. The term refers to the expansion of the sport into new areas. The addition of an expansion team sometimes results in the payment of an expansion fee to the league by the new team and an expansion draft to populate the new roster.

Reasons for expansion[edit]

In North America, expansion often takes place in response to population growth and geographic shifts of population. Such demographic change results in financial opportunities to engage with the new market as consumers of sports demand local teams to support. Major League Baseball (MLB) was limited to 16 teams located north and east of St. Louis, Missouri for the first half of the 20th century. During that time, the United States population doubled and expanded to the south and west. Rival interests explored the possibility of forming a rival league in the untapped markets. To forestall that possibility, one of the measures that MLB took was to expand by four teams in 1961 and 1962. Over the past four decades, MLB expanded further, to its current 30-team membership. In the context of MLB, the term "expansion team" is also used to refer to any of the 14 teams enfranchised in the second half of the 20th century.

Leagues that are new and/or financially struggling may also admit large numbers of expansion teams so that the existing franchises can pocket more revenue from expansion fees. Indoor American football leagues are notorious for doing so: the leagues can double the number of teams and have many new teams fail within a year or two. Major League Soccer, after spending most of its first decade of existence with relatively stable membership and struggling finances, adopted a policy of continuous expansion beginning in 2005, a policy that the league as of 2017 has no intention of stopping.[1]

When an expansion team begins play, it is generally stocked with less talented free agents, inexperienced players, and veterans nearing retirement. Additionally, prospective owners may face expensive fees to the league as well as high startup costs such as stadiums and facilities. The team is also at a disadvantage in that it has not been together as a team as long as its opponents and thus lacks the cohesiveness other teams have built over years. As a result, most expansion teams are known for their poor play during their first seasons. Expansion teams must also compete with any expansion rivals for available talent, a common problem since leagues often expand by two or four teams in one season.

Expansion teams are not necessarily doomed to mediocrity, however, as most leagues have policies which promote parity, such as drafts and salary caps, which give some expansion teams the opportunity to win championships only a few years after their first season. In Major League Baseball (MLB) The Arizona Diamondbacks won the 2001 World Series in their fourth season, and the Florida Marlins won the 1997 World Series in their fifth season. In the NBA, The Milwaukee Bucks won the 1971 NBA Finals in their third year of existence, greatly helped by drafting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1969 draft and acquiring Oscar Robertson from the Cincinnati Royals before the 1970–71 season began. In the NHL, the Florida Panthers made the Stanley Cup Finals in their third season even though, like MLB, the league then had no salary cap; a cap was established in 2005. However, the Vegas Golden Knights quickly emerged as one of the NHL's best teams in its first season. Thanks to a generous expansion draft, the team defied all odds and advanced to the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals, and later winning the 2023 Stanley Cup Finals in just their sixth season.

The National Football League (NFL), despite being considered the most generous in its revenue sharing and the strictest with its salary cap, has had far more difficulty bringing expansion teams up to par with their more established brethren. Of the six teams to have been added to the NFL since the AFL–NFL merger, the fastest turnaround between an inaugural season and the team's first Super Bowl victory was 27 seasons (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, established in 1976, won Super Bowl XXXVII in the 2002 season); none of the four teams to hold expansion drafts since 1995[note 1] have ever won that contest, with only one, the Carolina Panthers (who reached the game in their 9th and 21st seasons of existence) playing in the game. In 1996, the Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars each made it to their respective conference championship games in their second season in the league.

Expansion teams are usually considered as such in their first season and sometimes in their second season. A team that moves to another location and/or changes its name is not an expansion team. If it moves, it is known as a relocated team, and if the name changes, the team is known as a renamed team. In response to a negative attitude that some fans have towards relocated teams,[according to whom?] there have recently been instances where relocating clubs change their identity completely; name, colors, and mascot; but because the roster is the same and the league does not expand as a result, they are not regarded as expansion teams. One exception is the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League (NFL): when the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore, an agreement was reached for which the trademark and history of the pre-1996 Cleveland Browns remained in that city and was claimed by the post-1999 Browns when the league placed a new franchise there, even though the personnel and roster had moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens.[citation needed] Another exception is the New Orleans Pelicans, who were previously known as the New Orleans Hornets after relocating to New Orleans from Charlotte, N.C., in 2002. After the 2012 sale of the Hornets, new owner Tom Benson changed the name, colors, and mascot from Hornets to Pelicans. The Charlotte Hornets segment of the franchise's history was sold to the then-Charlotte Bobcats (themselves formerly considered a 2004 expansion team) and the 2002 New Orleans Hornets are now officially regarded as an expansion team.

Cities and regions with large populations that lack a team are generally regarded to be the best candidates for new teams. In rugby league, the United Kingdom-based Rugby Football League's Super League has added teams from France and Wales to cover a great demographic spread. The operator of Super League, England's Rugby Football League, has also added teams to the lower levels of its league pyramid, specifically the Championship and League 1, from both France and Wales, and most recently Canada. In rugby union, the competition originally known as the Celtic League and now as Pro14, which began with sides only from the Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, has added teams from Italy and more recently South Africa. The U.S.-based NFL has been laying groundwork for a potential franchise in the UK, with a target date some time in the early to mid-2020s.

Expansion teams in North America[edit]

Major League Baseball (MLB)[edit]

The National League had an eight-team lineup established in 1900, mirrored by the eight charter franchises of the American League in 1901. This list enumerates franchises added since this "Classic Eight" era.

National Basketball Association (NBA)[edit]

Eight charter franchises of the NBA (founded in 1950 via merger of the BAA and NBL) are still active.

American Basketball Association (ABA)[edit]

There's only one expansion team in the whole history of the ABA.

National Football League (NFL)[edit]

Only extant teams are listed. Two charter franchises, the Chicago Cardinals (now Arizona Cardinals) and Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears), are still active.

American Football League[edit]

Two teams from the AFL of the 1960s were expansion teams in that league. Both joined the AFL after the merger with the NFL was agreed to, but before it was finalized.

National Hockey League (NHL)[edit]

The NHL had a six-team lineup established in 1942. This list enumerates the teams added since the "Original Six" era.

Major League Soccer (MLS)[edit]

Canadian Football League (CFL)[edit]

National Lacrosse League (NLL)[edit]

Major League Lacrosse (MLL)[edit]

Major League Rugby (MLR)[edit]

Six of the seven charter franchises from 2018 remain active.

Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA)[edit]

National Women's Soccer League (NWSL)[edit]

Canadian Premier League (CPL)[edit]

Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL)[edit]

Junior League expansion teams[edit]

Ontario Hockey League[edit]

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League[edit]

Western Hockey League[edit]

Expansion teams in Australia and New Zealand[edit]

A-League Men[edit]

Australian Baseball League[edit]

Australian Football League[edit]

AFL Women's[edit]

AFL Women's, launched in 2017 with 8 teams, is operated by the Australian Football League, with all teams fielded by AFL clubs. The league expanded to 10 teams prior to the 2019 season and 14 prior to the 2020 season. In 2023, the remaining four AFL clubs launched women's sides.

National Basketball League[edit]

National Rugby League[edit]

New South Wales Cup[edit]

Northern Territory Football League[edit]

Queensland Cup[edit]

Ron Massey Cup[edit]

Super League[edit]

Super Rugby[edit]

  • 2006: Cheetahs and Western Force
    • The Cheetahs and Force were both dropped from Super Rugby after the 2017 season. The Cheetahs immediately became an expansion team in Pro14 (now the United Rugby Championship), but ceased Super Rugby operations when the country's four principal Super Rugby sides joined the URC in 2021. The Force later moved to Australia's National Rugby Championship, but after that league folded, it would return to Super Rugby, first in the COVID-era Super Rugby AU before joining the retooled Super Rugby Pacific in 2022.
  • 2011: Melbourne Rebels
  • 2013: Southern Kings
    • The Kings were dropped from Super Rugby at the same time as the Cheetahs and Force, and joined Pro14 alongside the Cheetahs. The team folded in 2020 when a planned takeover bid collapsed in fraud.
  • 2016: Jaguares and Sunwolves (both now defunct)
  • 2022: Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua

Victorian Football League[edit]

West Australian Football League[edit]

Women's National Basketball League[edit]

Expansion teams in Asia[edit]

Asia League Ice Hockey[edit]

Indian Premier League[edit]

Indian Super League[edit]

Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League[edit]

Philippine Basketball Association[edit]

Philippines Football League[edit]

Pakistan Super League[edit]

P. LEAGUE+[edit]

Premier Volleyball League[edit]

Expansion teams in Europe[edit]

Kontinental Hockey League[edit]

United Rugby Championship[edit]

Originally known as the Celtic League, and later as Pro12 and Pro14.

  • 2010:
    • Aironi – A team formed specifically for the competition by several existing clubs in Northern Italy, with Viadana the lead side. The team folded when the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) revoked its professional license effective with the end of the 2011–12 Pro12 season; it was replaced by the FIR-operated Zebre.
    • Benetton Treviso – Founded in 1932, it competed in Italian domestic leagues before joining the competition originally known as the Celtic League, later known as Pro12 and now as Pro14.
  • 2017:
    • Cheetahs
    • Southern Kings
      • These teams had played in Super Rugby before that competition's governing body, SANZAAR, axed three teams at the end of the 2017 season. Both had themselves been Super Rugby expansion teams; the Cheetahs entered in 2006 and the Kings in 2013. The Kings were liquidated prior to the 2020–21 season when a planned takeover bid collapsed in fraud; the Cheetahs left after that season.
  • 2021:
    • Bulls
    • Lions
    • Sharks
    • Stormers
      • South Africa's so-called "Big Four" Super Rugby sides left that competition after its reorganisation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They joined the former Pro14, which changed its name to the United Rugby Championship.

Super League[edit]

  • 1995: Paris Saint-Germain RL (now defunct)
  • 2006: Catalans Dragons — Although Super League used a promotion and relegation system at that time, Les Catalans, as the only French team in the otherwise all-English competition, were assured of a place in the league through 2008. Super League instituted a franchise system effective with the 2009 season, and Les Catalans retained their place in the league.
  • 2009:
    • Celtic Crusaders (later Crusaders Rugby League) – An expansion team only in the sense that they were invited into Super League. The club were established in 2005. After the 2011 season, the club folded due to financial problems; their effective successor club, the North Wales Crusaders, currently compete in League 1, two levels below Super League.
    • Salford City Reds – Also technically not an expansion team; they have existed since 1873 and played in Super League as recently as the 2007 season.
  • 2012: Widnes Vikings – An expansion team only in the sense that they have been invited into the now-franchised Super League. The club have existed since 1875, were founding members of what is now the Rugby Football League in 1895, and participated in Super League as recently as 2005.

VTB United League[edit]

Expansion teams in Africa[edit]

Vodacom Cup[edit]

  • 2010:
    • Welwitschias (a developmental side for the Namibia national rugby union team) – This was the second time Namibia participated in the competition; it entered a team from 1999 to 2001. The team withdrew from the competition after the 2011 season due to financial constraints. They remained in the Vodacom Cup until the competition was scrapped after its 2015 season. The team now features in the Vodacom Cup's successor competition, the Rugby Challenge.
    • Pampas XV (a developmental side for the Argentina national rugby union team) – Argentina left the Vodacom Cup after the 2013 season, choosing instead to enter the IRB Pacific Cup from 2014. At that time, it was also expected that Argentina would be added to Super Rugby in the near future,[3] and the country would eventually receive a Super Rugby team beginning in 2016.


League of Legends[edit]

The League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) and the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) initially fielded teams from eight organizations when they began operations in 2013; both leagues expanded to a total of ten teams in 2015.

LCS expansion teams

LEC expansion teams


  1. ^ While the Baltimore Ravens are officially considered an expansion franchise that began play in 1996, they did not stock their roster with an expansion draft, instead taking on the contracts of the former Cleveland Browns players, while the Browns suspended operations for three seasons. The Ravens later won the Super Bowl in their 5th and 17th seasons of existence. Conversely, when the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, while not an expansion franchise, their initial roster was stocked by an expansion draft and they were given the top pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. The Browns have not appeared in the Super Bowl since returning to the league.


  1. ^ "Commissioner Garber: Next round of MLS expansion "likely happening in 2020"". MLSSoccer.com. MLS Digital. April 14, 2016. Retrieved November 16, 2016.
  2. ^ Rochinski, Matt (May 20, 2014). "Charlotte Hornets Name Returns to Carolinas". NBA.com. NBA Media Ventures, LLC. Retrieved August 9, 2023.
  3. ^ "Radical changes as Argentina plans for the future". ESPN Scrum. 10 December 2013. Retrieved 10 December 2013.