STOCKER: Weren't teams more spread out by then? I mean, it seems like the Braves have been losing down in Atlanta for centuries. And what about the Athletics way out there in Kansas City?
MONTROSE: No, you're thinking of the
Braves and the
BAHR: No, no, it's the
A's and the Milwaukee Brewers. You know, they used to be the Seattle Pilots.
PROF: Time out. Your confusion is understandable. Here's what happened. In 1952, after drawing a meager 281, 278 fans, the
Braves moved to Milwaukee. Adoring as a smitten teen-ager, the town turned out 1,826,397 strong in 1953. Now, a 600% jump at the gate in a virgin territory doesn't go unnoticed. So the next year the St. Louis Browns left to seek true love as the Baltimore Orioles. And the year after that the Athletics fled Philadelphia to go courting in Kansas City. But what touched off the great Westward Ho! migration was the move in 1958 by the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to California.
What followed was the most wide-open spree of claim-staking since gold was struck at Sutter's Mill. Denied big league sports for so long, cities were willing to do anything to get a pro team—any team, any way, any price. Build us a new stadium that will mortgage the city's future and drain the taxpayers into the next century? You got it. Charge us low rent and no property taxes? Done. Give us a disproportionate share of the concession profits? All yours. No scenes when we run off to seduce another? Promise.
Naturally there has never been a shortage of hustlers to exploit the situation. In too many instances the new owners bought their franchises solely as tax shelters, and when those benefits ran out, usually within five years, so did they. Which helps explain why the 11 teams in the American Basketball Association experienced 27 changes of ownership in the league's 10-year history.
All told, over the past 20 years the number of football, baseball, basketball and hockey franchises has swelled from 42 to 101, spurred the belief that a city without a big league team is a burg without a future. As Hubert Humphrey once said: without the action at Metropolitan Stadium the Twin Cities would be a "cold Omaha."
NELSON: If I were Omaha, I'd be happy to watch the Vikings on TV and let the Twin Cities foot the bill for the new domed stadium they're trying to build there.
PROF: TV or not TV, that has never been the question. If there were no TV, there would, for example, be no NFL as we know it. In fact, by virtue of the NFL's four-year $656 million contract with the networks—the largest TV deal ever made—there need be no fans in the stands. This season, with its $5.8 million TV share, each team could play in an empty stadium and still turn a profit.
The dawning of TV could not have shone more warmly on the sports landscape of 1954. In the early '50s only 9% of U.S. households had TV sets, but by the late 1960s fully 94% were plugged in and nearly three dozen new pro teams had sprouted. All that was needed to make addicts of us all was to expose a waiting America to the living spectacle of sports that it had read and heard about. And TV did that in a way that was awesome. Down every dusty back road, up every glinting high rise and from sea to shining sea, folks who did not know a five-iron from a flyrod sat in hushed wonder as Arnold Palmer flipped his cigarette to the green and—yahoo!—boldly holed a long snaking putt.