City Officials In Some Cases Get To Keep Defunct Sports Teams Brands

1995 protest of the Cleveland Browns' owner Art Modell's move to Baltimore

Once in a while, a city can put a championship trophy of a lost team in a museum.

In the fall of 1995, the owner of the National Football League’s Cleveland Browns franchise, Art Modell, decided to take his business from Cleveland to Baltimore which started a legal battle between the NFL and the city of Cleveland. The conflict would eventually be resolved with the city agreeing to build a new stadium for an NFL expansion team and the NFL agreeing to leave the team’s name, logo, colors and record book behind so that another team could take over the franchise’s history. Modell had to rebrand his football team and was hoping to call the team the Baltimore Colts but he could not get permission to do so. Robert Irsay took his Baltimore Colts franchise, complete with the team name, colors, logo and record book in the middle of the night of March 28th and March 29th 1984 and Baltimore had nothing left but memories and hard feelings. Keeping a team name, colors, uniform and record book is something city elected officials want to keep even if a team owner has abandoned a city.

In Oakland, city officials met with Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics owner John Fisher’s lawyers in an attempt to extend a lease agreement between Fisher and the city to use the Oakland Coliseum while Fisher waits for his Las Vegas ballpark to open in Las Vegas in 2028.  Oakland officials wanted Fisher to leave behind the team name, team colors, team uniforms and team records. Fisher refused. But what happens when a team leaves its past behind. In 2008 Seattle SuperSonics owner Clayton Bennett relocated his National Basketball Association business to Oklahoma City. Bennett decided to rebrand and named his team the Oklahoma Thunder. He left behind the 1979 NBA championship trophy which sits collecting dust at the Seattle Museum of History and Industry. Seattle is still waiting for an NBA replacement team.

The Seattle SuperSonics’ 1979 Championship Trophy and a model of the long gone Kingdome are on display in a Seattle museum.

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