Relocating a sports franchise is always going to be an uncomfortable decision. The fans in the city being left are always going to feel wronged, and in general the court of public opinion is going to blame the wealthy owners rather than fan base. In many cases This is a valid way to view relocations, but there are some exceptions. Occasionally a team is in a market that either lacks the desire, or the ability to support a professional sports team. In this case it is truly necessary for the team to move on. Two examples of this sort of relocation are the Montreal Expo’s move to Washington DC to become the Nationals and the Atlanta Thrashers recent move to Winnipeg to become the Jets.
Both Atlanta and Montreal are big enough cities to supports multiple professional teams, the problem is in each case the team that moved played the wrong sport. Montreal is an unabashed hockey town, and due to general disinterest in baseball, and a bad arena, fan attendance was miserable. This hurt the team financially and competitively as well. Less than 13,000 people showed up for the final Montreal Expo’s home game.
The situation in Atlanta was at least as bad. Atlanta is a notoriously bad professional sports town as only the Braves regularly sell out their games. The Falcons and the Hawks of the NFL and NBA respectively have trouble filling their arenas, but nothing like the difficulty that the thrashers had in their final few seasons in Atlanta. Despite having a number of successful seasons the Thrashers could never draw a decent crowd. There are a number of possible reasons for this failure including the possibility that the racially diverse population of Atlanta never came around to hockey. It seems more likely however that hockey was always destined to be a fourth wheel in a southern town like Atlanta.
The Expo’s and the Thrashers both needed to be moved to remain viable. It was unfortunate for the few diehard fans of each franchise but it became abundantly clear for each team that staying it their current location was not feasible. In fact both teams had been considered as possible candidates for contraction. As unsavory as franchise relocation can be it is always preferable to contraction.