NFL teams have never been shy about moving around. The Rams began in Cleveland, moved to Los Angeles, uprooted for Saint Louis, and then ducked back to Los Angeles in favor of a stadium that will cost more than the GDP of 35 nations. The Cardinals played second fiddle in Chicago through their first four decades, moved to Missouri for a while, and now bounce around the Phoenix metropolitan area every so often.
Even entrenched teams have been subject to temporary rehoming. The Bills have played all of their 60 seasons in Buffalo, but they’ve also experimented with home games north of the border in Toronto. The Jaguars have been in Jacksonville since 1995, but are an annual fixture in the league’s International Series in London. New markets get tested every fall.
In the past 25 years, Baltimore, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Nashville, Los Angeles, and Houston all welcomed NFL franchises within city limits. So which cultural center will join them? A cross-Atlantic market in Great Britain? One of the world’s largest cities in Mexico? The current Canadian home of the reigning NBA champions? Wilmington, Delaware?
Here are our candidates.
Foisting American sports off on the Brits has been a proud tradition that dates back to 2007. After luring fans to a packed Wembley Stadium in the late 2000s with a lineup that included recent (and even current) Super Bowl winners like the Giants (‘07), Saints (‘08), and Patriots (‘09), the league then tested England’s limits by making the Jaguars an annual fixture overseas in 2013.
And it went pretty well! Only one of the 21 games to take place at Wembley drew fewer than 80,000 fans. All three of 2018’s games at the stadium eclipsed the 84,000 mark. Anything over a 78,000 average would give a London franchise the league’s second-highest attendance behind the Cowboys — though that’s a little misleading since most teams don’t have stadiums that can hit that 80k mark.
Of course, fatigue would set in as fans adjusted to either the growing pains of an expansion team or a franchise whose performance had dropped enough to make relocation passable. That’s a concern, but this is also a city that’s averaged 84,240 fans per game while watching the Jaguars go 3-3 in London. You can argue some of those fans were lured to the stadium due to the novelty of the game and high profile halftime shows, but Wembley nearly hit 86,000 for last year’s Philadelphia-Jacksonville game that had no halftime performance. And nearly 84,000 still came out for a 2016 game that featured Robin Thicke at the break, which feels like more of a punishment than anything.
Travel plans and finding a full-time stadium are major logistical concerns, but manageable ones. West coast teams would likely have to plan an east coast game the week before heading overseas to prevent the headache of a 10+ hour flight to the isles. Whatever team, new or requisitioned, would need to work out a timeshare on a soccer pitch before working out their own plans for a(n American) football-specific stadium. But between the NFL’s stated goal of expanding the game globally and the bundles of money that would come with a greater European presence would make those headaches worthwhile.
Otherwise, let’s throw a team in Anchorage, Alaska. Give the world an outdoor stadium that can wrest the “frozen tundra” moniker away from Green Bay. The largest city in America’s largest state (by area) only has 10,000 fewer residents than Pittsburgh or Cincinnati and is has a greater population than Buffalo or AAF standbys Orlando and Salt Lake City. The west coast needs more teams to balance out those 4pm EST kickoffs — why not get weird with it? — Christian D’Andrea
Take a cruise down the list of the largest cities in the United States and most of the top 20 or 30 consists of places that either:
A: Already have an NFL team, or
B: Are boxed out by a nearby franchise or two.
It’s hard to imagine California getting another team soon after taxpayers balked at the idea of paying for new stadiums in San Diego or Oakland. That eventually resulted in two teams relocating. It’s also going to be difficult for Texas to get a third team so long as Jerry Jones keeps pushing back on a team coming to take a slice of the Lonestar State pie.
If all that means places like San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose, Austin, Fort Worth, and El Paso are scratched from the list (which it might not, but let’s assume it does), that’d leave Portland as one of the biggest cities in the country without an NFL franchise.
Portland currently sits No. 25 in the United States in population — ahead of plenty of NFL cities, including Baltimore, Atlanta, Kansas City, Miami, and Minneapolis. It’s also the 22nd largest media market, according to Nielsen.
The only major professional sports teams in Portland right now are the NBA’s Trail Blazers, MLS’s Timbers, and the NWSL’s Thorns FC. All three are well supported by the city. The Trail Blazers and Timbers both consistently sell out their venues, and the Thorns FC dominate the rest of the NWSL in attendance.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a 60,000+ seat stadium would get filled too, but it’s a really good sign. It helps too that the earthquake-inducing fans of the Seattle Seahawks have shown the Pacific Northwest has a passionate bunch of sports supporters. Portland would probably should up in a big way for a football team they could call their own. — Adam Stites
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio isn’t the biggest market for an NFL team, but they’d be a nice spot for a new team.
Ron Nirenberg, the mayor of San Antonio, believes the city will have a team within 10 years. Here’s what Nirenberg had to say when asked about his 10-year timeline to host an NFL team:
“It’s a horizon. A fairly short horizon as it relates to the economic growth of the city. The economic growth of San Antonio and the success we are experiencing now is profound and it has been a concerted effort, a deliberate effort on my part and other city leaders to make sure that our profile in pro sports is rising.”
“Increasingly professional teams and leagues are looking to San Antonio as a place where they can find success and that’s very exciting for the San Antonio citizen in general who wants to see the economy of our city succeed, but its also great for San Antonio sports fans.”
Prior to settling down in the Oakland Coliseum for one last season, the Raiders were pondering a one year move to San Antonio prior to their relocation to Las Vegas. Nirenberg said that he wants San Antonio to remain “on the radar” in any relocation talks — permanent or temporary.
San Antonio has already showed that they can support a professional basketball team with the support they’ve shown the Spurs over the last 20 years. Admittedly, it’s easy to support a team that’s consistently good like the Spurs have been, but it does show that the potential fanbase is there for an NFL team.
San Antonio can also look at another team in their own state to rapidly build a fanbase in the Houston Texans. Houston joined the NFL in 2002 and has already cultivated a passionate group of fans — the Texans ranked 11th in attendance last season.
Football reigns supreme in Texas. Given the longtime success of the Cowboys and the recent success of the Texans, San Antonio should be confident they can sustain a professional team if they received one. — Charles McDonald
Memphis almost had an NFL franchise back in the 1990’s but could only watch as Carolina and Jacksonville were awarded expansion teams. The team was to be called the Memphis Hound Dogs, which sounds pretty cool. That franchise came to exist anyway in a bizarre 9-9 season playing in the Canadian Football League.
All that drama led to Memphis having a tense relationship with the NFL. But there is reason why they should (again) be a candidate for expansion.
For starters, they already have a stadium in the city. The Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium is already the home for the Memphis Tigers football team and hosted the Houston Oilers for a couple of games in 1997. For a team that’s new to a city, already having a place to call their own is huge. It’s one of the major hurdles for any city looking to woo a franchise — even if it’s only a temporary home while an NFL-quality stadium is built.
The AutoZone Liberty Bowl, which is hosted every year in Memphis, had the 11th highest attendance of all the bowl games last season and has averaged over 50,000 fans since 1998. The market for football is there in Memphis.
Memphis already has the Grizzlies (granted, they’ve had a recent attendance decline), but the city should be looked at if the NFL is hunting for a viable city. Plus who wouldn’t want to hear the Hound Dogs called out on their TV on Sundays? - Vijay Vemu
Mexico City, Mexico
The NFL wants to get international, but a team in London, eight hours ahead of the Pacific time zone, is a tall ask. In North America, they have some real options, including Mexico City. Not only is Mexico City closer to teams in Texas and Florida than those teams are to, say, California’s teams, but the potential market size is enormous.
Not only is the population huge, it would largely be comprised of extremely passionate fans. I’m not here to knock the fans of any American teams, but sports fans in Mexico bleed for the teams they support. I don’t know how well an NFL team will be embraced right out of the gate, but the market is large enough to support them.
Plus, if the team is actually good, the potential fanbase is even larger. They’ll immediately be some of the most passionate fans in the sport. Mexico City is also a very nice place, if you weren’t aware. You should go sometime.
It’s worth noting (well, it’s worth it to me, you probably don’t care, but you’re reading this anyway) that when I relocate a team in Madden, I always relocate to Mexico City, which the game gives top grades to in market size and fan dedication. I’m nearly 20 years into my Madden 19 franchise in Mexico City, and it would be rad if that team (mine are the Mexico City Diablos) became a reality. — James Brady
A Canadian City
As stated above, the NFL has been trying to go international for years. The NFL is the only one of America’s major sports leagues without a team in Canada. Even the MLS has three Canadian teams. It’s time to expand the NFL past the northern border.
Toronto would be the obvious choice here — especially with the recent success of the NBA champion Toronto Raptors — but they haven’t exactly shown dedication to American football. The Buffalo Bills’ played six regular season games in Toronto from 2008-13 and averaged a little more than 47,000 in attendance. The Toronto Argonauts also have one of the lowest average attendance in the Canadian Football League.
The city does seem dedicated to increasing the popularity of the CFL as a road to an NFL franchise, but have yet to be successful. Other major Canadian cities like Montreal or Edmonton could be just as successful or more so than Toronto, though
Edmonton’s stadium — Commonwealth Stadium — is the second largest in the country with a seating capacity of 55,819. The MLB’s Montreal Expos were successful and were supported by the city and fans for decades before their relocation.
Hockey is always going to come first in Canada, but the NFL should be able to capitalize on whatever success the CFL has and make a franchise all of Canada can root for. — Kennedi Landry
It’s nice! — Seth Rosenthal