By Leo Silbert
The NFL is an ever-growing business and like any growing business it is always interested in a higher earning potential. One way is with television contracts which they signed in 2014 that pays the league $3.1 billion per season in rights fees, but that is a static investment until it is time for a new contract. Another way of increasing revenue is by making a big show out of everything, which is why the draft and combine are both televised with the draft being at a live venue where fans can buy tickets to attend. And finally, they can make more money if there are more opportunities to make more money from more games. A higher number of games can be achieved in 2 ways, 1. increasing the length of the season, which is opposed by the player’s union and 2. increasing the number of teams so there are more games played per week. Increasing the number of teams would also allow them to increase the number of playoff participants which would also increase revenue.
So now that I have stated the reason why the NFL would want to expand, the next question would be where they would want to expand to? I am ruling London out because it is much too far away for there to be a team there unless the NFL does something radical with their scheduling. I also did not include Mexico City due to the record high homicide rates in Mexico recorded just last year. I’m going to rank from least likely to most likely.
Birmingham being on this list might seem a little strange. It isn’t a major city, with only 212,000 residents, it is around 2 hours away from Atlanta and it has never had a top professional team in American sports before. With all that in mind, why did I pick them? Because the state of Alabama is crazy about football. Every Saturday during the college football season, the state has 2 major programs in the SEC (Alabama and Auburn) and when they both have a home football game on the same day, then nearly 200,000 people from the state of Alabama are inside of 2 football stadiums. Now, there are a few things that would need to be done for them to succeed. First, they couldn’t be called the Birmingham (insert team name here). They would need to be marketed as Alabama’s team so not only the 212,000 residents from Birmingham would feel a connection to it, but also the other cities in Alabama such as Montgomery, Huntsville, Auburn, Tuscaloosa and Mobile can all feel a sense of pride in them as well. I picked Birmingham for a few reasons. First, it is in the most central location in the state, where all the cities I listed, except for Mobile, are within 2 hours from Birmingham. This would lead to the highest potential amount of people attending their games week in and week out. The team would also need to not have its primary colors based on either the University of Alabama’s crimson or Auburn’s blue and orange because if they are seen as favoring one side of the rivalry too much, it could be hard to pull fans from the other side. And finally, they would need to draft heavily from Auburn and Alabama (which is a good draft strategy anyway) to they excite the home fan base early. If they do those things, then an NFL football team would be able to thrive in Alabama.
Portland is one of the hot names given when someone thinks of a potential city for the NFL to give a team through expansion. It is 3 hours away from its closest major media market of Seattle, it has an NBA team and an MLS team and it is the largest city in the state of Oregon so it could act as the home base for a state-wide fandom of a team. The Trailblazers are averaging 98.8% attendance at games this season even though they are a non contender and are likely to miss the playoffs. The Portland Timbers as an MLS team was able to average 96.1% attendance which has led the team to seek stadium expansion while many other MLS teams find it difficult to pull 70% attendance. So the city of Portland is able to fill up small stadiums consistently, so it seems likely that they could fill up an NFL stadium at least 8 times a year. To market the team, they can add to the theme of the other professional teams the city has (such as being called the Lumberjacks to go along with the Timbers and Trail Blazers) or they can be named after one of the cities major industries such as their craft beer industry. The placement of a team in Portland would give the people who live in the 800 miles in between San Francisco and Seattle to root for and from the looks of how Portland supports its other sports teams, it should have no problem filling up an NFL stadium, especially with a population of over 600,000 just in the city.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The first and only international venue on this list, Toronto is a massive city. With a population of 2.65 million it is easily the most populated city on this list. Toronto is a city that already has a major sports team in every other league in major American sports, so the next logical step would be adding an NFL team. Adding a team to Toronto would not only make that team the team of Toronto or even of Ontario, but much like the Raptors are in the NBA, a Toronto NFL team would be the team of Canada. There is a major problem possibly preventing this though, and that is the Canadian Football League’s presence in Canada. Would the CFL want the competition of an NFL team distracting the country of Canada from their football product in favor of better product? Another thing hurting Toronto’s hopes is that their team finances would all have to be kept in US Dollars while their revenue and contracts would be paid in Canadian dollars which are weaker and more heavily taxed. A third thing hurting Toronto is that Canada isn’t known for producing a lot of NFL talent, with only 13 Canadian players making week 1 rosters. Those are my biggest concerns with the potential for a team in Toronto, but other than that they seem like the perfect place. They have a rabid fan base, they have the numbers and it is a new and adventurous market for the NFL, but due to it being adventurous would mean that a Toronto expansion wouldn’t happen before some other cities.
San Diego, California
The first of 2 cities that recently lost their teams to make this list, San Diego is only the third most likely city in my rankings to receive an NFL franchise. While San Diego has a population of over 1.3 million and a home fan base that wants a football team, they have one big issue standing in their way of having a team in the future, and that is that the Chargers main reason for leaving was that the city wouldn’t offer more than $300 million to help them build their stadium. Now, $300 million is a lot and Dean Spanos paid more than that just in relocation fees so money wasn’t that much of an issue for him, but in today’s NFL, team owners want their stadiums to be paid for by the taxpayers while keeping it as a privately owner building that doesn’t profit the people with a revenue percentage going towards lowering their taxes or the team paying it off. So right now the biggest thing keeping San Diego from being the eventual home to a new NFL team is the fact that they stood up to a billionaire owner who wanted a brand new stadium gifted to him. Other than that, the city of San Diego would be a great place for a football team. Great weather would allow the stadium to not have to be a dome while it would also put the city in contention to host many Superbowls such as New Orleans and Miami have been. They were able to have the Chargers and Padres in town for decades with little problems filling the seats and a new team would be very much embraced since the city feels like the Chargers stabbed them in the back for the bright lights of Los Angeles.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
This city being this high on this list might be surprising, but if you think about it there is a lot of sense to it. First off, Oklahoma is a football crazy state (like Alabama) with 2 schools in the Big 12 who bring in over 140,000 fans each Saturday during the college football season to watch a game of football. Now what would separate them from Birmingham? 2 thing mainly. First the city has three times the population of Birmingham so it is more plausible to sell out games week in and week out. And second is that they have already proven themselves worthy of a professional franchise with the Oklahoma City Thunder consistently selling out games. The city is over 200 miles from their closest potential NFL competitors in Dallas so their location relative to other teams wouldn’t be an issue with any team’s territorial rights (like what the Cowboys have in San Antonio). This would also give the state of Oklahoma a home team to root for instead of having to outsource their fandom to another state. A team in Oklahoma City could also become rivals with either the Cowboys or the Texans to play on the rivalries the in state Oklahoma schools have with schools in Texas. Oklahoma City is a medium-sized market in the middle of their state which is a state that loves football. A team would do well to start-up here as they would have a strong fan-base from the get go and plenty of rivalries that they can start up right off the bat.
St. Louis, Missouri
The most likely location for NFL expansion is a place that is going into their seconds season without a team since the Rams left them to go back to Los Angeles. The city of St. Louis is not too big with only 318,000 residents, but neighboring St. Louis county has over 1 million residents so the amount of residents isn’t the problem. The main reason that the Rams gave for leaving was that St. Louis was “not a 3 professional team market” and that a $1.1 billion football venue would put any team quickly on the road to ruin. That is what Rams owner Stan Kroenke thinks of St. Louis, even though he spent over $600 million just in relocation fees and is busy building a $2.6 billion stadium in Los Angeles. St. Louis was a hot location in the 1990s for expansion before the Rams ended up leaving Los Angeles to go there and now it seems to be the most likely place to see a new team again. The problem wasn’t that St. Louis wasn’t willing to pay for a stadium since they were and they had a strong fan base within the city. The other professional sports teams int the city always have very good attendance figures so fan support shouldn’t be that big of an issue either. And now, since Stan Kroenke decided to dismiss the city as a football city, a new team to move there would likely get massive support from local fans who want to stick it to Kroenke for the first few seasons. The biggest thing against St. Louis getting a team would be that they have already had 2 teams, but neither of those teams was a St. Louis team at heart. The Cardinals started as Chicago’s 2nd team and they moved to Arizona and the Rams started as the Cleveland Rams before moving to Los Angeles to move to St. Louis only to move back to Los Angeles. The city of St. Louis needs their own football team so they can have a team that is theirs and only theirs and then St. Louis would be able to prove Kroenke wrong.