Friday, January 31, 2014

Being An Expansion Team Is Fun, But You Rarely Win Championships

The Hornets debuted in 1988 but haven't made an NBA
Finals in their 25 years of existence

The 1980s and 1990s were a time of grand expansion.  Since 1982, the four major sports have expanded their leagues by 24 teams.  This comes after the 1970s where mergers were the rage (NFL merged with the AFL; NBA absorbed several ABA teams; NHL absorbed several WHA teams). With TV revenue comes more teams.  Expansion teams.  Only 8 championships have come from that group of expansion squads. 

I know that expansion teams start from nothing.  No players, no history to sell to players and fans.  Still, there is a newness to sell.  And 16 of those franchises were originally placed in warm weather locales.  It isn't all bad.

But it is tough to win.

In Major League Baseball, they've surprisingly had better success.  MLB has only expanded four teams in the last 30 years, but each one has made a World Series.  The Florida/Miami Marlins have won two World Series championships and the Arizona Diamondbacks won one.  The other two franchises, Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays, have reached the World Series.

To me, that's surprising.  In baseball, you not only have to supply your major league team, but stock a minor league system.  Three of the four teams were placed in "spring training" ... or "retirement" states.  Yet each of them in varying ways got to the Fall Classic.

So MLB expansion has yielded three World Series.

The NFL is on the other end of that spectrum.  The NFL only expanded four teams as well.  None of them have won a Super Bowl.  Only the Carolina Panthers have even gotten to one.  The Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans haven't gotten there.

NFL expansion is a bit different.  Carolina and Jacksonville were new markets that got teams in 1995.  Cleveland got an "expansion" team a few years after their original franchise moved to Baltimore a year later.  Houston got a true expansion team less than a decade after the Houston Oilers left for Nashville.  By the way, neither the original Browns or Oilers made a Super Bowl either.

NFL:  Zero expansion championships.

The NBA had the most successful expansion team of the last 30 years.  The Miami Heat have won three NBA Championships and went to a fourth Finals.  That's good.  The bad is that no other NBA expansion team has won a ring and only the Orlando Magic have reached the Finals (two Finals appearances).  In a league where one superstar can help carry you to a deep playoff run (Miami had Wade, Shaq and LeBron in their runs; Orlando had Shaq and Howard), the others have failed to get to the top of the league.

Top of the league?  Try even getting close.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have gotten to one Conference Finals.  So has the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies when they lost to the Spurs last season.  The Charlotte Bobcats, Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans and Toronto Raptors have been to zero.  In fact, of the four major sports leagues, the NBA has had two of its expansion teams relocate (the Charlotte Hornets and Vancouver Grizzlies).  Of all the other leagues, only the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers left their town.

So, in reality, only the Heat and Magic have had any sort of success in the NBA and the Heat's success far outweighs anything the Magic have done.

NBA: Three expansion titles.

Last in the NHL, who has expanded the most.  What surprises me most about the NHL's lack of success is that (a) they've expanded more than the other leagues, (b) the NHL postseason allows for anyone to make a run and (c) they've had quite a few other franchises relocate in the same time frame.

The only expansion teams of the last 30 years to win a Stanley Cup are the Tampa Bay Lightning and Anaheim Ducks.  That's it.   And only the Ducks, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators have even made the Cup Finals.  That's it.

No San Jose Sharks.  No Minnesota Wild.  No Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators or Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.

NHL = two Cups.

It is quite amazing to me.  Are there any current franchises that could add to that paltry total?

Of course the Miami Heat are looking for their 3rd straight championship and 4th overall.  Five of the other six franchises are either well under .500 or currently out of the playoffs slotting.  In the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks hold the league's best record while the Lightning and Sharks have been playing very well.  Last baseball season, only the Rays finished with a winning record while the Rockies and Marlins finished last in their divisions.  In the NFL, the Panthers did win their division, but the Jaguars, Texans and Browns finished among the worst teams in the league.

The beat goes on.

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