Barnstorming (sports)

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In athletics terminology, barnstorming refers to sports teams or individual athletes who travel to various locations, usually small towns, to stage exhibition matches. The term is primarily used in the United States. Barnstorming teams differ from traveling teams in that they operate outside the framework of an established athletic league, while traveling teams are designated by a league, formally or informally, to be a designated visiting team.[1]

Barnstorming allowed athletes to compete in two sports; for example, Goose Reece Tatum played basketball for the Harlem Globetrotters and baseball for a Negro leagues barnstorming team. Some barnstorming teams lack home arenas, while others go on "barnstorming tours" in the off-season.



Teams in baseball's Negro leagues often barnstormed before, during, and after their league's regular season.[2] Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Satchel Paige barnstorm toured with Dempsey Hovland's Caribbean Kings. Hovland founded (and owned) several barnstorming teams, including the Texas Cowgirls (1949–1977), the first integrated professional women's basketball team to tour worldwide, and the New York Harlem Queens. The Harlem Globetrotters and Texas Cowgirls shared training camps, seasons, and circuits.

Barnstorming is most commonly connected with baseball, with many stars of the Major Leagues doing barnstorming with their own "all-star" teams from the start of the 20th century, all the way to the 1950s, either playing inter-squad games or against local minor league teams. It was a way for players to make extra money during the off-season, and the games were usually played in smaller towns in the south, Midwest, and western United States, where there wasn't major league baseball, and allowed fans the rare opportunity to see their favorite players in person. The popularity of barnstorming faded away in the 1950's as more and more baseball games were televised, affording fans a new way to watch their favorite players and teams.

While barnstorming is no longer as popular as it was in the 20th century, some teams such as basketball's Harlem Globetrotters, and softball's King and His Court founded by Eddie Feigner carry on the tradition. In the 1990s the Colorado Silver Bullets women's baseball team resurrected barnstorming because there was no women's league. In 2023, the Savannah Bananas—up to that point, a collegiate summer baseball team— became a full-time barnstorming team to great success, after their proprietary "Banana Ball" format became a national phenomenon. The Bananas helped revive the popularity of barnstorming baseball.[3][4]

It was very common in the early days of professional American football; for instance, the Los Angeles Wildcats of the first American Football League (AFL) of 1926 played the regular season as a traveling team, then went on a post-season barnstorming tour of Texas and California, with Red Grange and the New York Yankees as the designated opponent for most of these games. NFL teams were also known to barnstorm in small towns against local teams all the way up through World War II.

Several auto racers, most notably Barney Oldfield, staged exhibitions around the United States in the early twentieth century. In 1914 he barnstormed against the aviator Lincoln Beachey at least 35 times.[5]

In rugby union, the Barbarians, an invitation-only team, are famous for having no ground or clubhouse.[6]

Regional and local barnstorming circuits are often undertaken by local celebrity squads[7] and retired alumni of professional leagues, such as the Buffalo Sabres Alumni Hockey Team.[8]





The Lancaster Barnstormers are a professional baseball team based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They are a member of the Freedom Division of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, and do not engage in actual barnstorming. Likewise, the Iowa Barnstormers arena football squad was not a literal barnstorming squad, its name instead being a play on Iowa's farming industry.

  • In the 2001 book Danger Boy by Mark London Williams, Barnstormers is a video game the main character plays, in which players choose humans, vampires, zombies, and other creatures to assemble a barnstorming baseball team that travels the country competing against other teams.


  1. ^ Thomas Barthel (21 March 2007). Baseball Barnstorming and Exhibition Games, 1901-1962: A History of Off-Season Major League Play. Jefferson: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-7864-2811-3. OL 17844873M. Wikidata Q105271586.
  2. ^ Justice B. Hill. "Traveling show: Barnstorming was common place in the Negro Leagues". MLB History. Major League Baseball. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  3. ^ Dominitz, Nathan. "Savannah Bananas fold collegiate team, focus on taking Banana Ball nationwide". Savannah Morning News. Archived from the original on August 21, 2023. Retrieved 24 August 2022.
  4. ^ Palmer, Joseph (26 May 2023). "'More than baseball': how the Savannah Bananas became the greatest show in sports". The Guardian. Archived from the original on September 13, 2023. Retrieved 26 May 2023.
  5. ^ Mark Dill. "Barney Oldfield and Lincoln Beachey". First Super Speedway. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  6. ^ "History of the Barbarians", Barbarian F.C. official website
  7. ^ Schober, Jeff (January 18, 2021). Does Danny Neaverth really need a job? Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  8. ^ "A night of warmth on ice: Sabre Alumni, police puts hearts in hockey to aid injured officer". Buffalo, NY: The Buffalo News. March 30, 2007. Archived from the original on 2011-05-16.
  9. ^ "Bunbury Cricket Club". Archived from the original on 2017-09-14. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  10. ^ "Kaipaki Nation Cricket Club"

Further reading