Iowa is a small state with a population of over 3 million. That is about a third of the residents of Los Angeles County. So, it’s not surprising that there are no professional sports teams in Iowa within the most famous franchises – NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA.
Still, it has a vibrant local sports scene based heavily on college sports and minor league baseball. In addition, the state is set to get its first top-level pro team in 2024. Starting that year, a new USL franchise will come to Des Moines, the second tier of US Soccer. The Des Moines expansion team is yet unnamed, but the team will add a new level of cache to the Hawkeye State and perhaps join the MLS in the future if there is a chance.
In the meantime, there is a plethora of exciting sports experiences in Iowa. Most notably, it’s traditionally minor solid league baseball teams.
Plus, the state’s teams have won dozens of titles and provided a warm home for top professional athletes and Hall of Famers in all major sports.
Top Professional Sports Teams in Iowa
In this article, we will review the top sports teams in Iowa, including their history, success, and most famous players. So, without further ado, here are the top ten professional sports teams in Iowa.
1. Iowa Cubs
The Iowa Cubs are the triple-A affiliate of the National League Chicago Cubs. The minor league team plies their wares at Principal Park in Des Moines. The stadium seats 11,500 fans and houses 45 luxury suites for the city elite. The stadium is a gem, providing a backdrop for the Iowa State Capitol building.
The team has been a fixture in Des Moines since 1969 when they debuted as the Iowa Oaks. At the time, they were an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. The Oaks were not known for their excellence in the early years. They only reached the American Association playoffs once and lost to the Tulsa Oilers before changing their name to the Cubs in 1982. They have had a bit more success since, winning 8 division titles, a conference title, and a league championship in 1993.
As you would expect from a minor league fixture like the Iowa Cubs, the team has seen some great talents emerge over the years. In the 1970s, the Oaks was most notable as the venue for the failed comeback of 2 time Cy Young winner and the last pitcher to win a 30-game winner, Denny McLain.
The team has since seen the development of some of the finest players in Chicago Cubs history. Notably, of the 2016 World Series winning team players, no less than 19 had spent time in an Iowa Cubs uniform. In addition, other excellent players around the league learned their stuff in Des Moines, including Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez and players like Seiya Suzuki spend their injury recovery time at their facilities.
Alexander Canario CRUSHES home run number 36 to grow our lead! pic.twitter.com/tNSclvPPPY
— Iowa Cubs (@IowaCubs) September 27, 2022
2. Iowa Wild
The Iowa Wild is the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL Minnesota Wild. They play at the Wells Fargo Arena, designed as the primary venue in the city for concerts and indoor sports.
The Wild was established in 2013 and was a welcome replacement for the Iowa Stars, a Dallas Stars affiliate that had left the city in 2008. The Wild has enjoyed a healthy average attendance of over 5,000 spectators a game over the years.
After a depressing run of five seasons with no playoff appearances, the Wild finally reached the postseason in 2019. In 2021-22, the team made a strong push for the playoffs, but it fizzled out with a disappointing finish.
As a result, the best players on that team, Matt Boldy, Connor Dewar, and Marco Rossi, have all been called up to Minnesota. However, a capable crop of prospects is always ready to take their place. Iowa Wild is without a doubt one of the best professional sports teams in Iowa.
18 days until puck drop and we are FIRED UP!
🎟️: https://t.co/ASDSHvNOpN pic.twitter.com/xjJyT0e5Eg
— x – Iowa Wild (@IAWild) September 26, 2022
3. Des Moines Buccaneers
The Buccaneers play in the Western Conference of the United States Hockey League. As a Tier I junior ice hockey team, it brings some of the best young hockey talents to the Buccaneer Arena in Urbandale. In addition, as one of the most veteran teams in the league, they have built strong ties to the Des Moines community and enjoy one of the best fan bases in the USHL.
The team is a veteran fixture in Iowa, founded back in 1980. The Bucs were absolutely dominant in the 1990s, bringing back the Anderson Cup title in 1993-94, 1994-95, 1997-98, and for the last time (so far) in 1998-99. During those halcyon days, the kids from Des Moines also won three Gold Cups.
The team has developed some first-rate NHL talent over the years. Perhaps the most notable is Scott Clemmensen, a local Urbandale kid made good. The goaltender was drafted in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft and played 191 games in the NHL. Indeed, he was the first-born player to appear in the pros.
@dmcityview Best of Des Moines 2022, the Bucs were voted Best Local Indoor Sporting Event and were runner-up in Best Local Sports Team! pic.twitter.com/geCZ1hlCNk
— Des Moines Buccaneers (@bucshockey) March 1, 2022
4. Iowa Hawkeyes
How can you make a list of Iowa professional sports teams, without mentioning the Hawkeyes? The University of Iowa has 22 varsity sports programs, ranging from football to rifle shooting. They all share the Hawkeyes name and a proud tradition of collegiate success. The football program has the highest profile, and they have won 11 Big Ten championships and claimed 5 national titles, the last coming in 1960.
The basketball team has never won a national title, but they have been to the final four 3 times and were runners-up in 1956 when they lost to Bill Russell’s San Francisco Dons 83-71. Perhaps the most illustrious player alumni of the program are 4-time All-Star and Hall of Famer Connie “the Hawk” Hawkins.
However, the Hawkeyes wrestling team is the most successful program by far. They have won a staggering 24 titles since 1975 and are among the most successful in all NCAA Division I competitions.
Don't be 𝙏𝙃𝘼𝙏 person 😎
Saturday is the annual ANF Black & Gold Spirit Game. Dress accordingly ⚫️🟡@HawkeyeFootball x #Hawkeyes
— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) September 27, 2022
5. Cedar Rapids Kernels
The Rapids are the high-A ball affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. The team had existed in various incarnations since 1890 when the earliest version first took the field. They first took on a primary league affiliation with the Cincinnati Reds affiliate back in 1932.
Over the years, they have amassed an impressive 13 titles, with the last coming in 1994. However, in 2022, the Rapids won their first “half-title.”
As you would expect with such a long-serving team, many legends, including Hall of Famers Lou Boudreau, Trevor Hoffman, and Ted Simmons, have gone through the ranks.
We would like to give a big thank you to everyone who made this 2022 season so incredible. We truly have the best fans in the world!
We're already counting down the days until the 2023 season begins and we cannot wait to see everyone back here at the ballpark next season! ❤️🌽 pic.twitter.com/pRby5sh5lz
— Cedar Rapids Kernels (@CRKernels) September 19, 2022
6. Des Moines Menace
A new USL team is on its way to Iowa, but the “beautiful game” has long had a toehold in the Hawkeye state.
The Des Moines Menace was formed in 1994 as part of the reorganization of U.S. soccer which accompanied the World Cup that year.
The team is part of the USL League Two, the fourth tier, three below the MLS. In recent years, the Menace has dominated its division, coming in the first seven times over the last eight seasons.
Thank you Menace fans! 👏
100+ teams in USL2 and last nights attendance was the highest in 2022.
Not the way we wanted the season to end but your support was unrelenting all summer long! ❤️🖤#UpTheMenace | #Path2Pro pic.twitter.com/dOslOv53qp
— Des Moines Menace (@MenaceSoccer94) July 30, 2022
7. Iowa Barnstormers
The Barnstormers were founded in 1995 and initially played in the Arena Football League. In 2001, citing dissatisfaction with the arena in Des Moines, the team moved to Nassau Coliseum and renamed the team, the New York Dragons.
Nonetheless, in 2008, the franchise was reactivated, and the rebooted Barnstormers became members of the Arena Football League. However, they enjoyed a lack of success there and transferred to the Indoor Football League in 2014.
The IFL is the most stable and prosperous league in the United States. The Barnstormers have a singular league title from 2018, two conference titles, and five divisional first-place finishes.
The Iowa Barnstormers 2022 season has come to an end following a 64-39 defeat to the @FriscoFighters in Round 1 of the @IndoorFL Playoffs.
Read more: https://t.co/nAsUOZvgff
This post-game story is presented by Carpet Direct.
— Iowa Barnstormers (@iabarnstormers) July 23, 2022
8. Iowa Wolves
The Wolves have been a minor league basketball team since their inception in 2007, under their original name, the Iowa Energy. At first, it served as an affiliate for the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat.
Today, they are associated with the Minnesota Timberwolves and share a similar team logo with the pro franchise. Iowa was long hungry for professional basketball. Therefore, they are probably the most popular team in the entire league.
The inaugural Energy home game broke the D-league attendance record with 8,842 fans present. Then, as the Wolves, they broke the record again with 14,036 attending game two of the D-league finals.
day one in the books 🐺 pic.twitter.com/QY8N76T7Kv
— Iowa Wolves (@iawolves) September 27, 2022
9. Sioux City Musketeers
Like the Des Moines Buccaneers, the Musketeers are a proud Iowa USHL team. The junior hockey team is the current league champion. The Musketeers won the Clark Cup after a thrilling 2-1 game four victory over the Madison Capitols in overtime.
It was their first championship in precisely 20 years and a night Sioux City is unlikely to forget. Since its foundation in 1972, the team has racked up 4 Clark Cups and 3 Anderson Cups.
The team has also known for international glory, winning Bronze Medal at the Junior Club World Cup in Ufa, Russia.
🗣️That thing had SMOKE🗣️@BenPoitras11 with an impressive and much needed goal in the third pic.twitter.com/w4btWOGVYk
— Sioux City Musketeers (@Musketeerhockey) September 23, 2022
10. Sioux City Explorers
Rounding off our top ten list of top professional sports teams in Iowa are the Sioux City Explorers. This team is known to locals as the Xs and plays in the American Association of Professional Baseball.
Like most teams in that league, it is unaffiliated with any MLB team. However, starting in 2020, the league became an MLB partner.
While the X’s haven’t produced any big stars, quite a few big leaguers cut their teeth in Sioux City.
Most notable are Julius Matos and Nate Field, who pitched for the Royals and now work for the Boston Red Sox scouting department.
Ademar Rifaela brings in a run with a double to cut into the lead!
❌: 4 pic.twitter.com/HaoCP9XY3C
— Sioux City Explorers (@SiouxCityXs) September 5, 2022
Credits on Featured Image: David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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