NFL Expansion: Cities That Should Have an NFL Team
The NFL has not expanded since 2002, but that could change soon.
The league has boomed to a $15 billion annual business. Even so, the NFL has watched its popularity flatten out and, in some cases, shrink, as rising cable costs reduce television viewership, the risk of injury via concussion diminishes participation and social justice protests rub fans the wrong way.
How can the league capitalize on the relative prosperity of its product and continue to grow the sport of football? NFL expansion.
If and when the NFL expands — to as many as 40 teams — here are the places it should look.
Bottom Line: London
England’s capital is next in line for an NFL team. The league has played at least one game there since 2007, and as many as four in London in each season.
The city already has a de facto home team in the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have played a "home" game at Wembley Stadium in each of the past six seasons.
Aside from the NFL’s insistence to get in there, London is a logical choice, too. It is only five hours difference in terms of time zones, making it just two hours farther from the East Coast than playing in the Pacific time zone. It also has a robust population of crazy sports fans and already ample venues if it wanted to host a team.
It's a no-brainer.
What People Think About London
"In London, everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in." —Paddington Bear
Bottom Line: Frankfurt
This may seem like a surprise addition, given soccer’s robust popularity in Germany, but American football is popular in the country as well, thanks to the number of American military stationed in the country.
If London is going to join the NFL, one would think it would need a European rival, and Frankfurt is less than 500 miles from the English capital.
Plus, Frankfurt has a long-standing football culture, which dates back to the World League of American Football in the early 1990s. Add the fact Frankfurt is just about 100 miles from Cologne, making the Frankfurt/Cologne market roughly 2 million people.
What People Think About Frankfurt
"The Frankfurt Galaxy (the NFL Europe team) always had tremendous success. At that time, there were 2,000 American football clubs in Europe playing the game from juniors through to adults." —Former NFL Europe president Bill Peterson
Bottom Line: Barcelona
Barcelona has an NFL pedigree, albeit in NFL Europe, and a flight from New York to the city in eastern Spain is only 45 minutes longer than a trip to London.
On top of that, Barcelona has more than 1.6 million people and a 99,000-seat stadium in its limits, all of which the NFL would drool over if football ever began to take off in Europe.
What People Think About Barcelona
"I'd love to be popular in Barcelona. That sounds like a fun job." —Former wrestling manager, color commentator and wrestler Bobby Heenan
Bottom Line: Berlin
If there were a division of European teams, Berlin would be a logical fourth team.
Berlin was both a founding and sustaining member of NFL Europe, has more than 3.5 million people and stadiums to accommodate football fans.
What People Think About Berlin
"Berlin, the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine." —Singer-songwriter David Bowie
Bottom Line: Toronto
Another no-brainer, though the Canadian Football League’s presence makes this one a little more tricky.
Toronto courted the Buffalo Bills during the 2000s decade, but that bid fell apart when the Bills were sold to the Pegulas in 2014. Still, the NFL is the only major North American sports league without a presence in Canada, or Toronto, more specifically.
Given the city’s size and interest in the NFL, it’s only a matter of time until it goes north of the border full-time.
What People Think About Toronto
"The fact that over 50 percent of the residents of Toronto are not from Canada, that is always a good thing, creatively, and for food especially. That is easily a city’s biggest strength, and it is Toronto’s unique strength.” —Celebrity chefAnthony Bourdain
Bottom Line: Montreal
Montreal has Olympic Stadium, which hosted Major League Baseball's Expos for decades, but also could support an NFL franchise in the interim.
The city has 1.7 million people, including those who already support the Canadian Football League's Argonauts. Many of those fans still are till stinging from the Expos' departure in 2005 and feel they deserve another major professional team.
MLB has flirted with a return to Montreal, and the NFL would be wise to sneak in before it does.
What People Think About Montreal
"Some say that no one ever leaves Montreal, for that city, like Canada itself, is designed to preserve the past, a past that happened somewhere else." —Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen
Bottom Line: Edmonton
If the NFL is moving into Canada, it would be wise to absorb many of the CFL’s most successful programs, and the Edmonton Eskimos have been the class of the league since its infancy.
Edmonton has won the second-most Grey Cup championships in league history (14) behind the Toronto Argonauts (17).
It also has the league’s largest stadium capacity (56,400) and has a population of just about 1 million, many of whom are intense sports fans already.
What People Think About Edmonton
"Living in Edmonton feels so calm, but there is still so much to experience. I know I can find something to do if I want to have fun." —Canadian figure skater Kaetlyn Osmond
Bottom Line: Calgary
If the NFL is going to Edmonton, it also would have to expand to its southern provincial rival, too.
Calgary, like Edmonton, has a North American sports presence and has more than 1 million people.
The Flames have been in the NHL since 1972 and rank in the top 10 of attendance every year.
What People Think About Calgary
"My first two years in the CFL, all I thought of was getting back to the NFL. It was like, 'I'll put my time in up here and go back.' Then I went and signed a nice contract in Calgary and was like, 'Hey, I can make a living up here, this is great football, and I'm having a blast.'" —Former CFL and NFL quarterback Doug Flutie
Bottom Line: Vancouver
We’d advocate for Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatchewan or any of the other CFL markets, but Vancouver actually could attract free agents and also would have a fun little regional rivalry with the Seattle Seahawks.
Before anyone shoots down Vancouver because of the Grizzlies’ failings in the NBA, the city is flush with money and is the third-largest metropolitan area in Canada with close to 2.5 million people.
For people who love the physical nature of hockey, football might resonate more than basketball.
"I grew up in Vancouver, man. That's where more than half of my style comes from." —Actor, comedian, writer and filmmaker Seth Rogen
What People Think About Vancouver
Bottom Line: Oakland
We’ve reached the recently departed markets portion of the story. Oakland no longer has an NFL team, after the Raiders calculated their exit to Las Vegas, leaving Oakland out in the fog.
The Raiders left Oakland before, departing for greener pastures in Los Angeles in 1981, but this move felt different. While the 49ers still are in the region, Santa Clara is not quite San Francisco.
The NFL appears to be vacating the Bay Area. Given the wealth, football passion and pedigree in the region, that feels like sacrilege. The NFL needs to go back to Oakland.
What People Think About Oakland
"The influence that Oakland has on my sound is about 90 percent. There's so many different elements to Oakland. Of course, you have the street elements, but then you also have the culture, and there's so much culture around. It's a competitive city, it's full of just great artists and talent. It gave me the confidence, the passion, the realness I try my hardest to portray, so it has had about 90 percent influence on me." —Singer, songwriter, rapper Adrian Marcel
Bottom Line: San Diego
The NFL in San Diego has gone together like peanut butter and jelly, and even longtime NFL pundits can’t quite square up the fact the Chargers have moved up the road to Inglewood, California.
But San Diego belongs in the NFL. It’s one of the richest markets in the United States and the eighth-biggest city in the country.
One even could argue that California now is underrepresented in the league, with the Raiders' exit from Oakland. So although San Diego's stadium is old — as was the case with Cleveland — the city on the Pacific coast feels like a shoo-in to get an NFL team back at some point.
What People Think About San Diego
"People actually enjoy it when it rains in San Diego because we never get it. It’s a nice change of pace. When you live in Southern California, everybody says, 'It’s so expensive there.' I tell them, 'It’s just a very expensive weather tax.'" —Former MLB player Steve Finley
Bottom Line: St. Louis
St. Louis is a sports-mad town, and they are still bitter about Stan Kroenke’s decision to move the Rams to Los Angeles, which is going on three years now.
The city has watched the NFL come and leave twice in the past 30 years, though the second departure could not be based on any lack of fan support.
It’s a proud sports city, one that should have an NFL team for good.
What People Think About St. Louis
"I have no hesitation to say that St. Louis is a great place in which to live and work." —MLB Hall of Famer Stan Musial
Bottom Line: San Antonio
If California isn't underrepresented in terms of NFL teams, Texas is, and San Antonio is an obvious choice of where to go next. The city is starving for another pro sports team after supporting only the NBA’s Spurs since they joined the league in 1976.
The NFL has flirted with San Antonio before. The Saints played home games at the Alamodome in 2005, when they were forced to temporarily relocate due to Hurricane Katrina.
Plus, few realize that San Antonio is the No. 8 market in the U.S., and would bring more than 2.5 million people, including Austin, which is only 75 miles up the road.
What People Think About San Antonio
"I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and went to a big high school called Douglas McArthur where there was a lot of track and a lot of football. It was a bit like 'Friday Night Lights.' I used to spend a lot of time at the track." —Journalist Norah O'Donnell
Bottom Line: Austin
Some would argue that Austin already has a professional football team in the University of Texas.
But with more than 1 million people, and a zip code in football-mad state of Texas, the NFL could fit in the state capital.
The city is regularly ranked on the best places to live and cities of the future lists, and could present interesting new opportunities for the NFL to innovate.
What People Think About Austin
"I like it here in Austin. Anybody got a room?" —Rolling Stones guitarist and musician Keith Richards
Bottom Line: El Paso
If San Antonio is an unheralded market, so is the West Texas town of El Paso, which has only a Triple-A baseball team to its name.
Thanks to "Friday Night Lights," we know that West Texas loves high school football, but the region also has an appetite for the NFL. There’s not a pro sports team on the I-20 corridor between Glendale, Arizona, and Dallas, and El Paso quietly makes up the 22nd biggest market in the U.S.
In addition, Albuquerque, New Mexico, sits less than 300 miles away. That's more than 1 million people between the two.
What People Think About El Paso
"In a museum in El Paso, Texas, there's a map that shows all the places the border between the U.S. and Mexico has been (because it shifted). I find it very clarifying (not confusing) to be reminded that everything we feel like we've really pinned down is transient, arbitrary, and marks the site of a painful if not violent negotiation, one that may not have ended." —Poet Laura Mullen
Bottom Line: Omaha
Nebraska is football mad, too, and Omaha has seen an incredible population rise in the past decade, leaving the Nebraska city with Atlanta and Kansas City as population peers.
Omaha also sits in a veritable pro sports no-man’s land, essentially serving as the entrance to the northwestern wilderness.
Omaha has industry and sponsorship opportunities, which is key to get the NFL’s attention. Maybe the only thing standing in its way is a reasonable and moneymaking stadium.
What People Think About Omaha
"Going to Omaha for the College World Series — the people there are tremendous — huge crowds and a lot of excitement. I still remember those days. You make a lot of friends that you never forget when you win a championship like that." —Former MLB pitcher Roger Clemens
Bottom Line: Orlando
It feels like the NFL is flirting with an expansion to Orlando already, since the league started going there for its annual Pro Bowl.
Orlando checks a lot of boxes for the NFL, with a metro area of more than 2.3 million people, a pro-caliber stadium and its location in football-mad Florida.
Add in the NFL’s corporate tie with Disney, and the entertainment giant’s insane marketing ability, and you almost have to wonder why these two haven’t matched up yet.
What People Think About Orlando
"Being down in Orlando, Florida, where we filmed the movie, I learned how to bass fish. Jerry Reed, who plays the villain in the movie, taught me how to bass fish." —Actor Henry Winkler, who played Coach Klein in "The Waterboy"
Bottom Line: Memphis
It’s surprising that Memphis, Tenn., doesn’t get consideration for the NFL, given how few teams there are in the American southeast, outside of Florida.
Memphis is far enough from Nashville to be its own market, but close enough to create an in-state rivalry. It is flashy and exciting enough to put on its own show, as it does every year while hosting the Liberty Bowl college game.
Plus, Memphis is the 25th biggest U.S. market, right behind Nashville and ahead of NFL cities like Las Vegas, Baltimore, Kansas City and Atlanta.
Consider also that a Memphis market would include parts of Arkansas and Mississippi, states that do not have pro sports, and there would be a definite appetite.
What People Think About Memphis
"I sang in church growing up. Memphis is the blues capital of the world, we like to say." —Singer-songwriter Justin Timberlake
Bottom Line: Birmingham
Birmingham seems to be fertile ground for pro football, but not quite ready for the NFL. That may change if the league decides to expand. Birmingham had a World League of American Football team for two years, then was chosen as a flagship market in the startup Alliance of American Football League.
Birmingham is a small city, but one with robust football passion — as support for both the University of Alabama and Auburn University prove. If the state rallied around an NFL team, Birmingham would be a pretty fun market, and one that could serve as a regional rival to both the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
What People Think About Birmingham
"I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial 'outside agitator' idea." —Civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.
Bottom Line: Louisville
The Cincinnati Bengals pull many fans from Kentucky, but Louisville is 100 miles from Cincy and one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.
It is worthy of a major professional team. Louisville has more than 600,000 people in the city, and more than 1.2 million in its market.
The city draws over 150,000 people to the city for the Kentucky Derby every May. A football team could draw plenty of interest every Sunday.
What People Think About Louisville
"Only once in a thousand years or so do we get to hear a Mozart or see a Picasso or read a Shakespeare. [Muhammad] Ali was one of them, and yet at his heart, he was still a kid from Louisville who ran with the gods and walked with the crippled and smiled at the foolishness of it all." —Comedian, actor, producer and director Billy Crystal
Bottom Line: Portland
Like San Antonio, Portland, Oregon, is an NBA town that has flirted with other sports for years. It’s reasonable to see why.
Portland has robust wealth, smart and caffeine-fueled sports fans, and it is a city trying to distinguish itself from Seattle.
The MLS has found a way to capitalize on all that, so it makes sense that the NFL could as well.
What People Think About Portland
"There's something that I can't describe about the city [Portland] that I really love — just physically — how it feels to walk around there, and have coffee there. Also, the way that it's a little overcast sometimes. Something about Portland just really resonated with me." —Actor and comedian Fred Armisen
Bottom Line: Oklahoma City
The Cowboys might not allow such a maneuver, but Oklahoma is a football-mad state, and Oklahoma City already has delivered as an admirable home market for the NBA’s Thunder.
Between OKC and Tulsa, which is only about 100 miles away, you have two of the top 50 U.S. markets and more than a million people.
Imagine the possibilities.
What People Think About Oklahoma City
"Everybody. No matter how they feel about me, everybody on Oklahoma City, on that team, of course I watch them. I support them. I want them to do well." —NBA player Kevin Durant
State: New Mexico
Bottom Line: Albuquerque
New Mexico is one of the fastest-growing states, yet does not have a professional sports team to its name just yet.
The NFL would be wise to be first in New Mexico, specifically in Albuquerque, which has more than 550,000 people and has hosted a college-football bowl game since 2006.
Toss in state capital Santa Fe, which is about 60 miles north, and you have a market of more than 600,000, or roughly the size of Baltimore.
What People Think About Albuquerque
"I don't mean to in any way impugn the makers of Bentley, but that car is nuts. When I do drive, I drive a Toyota Prius. So driving around the streets of Albuquerque in a Bentley made me feel so fake-a-rooney." —Actress Jessica Hecht
Bottom Line: Hartford
Hartford is stuck between New York and Boston, and already lost a pro sports franchise with the NHL's Whalers.
But the Hartford-New Haven market is made up of roughly 2 million people and is a top-five U.S. market in terms of wealth.
Bristol, the headquarters of ESPN, is about 30 minutes away on I-84. It could make for some unique media opportunities.
What People Think About Hartford
"It has been reported that I was seriously ill—it was another man; dying — it was another man; dead — the other man again ... As far as I can see, nothing remains to be reported, except that I have become a foreigner. When you hear it, don't you believe it. And don't take the trouble to deny it. Merely just raise the American flag on our house in Hartford and let it talk." —Writer Mark Twain, in a letter to his friend Frank Bliss in 1897
Bottom Line: Richmond
Virginia has long been Washington Football Team country, but their stranglehold could be coming to a close.
The greater Richmond region has more than 1.2 million football-mad fans, who Daniel Snyder has turned off during his tenure as Washington owner.
Although Richmond has balked at building a new football stadium, it remains to be seen if the Virginia capital would consider doing so for an expansion team that wasn’t owned by the antagonistic Snyder.
What People Think About Richmond
"A beautiful city is Richmond, seated on the hills that overlook the James River. The dwellings have a pleasant appearance, often standing by themselves in the midst of gardens. In front of several, I saw large magnolias, their dark, glazed leaves glittering in the March sunshine." —William Cullen Bryant
Bottom Line: Sacramento
Don’t tell Sacramento it is the Bay Area, since the California capital is 80 miles geographically — and a substantial distance culturally — from Oakland, San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
Sacramento proper has about 500,000 people, but its metro area is the 27th-biggest place in the United States, pulling some 2.4 million people and growing.
Sacramento has supported the NBA’s Kings, even with the Golden State Warriors around, and would only have to fill its stadium for eight dates per season.
What People Think About Sacramento
"Herb Caen was born in Sacramento, California, a town that combined all the glamour of a farm fair with the dazzle of a state franchise board hearing." —Journalist David Talbot
Salt Lake City
Bottom Line: Salt Lake City
The Salt Lake/Provo region is among the richest in the United States, and they have been avid supporters of both BYU and Utah football.
The latter’s success resulted in a profile boost to the Pac-12 conference.
The NFL could capitalize on the city's wealth and relative lack of sporting options.
What People Think About Salt Lake City
"Just the other day the AP wire had a story about a man from Arkansas who entered some kind of contest and won a two-week vacation — all expenses paid — wherever he wanted to go. Any place in the world: Mongolia, Easter Island, the Turkish Riviera ... but his choice was Salt Lake City, and that's where he went." —Journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson, "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72"
Bottom Line: Mexico City
Like London, the NFL seems to have a fascination with Mexico City, and for good reason. Its population is about 9 million people, making it bigger than New York’s five boroughs. It is easy enough for United States travel, since it sits in the Central time zone, and is one of the few untapped markets in North America.
Now the altitude — Mexico City is more than 7,000 feet above sea level — is a concern, but it also could stand as a home-field advantage the way Denver has become.
Expect Mexico City to be on the short list of places the NFL considers next time it expands.
What People Think About Mexico City
"I'm never going to be able to leave Mexico, really. It would be foolish of me to do it. I would be wasting such a great opportunity that the accident of life, or destiny, gave me, which is to be Mexican. If we would make 'Lord of the Rings' analogies, I think Mexico City is Middle-earth. That's where the fight of humanity is." —Actor Gael Garcia Bernal
Bottom Line: Monterrey
Monterrey might make more sense than Mexico City, given its wealth and proximity to the United States. Monterrey is more than 500 miles closer to the U.S. border — it is closer to San Antonio and Houston than Mexico City — and is one of Mexico’s wealthiest metropolises.
If Mexico City were to fall through for some reason, Monterrey could stand to join. Or, like Europe, there could be a Mexican rivalry afoot.
What People Think About Monterrey
"I was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and I would go to school in Texas. I lived on the border, so I was very fortunate to grow up between two worlds and both cultures and both languages and traditions." —Theater actress Bianca Marroquin
Bottom Line: Honolulu
It could be a travel nightmare, but the NFL has gone to Hawaii already. The Pro Bowl was played annually in the Hawaii capital every season but one from 1979 to 2012. And there are certainly worse places to live and play football.
The demographics are in place as well. The island of Oahu has more than 950,000 people, and the island has some incredible wealth.
Would Aloha Stadium need some sprucing up? Absolutely, but a lot of the NFL’s boxes already are checked.
What People Think About Honolulu
"Honolulu is a melting pot." —Singer Bruno Mars