Ok, this is a big one.
I’ve gone through the history books of the big 4 professional sports leagues in search of every team that’s ever played, every city and every franchise relocation, every name change and re-branding, and put it all in one giant chart. It’s a bit of a challenge to navigate, I admit, so take your time. I included a detailed legend at the top that I hope covers everything, but feel free to ask questions in the comments section and I’ll try to reply.
Team’s formation dates are a little tricky. For the purposes of being consistent, I only looked at the date when a team officially joined its respective major league, and not necessarily when the original team was created (except, of course, for teams that were formed as part of the major league itself). For example, many of the original baseball clubs that formed the National League in 1876 had their roots in semi-professional regional leagues that stretch back to the early 1870’s. However, tracking these would have been difficult, and differentiating between various level of pro leagues would have been almost impossible and likely a subjective exercise. So, in other words, I realize that some teams are in fact older than this suggests, but I had to limit this chart to only the timelines of the 4 major leagues. Most notably, this means that I included the AFL’s formation and all of its teams are recognized, while ABA teams are only recognized once they joined the NBA. This is because the AFL merged with the NFL and all of its teams were retroactively recognized by the NFL. When the ABA folded, only a few of its teams jumped over to the NBA.
Team colors are either logo or jersey colors, whichever is more prominent to the team’s identity (at least in my opinion). Note that colors going back to the 1930’s and prior are less reliable than more current years. For some team there is very little (if any) information about jersey or logo colors.
For the purposes of “Cities”, there is some gray area when it comes to the large metropolitan areas in the U.S.. I have tried to the best of my ability to use only Metropolitan Statistical Areas as defined by the U.S. government. This means that “New York City” includes New York City, Newark, and East Rutherford, and that “San Francisco” includes San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. I believe that I have followed the generally accepted methodology here, but if any readers feel that their hometown as been unfairly included or excluded from a larger metro area I am all ears.
With regards to recognition of team relocation; Teams that came back to their original city are simply listed as active teams so as to not double count the number of teams per city (for example, the Oakland Raiders in the San Francisco summary are simply shown as active, not relocated and also active). However, teams that relocated and were replaced by another team with the same name are shown as two different teams (for example, the Winnipeg Jets which became the Phoenix Coyotes, and the new Winnipeg Jets, are shown as both a relocated team and an active team).
A big thanks to these websites for providing most of the information I’ve used: