Top 10 NFL Expansion Team Locations
There’s just a few more hours Super Bowl, and the biggest loser may be a team that was eliminated from the running halfway through the season.
Football fans fresh off of moving the St. Louis Rams back to Los Angeles, before promptly forgetting they existed as the team struggled to win 4 games last year, are still abuzz with the talk that the San Diego Chargers will also be moving to Los Angeles, albeit mostly because they’re making fun of the awful new logo. Not only does this leave both St. Louis and San Diego without NFL teams, but after two decades without any teams, Los Angeles may soon have three, one thing overlooked in the shuffle is that the NFL just lost its most obvious location for an expansion team.
While some may feel the NFL is fine with just 32 teams, compared with other American professional sports leagues, they’re in the best position for adding expansion teams. From a business perspective, with football posting record profits, it would be foolish for the NFL not to expand. As for the sport itself, gridiron football has never been more popular in the United States, and its growing impressively worldwide. That the NFL will expand isn’t a question of if, but a matter of when. And just as importantly, where.
Luckily, I have a list of candidates when the time comes, and frankly I’d much rather talk about that than face the growing realization that the New England Patriots are on their way to another Super Bowl title. So yes my dear readers, this is my list of Top 10 Potential New Locations for NFL Teams.
I had three rules going into choosing candidates for this list:
-No cities that already have an NFL team. Looking at you New York and Los Angeles!
-No cities within a reasonable driving distance of an existing NFL team – in this case, I’m pegging that at an hour-and-a-half away by car.
-No states that have three NFL teams already – California, New York and Florida – especially since in all three cases, there are some struggles keeping the teams that they already have.
Aside from that, it was a combination of analyzing if they had both the infrastructure and population to support an NFL team, as well as gauging local love of gridiron football – support for college teams, existing efforts to relocate or start a professional football team, etc. I have narrowed down the list to ten cities, with the pros and cons for locating an NFL team there.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the ten cities I think are ready for some football.
10) St. Louis, Missouri
Let’s start the list with the most obvious candidate, and thus the one that’s the least interesting, St. Louis, which has now once more deprived of a football team. Talk about the ethics and optics of moving the Rams back to Los Angeles all you want, at the end of the day, this is a city that hosted a Super Bowl Champion team for two decades, and now they don’t have a team.
Pros: They have a stadium that can seat 66,000 people, and contrary to the claims of Stan Kroenke, it’s a perfectly fine, relatively new stadium that would do any expansion team proud. They’ve also got the remnant Rams fan base, which left hurt and scorned by moving the team out of town, would be likely to support a new team.
Cons: The biggest issue is, with all due respect to the fine residents of St. Louis, much like the recently departed Rams, the city has seen much better days. The city has lost 62.7% of its residents since 1950, the highest percentage of any major city in the United States. The economy has been declining for about as long, and the city is more known for its crime rate, riots and police shootings than anything else recently.
They may have had a team before, but with so many better options to choose from, they’d be a bad pick for a new one.
9) Las Vegas, Nevada
There is a reason why the Oakland Raiders have been sniffing out a potential location here, because Vegas would likely be a literal goldmine to any team that sets up shop in Sin City. The only reason I’m ranking them so low on this list is because of the fact the Raiders may beat a potential expansion team to claiming the prize of one of the biggest cities in the country without any pro sports teams – with all due respect to the NHL’s Golden Knights, you don’t count, and you know it.
Pros: The biggest advantage is that Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has made absolutely no secret that he wants a professional sports team in Vegas, and he would be happy to bankroll one to make it happen. The other is that, while gambling, prostitutes and live entertainment may get the glory, Las Vegas is also a premier sports destination – from college sports and NASCAR races to world boxing title matches.
Cons: While some may point out past failures to for pro football to set up shop in Las Vagas, I will counter that the XFL and Canadian Football league barely count.
No, the biggest issue here, aside again, from the Raiders coming here first, is the same issue that I wager has deterred professional sports from locating a team in Las Vegas for years now. Pro sports has always been wary of gambling and other vices, and between the casinos, nightlife, and all the other temptations Sin City has to offer, any team in Vegas is likely to be an ethical, moral and PR nightmare.
Silver-lining, the sports tabloids would hit the motherlode here.
8) London, United Kingdom
Roger Goodell has made clear his ambitions to expand the NFL to Europe for years now, and where can we see that more than London. Home to the successful NFL International Series, which has done much to grow the interest in gridiron football abroad, there are people on both sides of the pond who say it’s time for the next step to be made.
Pros: While it may seem like a very odd choice to an outsider, there is a reason that Goodell has had his eye on a team here for years – in terms of wealth and population, London may be the only city on Earth that can rival New York. In a city of more than eight million people, finding 50,000 to fill a football stadium one day a week isn’t even a challenge, especially when the International Series regularly draws in 82,000 people, a number that must have the NFL home offices drooling. Financially, a team in London would be a safe, and likely profitable bet… the challenge though is logistics.
Cons: Part of the reason London is so high on the list is because there would be some huge logistical issues for any team based here. Jet lag and travel times would be as much of a possible issue for players as anything on the field, with weekly trips across the Atlantic posing a daunting prospect for any team. Figuring out broadcast rights and airtimes for the games opens another can of worms entirely.
Honestly, if the parties that be so interested in bringing the NFL to London are serious, it may be far easier to also look into other feasible team locations in Britain and Europe, enough for a division or two, not just so any team based out of London won’t have to travel across the Atlantic every road game, but to fully take advantage of the growth and interest in gridiron football in Europe. Something akin to a more serious attempt at an NFL Europe, overseas expansion promises to change the face of the game if, when and where it finally does happen.
That’s a topic for another article entirely however.
7) Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Aside from moving a team to Los Angeles, the Buffalo Bills moving to Toronto is one of those sports headlines we all have been expecting for years now. An expansion team is also a distinct, and more importantly, a viable possibility. Compared to expanding overseas, expanding into Mexico or Canada is a far simpler proposition, and one talked about for decades. There is already interest in teams in both Mexico City and Toronto, among others, but I’m going with Toronto as the safer, more obvious choice.
Pros: Much like with London, interest from both the NFL and financial backers is there, as is a large football fan base. The Bills already play a home game there every year and manage to fill a stadium, a feat they struggle to do back in Buffalo. Unlike the majority of cities on this list, there are already people looking to bring an NFL team to Toronto because everything needed for such a team to succeed – a thriving city, a good stadium, owners with cash to burn, interest in the sport – is already in Toronto. Now all they need is a team.
Plus, if an NFL team does make its home in Toronto, and it manages to take root, it would likely not be the last Canadian NFL Expansion team. If Toronto succeeds, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary may follow.
Cons: Arguably, Toronto’s biggest disadvantage is that it’s far more likely that the Buffalo Bills will get moved there then they’d be granted an expansion team. The other is Canadian devotion to Canadian Football, including the storied Toronto Argonauts. Whether or not American football can take root north of the 49th Parallel has always been the imposing question needed to be answered for any real growth of the NFL into Canada.
6) Portland, Oregon
While it may seem like an odd pick – Portland is more known for being a hub for hipsters than for the home of the Portland Trail Blazers – in my mind, it’s a natural fit. They’re
Pros: Portland and Oregon as a whole are utterly gaga for college sports, college football especially. The Oregon State Beavers have a nearly religious fan base, and one wagers a halfway decent pro team could draw on that fervor. What’s more, unlike some of the other choices on this list, the nearest competing teams are a road trip away, to either Seattle or San Francisco.
Cons: The big challenge is that, as of right now, Portland doesn’t have a stadium that could house a team, though right now sharing the college stadium at Oregon State in Corvallis is a possibility. Above all, having a place for a team to play is the biggest issue for the dream of an NFL team to live on in Portland.
5) Norfolk, Virginia
While the Richmonder in me would love to say my hometown could house a professional sports team, given how we’ve treated our last few minor league baseball teams, I know better. No, if there is any place in Virginia, it’s in Virginia Beach or Norfolk, or more likely a joint bid between the two.
Pros: There was already a massive drive to relocate the Sacramento Kings to Norfolk, so there is absolutely support for a professional team. You can also see that reflected in the state’s college football scene, whether it be Virginia Tech or UVA. Most of all though, there is a reason why Norfolk has been trying to bring in a professional sports team – it’s one of the largest metro cities in the country without one, leaving the area one of the few untapped markets left.
Plus, with the large military presence in the area would allow for some killer team names, as the Virginia Destroyers showed prior to the folding of the United Football League.
Cons: Norfolk would need for a new stadium to be built, and while there was the will to do so for a potential NBA Basketball team, a Football stadium might be an uphill battle. As it stands though, the Virginia Beach Sportsplex ain’t gonna cut it.
4) Columbus, Ohio
This choice is sure to draw some odd looks, especially since Cleveland and Cincinnati aren’t exactly doing gangbusters right now. Columbus however is one of the biggest cities in the country – 15th in the United States as a matter of fact, and a booming economy along with it. They’re also one of the biggest cities in the country without a professional sports team.
Pros: Three Words for you my dear reader – Ohio State Buckeyes. If College football is a religion, Columbus is one of its meccas, with Ohio Stadium alone being more than capable of serving both the Buckeyes and a prospective NFL expansion team. The question here isn’t whether or not a team in Columbus could compete with Cleveland and Cincinnati, it’s whether or not Cleveland and Cincinnati could hold a candle to a team in Columbus.
Cons: Honestly, the biggest issue would be competing over market share with the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals, but I think Ohio is one of the few states in the country with enough people and love of the sport to support three teams.
3) Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
One of the fastest growing cities in the country, with a media market already larger than some existing NFL teams, and smack dab in the heart of football country, Oklahoma City seems like the perfect place for a pro-football team. Oklahoma City already made waves in the world of pro sports when it moved the Seattle Supersonics, renamed them the Oklahoma City Thunder, and then preceded to take the NBA by storm. It doesn’t take much imagination to think what this city could do with an NFL team in the heart of Sooner country.
Pro: Football is rapidly popular in Oklahoma, just as it is throughout the Great Plains, largely due to the thriving college teams of the area. The Sooners draw more than 80,000 people to games on average, a number that should make an NFL ever-mindful of attendance numbers salivate.
What’s more, the amount of attention and effort they took with the Oklahoma City Thunder proves that this is more than a city that will show up for games and buy some merchandise, they want to build title contenders. Plenty of cities can house an NFL team, or financially support them, but if they have even half the attention at the front office that the Thunder had, Oklahoma City could be one of the few that can solidly say they know how to run and manage a team.
Cons: Honestly, the biggest opposition to a team in Oklahoma City may come from already established teams like The Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys, fearing a new team in Oklahoma City may draw fans and their money away from them.
2) Omaha, Nebraska
Right after steaks and corn, probably the first thing to pop into your head when you saw Omaha on this list was something related to sports, wasn’t it? Be it the College World Series, or the near religious fervor for Cornhusker football, Omaha is one of the country’s biggest meccas for sports lovers. Toss on the fact that Omaha is a booming city, with the money and infrastructure already in place to support a team, Peyton Manning won’t be the only one calling Omaha for long.
Pro: The location may be a wild card, but if there was ever a perfect opportunity just waiting to happen, it was Omaha and professional sports. This is a city that eats, drinks and breathes sports, and yet for some reason there isn’t a single professional sports team in the city yet, something doubly astounding when you realize that. An NFL expansion team would find very fertile ground in Nebraska.
Plus, added bonus, its far away from Kansas City that it wouldn’t cannibalize another team’s market share.
Con: Arguably, the biggest obstacle to an NFL team in Omaha is just popular misconception. Honestly, how many of you did a double take when I suggested an NFL expansion team in Nebraska? Simply put, it isn’t “cool” like some other cities might be. If and Goodell’s fixation with London is any sign, cool is king.
On paper, Omaha has everything you’d need to support a professional sports team, and an NFL team would be a match made in heaven for the city. In practice however, too many people see the name “Omaha” or “Nebraska” and immediately of farmland and flyover country.
1) San Antonio, Texas
There is no place in America more passionate about gridiron football than Texas. In fact, it’s always been a mystery to me why Texas has only ever had two teams, the Cowboys in Dallas, and the Oilers/Texans in Houston. If any state could support more than three teams, it would be Texas, but for now, I’d say the Lone Star state’s best bet for a new team would be San Antonio.
Pros: The biggest advantage that San Antonio has working in its favor is that it already has housed an NFL team. Specifically, the New Orleans Saints after Hurricane Katrina, and that they have all but pleaded for a team of their own NFL team for years. They have the will, the support base, the infrastructure and the money there – all they need now is a team.
Cons: The only real issue I can think of is whether or not the league would want to put another team in Texas when they’ve already got the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans. Much like with Oklahoma City, those existing teams may fear losing some market share to a team in San Antonio. Luckily, if there is any place big enough for three thriving NFL teams, it’s Texas.
So those are my Top Ten NFL Expansion Team Locations. What do you think of my choices? Disagree with any, or want to mention some ideas of your own? Say something in the comments below!