An expansion team is a term used for a brand new team in a sports league. The term is most commonly used in reference to the North American major professional sports leagues, but is applied to sports leagues worldwide that use a closed franchise system of league membership. The term comes from the expansion of the sport into new areas. This 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.

Reason for expansionEdit

In North America, expansion takes place in response to population growth and geographic shifts of population, driven by the resulting financial opportunity made possible by such demographic change. For example, Major League Baseball was limited to 16 teams located north and east of St. Louis, Missouri for the first half of the 20th century. During this time, the United States population doubled and expanded to the south and west. Rival interests explored the possibility of forming a rival league in these untapped markets. To forestall this possibility, one of the measures 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.

When an expansion team begins play, they are generally stocked with less talented free agents and inexperienced staffs. Additionally, prospective owners may face expensive fees to the league as well as high start-up costs such as stadiums and facilities. As a result, most expansion teams are known for their poor play during their first few seasons. This can be exacerbated by the fact that leagues often expand by two or four teams in one season, to eliminate the possibility of a bye-week in the draw from having an odd number of teams. In those cases, expansion teams must compete with their expansion rivals for available talent. Expansion teams are not usually doomed to mediocrity forever, as most leagues have policies which promote parity, such as drafts and salary caps, which gives some expansion teams the opportunity to win championships only a few years after their first season. The Arizona Diamondbacks won the 2001 World Series only three years after the team's 1998 founding, even though Major League Baseball is generally considered the least conducive to parity. Similarly, in the 1996 NFL season, only the second year of the Carolina Panthers' and Jacksonville Jaguars' existences, both teams made their respective conference championship games.

Most teams are considered as an expansion team usually in their first season and sometimes in their second season. A team that moves to another location and/or changes its name is generally not considered an expansion team. They are known as relocated teams. If the name changes they are known as renamed teams. In response to a negative attitude some fans have towards relocated teams, there have recently been instances where relocating clubs change their identity completely; name, colours and mascot, but because the roster is the same, and because the league does not expand as a result, they are not regarded as expansion teams. Teams which have been 'reborn' in this manner include the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL, the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA and Houston Dynamo in the MLS. (Legally, however, the Ravens are considered an expansion team, due to an agreement with the Cleveland Browns, the current incarnation of which was formed in the manner of an expansion team, but owns the rights to the Ravens' history while the team was in Cleveland and known as the Browns.)

Cities and regions with large populations that lack a team are generally regarded to be the best candidates for new teams. For example, the National Football League (NFL) has recently considered Los Angeles, California to be the best possibility for a brand new NFL team and Toronto, Canada as a second choice. The European Super League in rugby league has added teams from France and Wales to cover a great demographic spread.

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