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.
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.
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 Final.
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. 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.
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.
Eight charter franchises of the NBA (founded in 1950 via merger of the BAA and NBL) are still active.
There’s only one expansion team in the whole history of the ABA.
Only extant teams are listed. Two charter franchises, the Chicago Cardinals (now Arizona Cardinals) and Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears), are still active.
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.
The NHL had a six-team lineup established in 1942. This list enumerates the teams added since the "Original Six" era.
See also: Expansion of Major League Soccer
Six of the seven charter franchises from 2018 remain active.
See also: NWSL expansion
See also: Expansion of the A-League Men
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 will launch women's sides.
See also: Expansion of the National Rugby League
Originally known as the Celtic League, and later as Pro12 and Pro14.
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.