National Football League franchise moves and mergers

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, did not have an NFL team from 1995 to 2015. The league had started actively promoting a return to Los Angeles no later than 2006,[1] and in January 2016, the NFL gave the St. Louis Rams approval to move back to Los Angeles. 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 speculation regarding a future franchise, London is also a candidate for NFL expansion or relocation.

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 21st century a reverse shift back to the central city became somewhat evident.


Teams making more significant moves, in chronological order

The NFL considers these continuous franchises that relocated to different metropolitan areas:

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

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

Franchise mergers

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

Temporary moves, in chronological order

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

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 2016 (denoted in bold):

The case of the Indianapolis Colts

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:[5]

See also


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


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