The Rise and Fall of St. Louis Sports


The XFL’s St. Louis Battlehawks are 4-2. Meanwhile, St. Louis City Soccer Club has started their inaugural season by making history as a club with a five-game win streak. For a city that has suffered so much in professional sports, the universe is finally paying its dues. St. Louis has lost three major teams and it is only fair that the ones they’ve just gained are off to great starts.


The first departure from St. Louis occurred in 1968, when the Hawks NBA franchise was sold by founder Ben Kerner to real estate developer Tom Sanders, who moved them to Atlanta. This followed a dispute with the city regarding the less-than-desirable circumstances of their stadium. After the franchise moved from Milwaukee, the St. Louis Hawks were instantly a dominant force in the Western Division, especially after trading away Bill Russell for Saint Louis University legend “Easy Ed” Macauley and young star, Cliff Hagan. With an All-Star trio led by the NBA’s first ever Most Valuable Player, Bob Pettit and fellow Hall of Fame talents, Macauley and Hagan, the Hawks won the 1958 NBA Championship, the franchise’s only championship to date. During their time in St. Louis, a thirteen-year stint, the Hawks went 553-452 and only missed the playoffs once in 1962. They played in four championship series and nine division finals series. 31 All-Star selections from that time came out of St. Louis, with 16 coming from Pettit, Hagan and Macauley. 


St Louis’ best hope for professional basketball to return is for either the WNBA or NBA G-League to expand. The WNBA last expanded in 2008, with the addition of the Atlanta Dream. Currently with only twelve teams, WNBA Commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, has been very vocal about expanding in the future. While St. Louis is not currently high on her list, with major markets such as the Bay Area and Miami without a team, further down the line St. Louis could emerge as a candidate for expansion. 


Another option for expansion could be a minor-league affiliate to an NBA team. Commissioner Adam Silver has been just as vocal as Engelbert about hoping to expand, but the media consensus is that he will choose Seattle and Las Vegas as the new cities. Should the NBA expand, they would reach 32 teams–the NBA G League is currently at 28 affiliate teams. The unaffiliated NBA teams are the Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns and the two expansion franchises. St. Louis could be among the four new affiliates. Geographically, St. Louis would be in the Northwest Division, where the Blazers currently play and where the Seattle franchise would operate as well. 


The most famous departure from St. Louis came in 2015, when the NFL controversially moved the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles. The city of St. Louis settled a lawsuit with the NFL over the relocation in 2021 for almost $800 million. The Rams spent 21 seasons in St. Louis, during which they made the playoffs five times, achieved two Super Bowl appearances and in 1999, the team won its first championship since 1951. The Rams were St. Louis’ second football team, received in 1995, less than a decade after the Cardinals relocated to Phoenix. 

The Cardinals had played in St. Louis since 1960, but left in 1987 for the same reason as the Hawks in the past and the Rams in the future: disagreement with the city regarding their stadium. Ask any St. Louis native, and they would tell you about how Rams owner, Stan Kroenke, betrayed the city and how the NFL deceived all of St. Louis when they claimed the city’s plan was too expensive for the franchise to be deemed viable. 


 It wasn’t until 2020 that football would return to the city. WWE Chairman Vince McMahon chose to revive his ill-fated 2001 competitor to the NFL, the XFL. On Dec. 5, 2018, St. Louis was announced as one of the eight cities to host an XFL team. The Battlehawks sold out their first home game, a 24-11 victory against the Dallas Renegades in The Dome at America’s Center. The Battlehawks would finish the first half of their season 3-2 before the XFL suspended operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson purchased the XFL in August 2020 and in April 2022 confirmed that the Battlehawks would be one of the five franchises not relocating for the revival. Football was in St. Louis to stay. The return of the Battlehawks occurred alongside the arrival of St. Louis City Soccer Club (City SC), the MLS’ expansion into the city. In August 2019, City SC was confirmed by the MLS to be its 28th franchise and play began on Feb. 25, 2023, with a 3-2 win against Austin. City SC has started strong with a 5-0 record. 


In June 2022, ESPN released an article discussing City SC’s interest in having an NWSL counterpart. With the NWSL confirmed to expand to Salt Lake City and expected to expand into the Bay Area for its thirteenth and fourteenth teams, interest in hosting the league’s fifteenth club has come from over half a dozen cities, including St. Louis. With time, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman is likely to accept St. Louis’ bid, especially if she hopes to achieve the same reach as the MLS. 


With the success of the Battlehawks and the City SC, St. Louis sports fans have every right to be optimistic about St. Louis being a market for future expansion. St. Louis is a medium-sized market, with a devoted fanbase. As the WNBA and NWSL look toward expansion, St. Louis is a valid candidate.