Major professional sports leagues
The major professional sports leagues, or simply major leagues, in the United States and Canada are the highest professional competitions of team sports in the two countries. Although individual sports such as golf, tennis, and auto racing are also very popular, the term is usually limited to team sports.
The term "major league" was first used in 1921 in reference to Major League Baseball (MLB), the top level of professional American baseball. Today, the major northern North America professional team sports leagues are Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), and the National Hockey League (NHL).
These four leagues are also commonly referred to as the Big Four. Each of these is the richest professional club competition in its sport worldwide. The best players can become cultural icons in both countries and elsewhere in the world, because the leagues enjoy a significant place in popular culture in the U.S. and Canada. The NFL has 32 teams, the NHL has 31, and MLB and the NBA each have 30. The most recent market to receive its first "Big Four" team is Las Vegas, Nevada, which saw the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights make their debut for the 2017–18 season.
Baseball, football, and hockey have had professional leagues for over 100 years; early leagues such as the National Association, Ohio League, and National Hockey Association formed the basis of the modern MLB, NFL and NHL respectively. Basketball is a relatively new development; the NBA evolved from the National Basketball League and its splinter group the Basketball Association of America, taking on its current form in 1949.
Other notable leagues include Major League Soccer (MLS) and the Canadian Football League (CFL), both of which compare to the other four leagues in certain metrics but not in others. Every major league, including the CFL and MLS, draws 15,000 or more fans in attendance per game on average as of 2015. Therefore, this list includes a ranking by teams in the Big Four (B4), and a separate ranking also including teams in the CFL and MLS, called the Big Six (B6).
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Though teams are listed here by metropolitan area, the distribution and support of teams within an area can reveal regional fractures below that level, whether by neighborhood, rival cities within a media market or separate markets entirely. Baseball teams provide illustrations for several of these models. In New York City, the Yankees are popularly dubbed the "Bronx Bombers" for their home borough and generally command the loyalties of fans from the Bronx, parts of Brooklyn, Staten Island, Manhattan, Long Island, parts of North Jersey and Westchester County, New York, while the Mets play in Queens and draw support from Queens, Brooklyn and parts of Long Island, revealing a split by neighborhood. The San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics represent rival cities within the Bay Area, a single media market. Though the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles share a metro area, their cities anchor separate media markets and hold distinctly separate cultural identities. In Los Angeles, the Lakers and Clippers share an arena (Staples Center), and media coverage is split amongst different broadcasters in the metro area.
With the Vegas Golden Knights, based in the Las Vegas Valley, the 23rd largest market in North America, having joined the National Hockey League in 2017, the largest urban areas without a team in one of the big four leagues are the 32nd-ranked Austin region and the 37th-ranked Virginia Beach-Norfolk region. The smallest metropolitan area to have a Big Four team is Green Bay (Green Bay Packers), which is the 146th largest metropolitan area, though much of its fan base is drawn from Milwaukee, which is 120 miles away and the 38th largest market. The smallest stand-alone metropolitan area to have a Big Four team is the 78th-largest market, Winnipeg (Winnipeg Jets), while the 54th-largest market, New Orleans, is the smallest metropolitan area to have more than one Big Four team (New Orleans Pelicans and New Orleans Saints).
Foxboro, Massachusetts, population 16,685 as of the 2010 Census, is a small town which hosts two major-league teams (the New England Patriots and the New England Revolution.) Foxboro is considered part of the Boston metropolitan area, even though it is slightly closer to Providence, Rhode Island. In a comparable situation, the even smaller town of East Rutherford, New Jersey, population 8,913, hosts the New York Giants and New York Jets; the same city previously hosted the now-Brooklyn Nets, New Jersey Devils and now-New York Red Bulls. East Rutherford, although in a different state, is part of the New York City metropolitan area.
Teams by metropolitan area
The following list contains all metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada containing at least one team in any of the six major leagues. The number of teams in the big four leagues (B4) and the big six leagues (B6), and the city's teams in the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Soccer (MLS), and the Canadian Football League (CFL). No metropolitan area has teams in all six leagues, as NFL teams are exclusively in the United States and CFL teams are exclusively in Canada.
- Seven NFL teams have previously played in the New York City area: the New York Giants (1921; no relation to the current Giants), the Brooklyn Lions (1926), the New York Yankees (1927-1929), the Orange/Newark Tornadoes (1929-1930), the Staten Island Stapletons (1929-1932), the Brooklyn Dodgers/Tigers/Yanks (1930-1945), and the New York Bulldogs/Yanks (1949-1951).
- The New York Mutuals played in the National League's inaugural season in 1876, but were expelled at the end of that season. The next year, the Hartford Dark Blues moved to nearby Brooklyn (then an independent city) and played the 1877 season as the Hartfords before it dissolved. The Gothams/Giants played in Manhattan from 1883, and the Brooklyn Atlantics/Grays/Bridegrooms/Grooms/Bridegrooms/Superbas/Trolley Dodgers/Superbas/Robins/Dodgers played in Brooklyn (which became part of New York City in 1898) from 1890 (when it joined the NL from the AA); both teams respectively moved to San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1958.
- The New York/Brooklyn Americans played in the NHL from 1925 until suspending operations in 1942, and were disbanded in 1946.
- The Rams and Chargers are both in their second stints in the Los Angeles market. The Rams arrived from Cleveland in 1946 and played in the L.A. area until moving to St. Louis after the 1995 season; they would return to L.A. in 2016. The Chargers were originally based in Los Angeles, playing there for the AFL's first season in 1960 before moving to San Diego, where they would play until returning to L.A. in 2017. In addition to the Rams and Chargers, two other NFL teams have called Los Angeles home. The Buccaneers played in the 1926 season; despite representing Los Angeles, the team operated out of Chicago because of the difficulty of transcontinental travel in the era before modern air travel. The Oakland Raiders played in Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994, before they moved back to Oakland.
- Club Deportivo Chivas USA was a Major League Soccer club that existed between 2005 and 2014 before folding.
- The Oakland Raiders have been approved to relocate to Las Vegas by the 2020 NFL season.
- The California Golden Seals were an NHL expansion team which played in Oakland from 1967–76, when they moved to Cleveland to become the Cleveland Barons.
- The Chicago Cardinals were a charter franchise of the NFL, before moving to St. Louis in 1960.
- Chicago has had two prior NBA teams: the Stags existed from 1946 to 1950 before folding, and the Packers/Zephyrs played from 1961 to 1963, before moving to Baltimore.
- Before the then-Montreal Expos moved to Washington in 2005, four MLB teams (two per league) had played in Washington. In the National League, the original Nationals played from 1886 to 1889. Three teams also played under the name of the Washington Senators: The NL's Senators, who played from 1892 until it was contracted in 1899, and two American League Senators teams (the Senators/Nationals/Senators, who moved to Minneapolis in 1960, and a new Senators team which moved to Dallas in 1971).
- The Washington Capitols were a charter member of what became the NBA; the team dissolved midway through the 1950-1951 season.
- The Athletics played in the National League's inaugural season in 1876, before being expelled from the league. Another Athletics team was established in the American League in 1901 and played until 1954, when the team moved to Kansas City.
- The Quakers played in the NHL for the 1930-1931 season. Afterwards, the team suspended operations for the next five years before officially announcing their dissolution in 1936.
- Before the Patriots joined the NFL as a result of the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, three other NFL teams had played in Boston: the Bulldogs (1929, disbanded), the Braves/Redskins (1932-1936, moved to Washington), and the Yanks (1944-1948, moved to New York and became the Bulldogs).
- The Red Caps/Beaneaters/Doves/Rustlers/Braves/Bees/Braves played in the National League from the league's 1876 inception until it moved to Milwaukee in 1953.
- The Minnesota North Stars were an NHL expansion team that played in Bloomington from 1967 to 1993, when the team moved to Dallas and became the Dallas Stars.
- The Denver Nuggets joined the NBA in 1949 as a result of the BAA's merger with the NBL, but dissolved following their first NBA season; the current Denver Nuggets are not related to the original Nuggets.
- The Kansas City Scouts relocated to become the Colorado Rockies in 1976, but subsequently moved again and were renamed the New Jersey Devils in 1982.
- Miami Fusion F.C. was an MLS club located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida that played from 1998 to 2001 when they folded. A new Miami team was announced in 2014 and formally awarded in 2018, and will begin playing as Inter Miami CF in 2020.
- The Detroit Wolverines played in the National League from 1881 until the team disbanded in 1888.
- The Detroit Falcons played in the inaugural season of what would become the NBA, but disbanded following that season.
- While Toronto has not had an NFL franchise, the Buffalo Bills did host one of the team's regular season games each year and a number of pre-season games at the Rogers Centre from 2008 to 2013 as part of the Bills Toronto Series.
- The Toronto Huskies played in the inaugural season of what would become the NBA, before dissolving.
- Houston hosted the Houston Oilers from 1960 (where they played in the AFL until its merger with the NFL in 1970) through 1996 when the team moved to Tennessee—initially being called the Tennessee Oilers in its first season in Memphis and its second season in Nashville until ultimately being renamed the Tennessee Titans upon the opening of the team's current Nashville stadium in 1999.
- The NHL expanded to Atlanta in 1972 with the Atlanta Flames, but the team departed for Calgary, Alberta in 1980 to become the Calgary Flames. In 1999 another expansion franchise, the Atlanta Thrashers, was established, but this team moved to Winnipeg and became the Winnipeg Jets in 2011.
- The Tampa Bay Mutiny was a charter franchise of MLS in 1996. However, the franchise folded in 2001.
- Pittsburgh had one of the founding members of what became the NBA: the Pittsburgh Ironmen. However, they only played a single season (1946–47) before folding.
- The Pirates played in the NHL from 1925 until the team moved to Philadelphia in 1930 due to the effects of the Great Depression.
- Five other NFL teams have played in the Cleveland area: the Tigers (1920-1922; the team suspended operations and could not pay an annual guarantee), the Indians/Bulldogs (1923-1927, when the team moved to Detroit and became the Wolverines), the Indians (1931), the Rams (1937-1946; moved to Los Angeles), and the original Browns (1950-1995). The original Browns' owner Art Modell had planned to move the Browns to Baltimore but was threatened by legal action from both Cleveland and Browns fans; the dispute was resolved when Modell was given an expansion franchise in Baltimore using existing Browns personnel, while the city of Cleveland was allowed to retain the team's intellectual property for a new Browns franchise.
- Two previous baseball teams have played in the National League: The Blues (1879-1884, when the teams was folded into the Brooklyn Grays), and the Spiders (1889-1899, when the team was contracted from the league).
- The Cleveland Rebels played in the inaugural season of the NBA's predecessor, the BAA, before dissolving.
- The California Golden Seals of the NHL relocated to Cleveland for the 1976–77 season and were renamed the Barons. However, the team was merged into the Minnesota North Stars following the 1977–78 season.
- Seattle SuperSonics began play in 1967, but in 2008 was moved to Oklahoma City and was renamed as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
- An as-yet-unnamed team will join the NHL in the 2021–22 season.
- The Red Stockings, informally known as the "Reds", played in the National League from 1876 until it was expelled in 1880 for violating league rules. The current Reds joined the NL in 1890 from the AA.
- The Cincinnati Royals were an NBA team founded as the Rochester Royals in 1948, before moving to Cincinnati in 1957. Upon moving to Kansas City, Missouri in 1972, the team was renamed as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings.
- The Kansas City Athletics played in the city from 1955 until it moved to Oakland in 1968.
- Kansas City had an NBA team from 1972 to 1985, having moved from Cincinnati, Ohio where they were known as the Cincinnati Royals. The team was known as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings from 1972 to 1975 because it played home games in both Kansas City, Missouri and Omaha, Nebraska. Starting with the 1975–76 season, the team played exclusively in Kansas City, and was known as the Kansas City Kings. The Kings moved to Sacramento, California in 1985.
- In 1974 the Kansas City Scouts were granted an NHL expansion franchise. However, the franchise became the Colorado Rockies in 1976.
- St. Louis has hosted two NFL teams. The St. Louis Cardinals played from 1960 to 1988 before moving to Phoenix, Arizona, while the St. Louis Rams played from 1995 to 2015, before moving back to Los Angeles.
- Before the Cardinals joined the National League from the defunct American Association in 1892, St. Louis had been home to two NL teams: the St. Louis Brown Stockings, which dissolved in 1877, and the Maroons, which joined the NL in 1885 from the defunct Union Association and moved to Indianapolis in 1887. In addition, the Browns played in the American League from 1901 until it moved to Baltimore in 1954.
- St. Louis has been home to two NBA teams: the St. Louis Hawks, who moved to Atlanta and became the Atlanta Hawks in 1968, and the St. Louis Bombers, who folded in 1950. St. Louis was also home to the American Basketball Association (ABA)'s Spirits of St. Louis before the ABA–NBA merger in 1976.
- The Eagles, a relocation of the Ottawa Senators, played in the NHL for the 1934-1935 season; after a request to suspend operations for the following season was rejected by the NHL, the team was disbanded and its players dispersed among the league's remaining teams.
- A St. Louis MLS team was announced in 2019 and is scheduled to begin play in 2022.
- Baltimore was home to two NFL teams, both named the Colts. The original Colts played in the 1950 NFL season before folding, while the second Colts team played from 1953 until it relocated to Indianapolis following the 1983 season.
- The original Orioles joined the National League in 1892 from the defunct American Association and played there until they were contracted from the NL in 1899. Another Orioles team played in the American League for two years, before dissolving after the 1902 season.
- Baltimore was home to two NBA teams, both named the Bullets. The original Bullets played in the American Basketball League and NBA from 1944 to 1954. The second team was founded in 1963, following the relocation of the Chicago Zephyrs to Maryland. For the next 11 seasons, the Bullets played in Baltimore before moving to Landover, Maryland, within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, in 1973.
- Baltimore was granted a CFL expansion franchise in 1994, the Baltimore Stallions, which relocated to Montreal after the 1995 season to become the current Montreal Alouettes.
- The original Hornets franchise played in the NBA from 1988 to 2002, before moving to New Orleans. The current Hornets were established in 2004 as the Charlotte Bobcats, but re-assumed the Hornets name in 2014, after the New Orleans Hornets renamed themselves the Pelicans and transferred their records and statistics from their time as the original Hornets to the current Charlotte franchise.
- The Indianapolis Blues played in the National League for the 1878 season, while the St. Louis Maroons moved to Indianapolis and played as the Hoosiers from 1887 until the team dissolved in 1889.
- Before the Pacers joined the NBA in 1976 as a result of the ABA–NBA merger, two NBA teams had played in Indianapolis: the Indianapolis Jets of the NBL joined the BAA (the NBA's immediate predecessor) in 1948, but dissolved the following year when the NBL merged with the BAA, in favor of the NBL's Indianapolis Olympians. The Olympians would disband in 1953.
- A Nashville MLS team was announced in 2017 and is scheduled to begin play as Nashville SC in 2020.
- Milwaukee has not had an NFL franchise, but the Green Bay Packers played a portion of their home schedule in Milwaukee on a regular basis from 1933 until 1994.
- Prior to the Brewers, three MLB teams have played in Milwaukee. In the National League, the Grays played in the 1878 NL season, while the Braves played in the city from 1953 until it moved to Atlanta in 1965. The original Brewers played in the American League's inaugural season in 1901 before moving to St. Louis and becoming the Browns.
- The New Orleans Jazz played in the NBA in 1974 before moving to Salt Lake City in 1979. The Pelicans themselves (not related to the Jazz) were formerly a relocation of the Charlotte Hornets, but in 2013 the renamed Pelicans transferred its records and statistics from their time in Charlotte to the Charlotte Bobcats, who were about to re-assume the Hornets name. The Pelicans are now considered an expansion team starting play in 2002 as the New Orleans Hornets, then renaming themselves as the Pelicans in 2013.
- Before the Bills joined the NFL as a result of the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, two other NFL teams played in the Buffalo area. The All-Americans/Bisons/Rangers/Bisons played in the city under several different owners until 1929 (not playing the 1928 season), while the Tonawanda Kardex Lumbermen played in Tonawanda in the 1921 season, but disbanded after a lopsided loss in their sole NFL game. From the 2008 to 2013 seasons, the Bills hosted one of their regular season games and a number of preseason games at Toronto's Rogers Centre as part of the Bills Toronto Series.
- The Bisons played in the National League from 1879 until it left the league in 1885; the Bisons have played in the minor leagues in one form or another since.
- The Buffalo Braves were an NBA team that moved to San Diego, California in 1978 to become the San Diego Clippers.
- Montreal was home to a Major League Baseball team, the Montreal Expos, beginning in 1969. However, the team moved to Washington, D.C. in 2005, where it was renamed as the Washington Nationals.
- The expansion Vancouver Grizzlies of the NBA began play in 1995. However, in 2001 the team moved to Memphis, Tennessee and was renamed as the Memphis Grizzlies.
- The original Winnipeg Jets relocated to become the Phoenix Coyotes (known as the Arizona Coyotes since 2014) in 1996. The current Winnipeg Jets were established by the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2011.
- San Diego hosted the San Diego Chargers from 1961 (where they initially played in the AFL until the league's merger with the NFL in 1970) through 2016, at which point the team moved back to its original city of Los Angeles for the 2017 season.
- San Diego has had two NBA franchises: the San Diego Rockets and the San Diego Clippers. The Rockets represented San Diego from 1967 until 1971 when they moved to Houston, Texas to become the Houston Rockets. Seven years later, the Buffalo Braves moved to town and were renamed the San Diego Clippers, where they played until 1984, when the team relocated to Los Angeles and became the Los Angeles Clippers.
- San Antonio served as a temporary home for the New Orleans Saints during the 2005 NFL season due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
- The San Antonio Texans were a CFL team that played in 1995 CFL season, having relocated from Sacramento, California, where the team had been called the Sacramento Gold Miners, but folded after a single season.
- The Sacramento Gold Miners were a CFL expansion team based in Sacramento, California for two years before relocating to become the San Antonio Texans.
- The Las Vegas Posse were a CFL expansion franchise that existed for only the 1994 season.
- Oklahoma City served as a temporary home for the New Orleans Hornets for two seasons due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
- The NFL's Houston Oilers relocated to Memphis for one season (as the Tennessee Oilers) in 1997 before moving to Nashville to become the Tennessee Titans.
- The Memphis Mad Dogs were a CFL expansion franchise that existed for only the 1995 season.
- The Hamilton Tigers played in the NHL from 1920–25.
- A Miami MLS team was announced in 2014 and formally awarded in 2018 under the name Inter Miami CF, with play set to begin in 2020. A Nashville MLS team was announced in 2017, and is scheduled to begin play in 2020 as Nashville SC. Austin FC will begin play in 2021. A St. Louis MLS team was announced in 2019 and is scheduled to begin play in 2022.
Teams by state/province/territory
The number of Big Six teams based on their home state is shown in the map below:
The number of Big Six teams based on their home state/province/territory is shown in the map below:
- Inter Miami will join MLS in 2020.
- Austin FC will join MLS in 2021.
- The NFL's Buffalo Bills held one of the team's regular season games each year and a number of pre-season games at Toronto's Rogers Centre from 2008 to 2013 as part of the Bills Toronto Series.
- The New York Giants and Jets both play their home games at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
- The New York Red Bulls play their home games in Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
- Sporting Kansas City play their home games at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.
- Washington, D.C. would have the 57th largest population if it were a state.
- The Washington Redskins play their home games at FedExField in Landover, Maryland.
- Nashville SC will join MLS in 2020.
- A Seattle team will join the NHL in 2021.
- The Oakland Raiders have been approved to relocate to Las Vegas in 2019 or 2020
- U.S. cities with teams from four major league sports
- List of auto racing tracks in the United States by city
- List of professional golf tournaments in the United States by city
- List of professional sports teams in the United States and Canada
- Major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada
- List of top level minor league sports teams in the United States by city
- List of soccer clubs in the United States by city
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- North American Pro Sports Teams – Lists every league that has operated in Canada and/or the United States. Grouped by city.