The short answer is YES. Someday, we may even see more expansion as the league goes international. The latest considerations regarding expansion have emerged since the collective bargaining agreement is pushing a 17 game season, and two more spots in the playoffs. Doing the latter cheapens the regular season, unless you have more teams.
Here's my thoughts on what cities should get teams, and why:
AFC WEST: Sacramento, California (Perfect for a rivalry with the Raiders)
AFC EAST: Norfolk, Virginia (A natural fit with the Bills, Patriots, and Jets)
AFC NORTH: Omaha, Nebraska (a natural fit to compete against the Ohio teams)
AFC SOUTH: Orlando, Florida (Gives Jacksonville a cross-state rival in a division where
the other teams in the division are scattered northward)
NFC WEST: Portland, Oregon (Puts them in same division with Seattle, creating a Pacific
NFC EAST: St. Louis, Missouri (the same division the Cardinals were in back when the
Cards were in St. Louis)
NFC NORTH: Memphis, Tennessee (just south of all those Great Lakes teams)
NFC SOUTH: San Antonio, Texas (Originally I thought that the AFC WEST seemed
appropriate since the Raiders had toyed with moving to San Antonio. Then, I got to
thinking, not only would being in the same division with New Orleans make more sense, since the Saints had called San Antonio home for three games in 2005, but the west needs room for other teams that truly are in the west).
In order of priority…
St. Louis, Missouri. The “Gateway to the West” has a rich history with the NFL. Three years after the founding of the NFL the St. Louis All-Stars began as an NFL franchise in 1923. They lasted one year, and only had one win. The St. Louis Gunners lasted as an NFL team a little longer, from 1931 to 1934. The Cardinals, which began way back in 1898, relocated from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960. The team belonged to St. Louis for nearly thirty years, until they decided to move to the Phoenix metropolitan area in 1988. In the early 1990s the NFL considered putting an expansion team in St. Louis, and the proposed name was the St. Louis Stallions. The city lost to Charlotte and Jacksonville. The Patriots were set to move to St. Louis at the end of the 1993 season, but Robert Kraft stood in the way, initiating a hostile takeover taking the team away from the Busch Family who had bought the team in 1992. The Rams in 1995 moved to St. Louis from Los Angeles, then the “Greatest Show on Turf” proceeded to win the Super Bowl in 1999. The team remained in St. Louis through 2016, moving back to Los Angeles, and leaving the city teamless once again. When Cleveland and Baltimore lost their teams, the NFL was quick to make sure the league expanded back into those cities, and when Los Angeles was without teams, the league worked tirelessly to make sure the second largest media market got its team back. The St. Louis area is listed as America’s 23rd largest television market. It is the 20th largest metropolitan area. It just makes sense that the NFL makes returning to St. Louis a priority.
San Antonio, Texas. The city is no stranger to professional sports. The San Antonio Spurs of the NBA have been there since 1973, and the city has supported that team just fine. On April 15, 2014 there was a soccer match at the Alamodome between the United States and Mexico that sold a record 65,000 tickets. With the city being close to the Mexican border, it is no surprise that there were plenty of fans for both sides. Even more interesting is that the sell-out of the tickets for the game sold out over two months before the match. This wasn't the first time fans came out in droves to San Antonio for a soccer match. The attendance record the U.S. versus Mexico match beat was set only a few months before, January 2014, which sold 54,313 tickets for a game between Mexico and South Korea.
San Antonio boasts its own professional soccer team as well. San Antonio FC is a professional soccer team that competes in the USL Championship, the second-highest level of the United States soccer league system, as a member of the Western Conference. The team was awarded the thirty-first USL franchise on January 7, 2016.
The city also has minor league hockey, and baseball, along with a semi-pro rugby team. Minor league baseball, in fact, has a history that goes all the way back to 1884.
The real kicker, however, is San Antonio's extensive football history. Continental Football League (CFL) /Texas Football League (TFL)/Trans-American Football League (TAFL) San Antonio Toros 1967-1971; World Football League (WFL) San Antonio Wings 1975; American Football Association (AFA) San Antonio Charros 1977-1981; United States Football League (USFL) San Antonio Gunslingers 1984–1985, World League of American Football (WLAF) San Antonio Riders 1991-1992; Canadian Football League (CFL) San Antonio Texans 1995; Spring Football League (SFL) San Antonio Matadors 2000; National Football League (NFL) New Orleans Saints 2005 (Saints played three games at the Alamodome in 2005 due to the damage of the Louisiana Superdome as a result of Hurricane Katrina/the Saints played all of their games on the road that year, with their home games split between San Antonio and Tiger Stadium, home of LSU, in Louisiana, where they played four games); Alliance of American Football (AAF) San Antonio Commanders 2019. Their indoor football teams with the Arena Football League (AFL) were the San Antonio Force 1992; San Antonio Talons 2011-2014; and with the National Indoor Football League (NIFL), San Antonio Steers 2007.
In each case San Antonio hosted a professional football team, the attendance was good. The Alamodome has 64,000 seats, built in 1993 with the hopes of attracting a professional football team. The Spurs even played there, needing a larger venue, for a decade, before receiving the AT&T Center. The Alamodome was designed to be easily converted into a venue for other sports (such as basketball or hockey). It is also currently the home of the University of Texas at San Antonio football team, and the Alamo Bowl (annual college football bowl game). The stadium has hosted six NFL pre-season games, and the Saints games in 2005 drew crowds worthy of the NFL; October 2, 2005 – Buffalo Bills (7) vs. New Orleans Saints (19) – Attendance: 58,688; October 16, 2005 – Atlanta Falcons (34) vs. New Orleans Saints (31) – Attendance: 65,562; December 24, 2005 – Detroit Lions (13) vs. New Orleans Saints (12) – Attendance: 63,747.
A very large market, Austin, being in the area, and being considered as a potential location for a new team, also helps. San Antonio and Austin together could easily support an NFL team.
Orlando, Florida. The largest city without an NFL team (aside from San Diego and St. Louis), and the second largest TV market in the U.S. without an NFL franchise. Like Las Vegas, who recently welcomed the Raiders, Orlando is one of the tourism hotbeds in the country. Maybe Disney might even think about buying the team, which would create for them an endless cross-promotional opportunity. The main challenge would be trying to share the Sunshine State with Miami, Tampa Bay, and Jacksonville. I think in Florida, it would work.
Memphis, Tennessee. When the USFL folded after 1985, so did the very popular Memphis Showboats which had joined the league as an expansion team in 1984. Memphis has been trying to attract the NFL ever since. Yes, the State of Tennessee already has the Titans, but Memphis would fill a void for the western side of the State, Arkansas, and Mississippi, and other surrounding areas, who are yearning for a team of their own to root for. Sure, breaking into SEC territory has always seemed to be a challenge for the NFL. And, truth be told, Memphis has twice been in the running for a team. In 1974 Memphis was one of five finalists for a team, but the new expansion teams went to Seattle and Tampa Bay. In 1993 the city was again among the finalists, but Charlotte and Jacksonville beat the city out. They have a stadium already … the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium … a more than 50,000 seat stadium that fills up with no difficulty each year for the annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
Sacramento, California. The Raiders have departed from the Bay Area for Las Vegas, leaving the San Francisco 49ers as the lone Northern California team in the NFL. Oakland Raiders fans are likely to cling to their Silver and Black, even though they are now in a different State, but wouldn’t it make sense to give them an alternative team to root for, too? Sacramento is actually slightly larger, when it comes to population, than Oakland, with a comparable metropolitan area. The city once hosted a team in the Canadian Football League, the World League of American Football, and the Arena Football League, and in all cases the attendance wasn’t horrible. The NBA’s Sacramento Kings have done well in the Golden State’s capital city, as well. That said, if Sacramento wouldn’t work, perhaps San Jose would. San Jose is closer to the Bay Area, it has a larger population than both Oakland and Sacramento, and it has a more vibrant economy. However, its location would suggest the NFL team was trying to rival or steal from the 49ers, while Sacramento would be simply filling a void created by the departed Raiders east of the Bay Area.
Portland, Oregon. There is a lot of real estate between Seattle and California’s Bay Area. Oregon is football enthusiastic, as revealed by the fan base of the Pac 12 football teams, and the television ratings for Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, and Denver games in the area. Portland is also one of the largest cities in the country without professional football, currently sitting number 25 in the United States in population, which is larger than quite a few NFL cities already (including Baltimore, Atlanta, Kansas City, Miami, and Minneapolis). It’s also the 22nd largest media market, according to Nielsen. The NBA has had the Trail Blazers in Portland for quite a while, and they support the team no problem, along with the MLS’s Timbers, and the NWSL’s Thorns FC as well. In fact, the Trail Blazers and Timbers both consistently sell out their venues, and the Thorns FC dominate the rest of the NWSL in attendance.
Granted, NFL stadiums are expected to fill up with more than 60,000 fans, and Portland hasn’t been tested, per se, in that. They had an Arena Football League team for three years, drawing a little under ten thousand per game, but the team got into trouble due to a mismanagement of funds. That said, the area has a lot of people, and you would get the whole State behind the team because Oregonians are proud to say that they are not Californians or a part of the State of Washington. Shouldn’t they have a football team of their own as a result?
Virginia Beach/Norfolk, Virginia. With a metropolitan area larger than four cities that currently host NFL Teams, the area between the larger metropolitan northeast cluster, and the Carolinas, deserves a team. With the rich naval history, I could see the team going by the name the Norfolk Commodores, or the Norfolk Dreadnaughts. Plus, the city is close enough to the Washington D.C./New York/Baltimore/Philadelphia mess of cities that creating a rivalry with each of them would be easy-peazy.
Omaha, Nebraska. Surprised? At first, I struggled with this choice. Population-wise, and considering the size of the television market, there is a whole host of other cities that may better fit in as a new NFL franchise. Omaha would be the only city with a population of less than a million (metropolitan area currently listed as having 942,198) people (aside from maybe Green Bay, but Green Bay is a suburb of Milwaukee), and it is the 71st largest television market (Green Bay is the 67th largest television market, and then next up the ladder is Buffalo, New York at 52, and New Orleans at 50). So, why Omaha? Cities like Louisville and Columbus, who would be a better choice when it comes to the main factors one might consider when it comes to NFL expansion lose out because of location. Their location sits right in the middle of zones that other NFL teams have already claimed. Omaha, however, sits outside those zones, yet in an area that craves football in ways that only Texas would not be jealous of. Between the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Iowa Hawkeyes, football is a big deal in Omaha’s region. Omaha sits right next to the stateline between Nebraska and Iowa, making sure both of those States would give the new team their full loyalty. In the UFL the Omaha Nighthawks was the most successful franchise in that now defunct football league, actually selling out games. The TV market may be small, but I think the ability to fill the stadium, and merchandise sales, will make up for it. Besides, the area is a growing area. How long before they fit other parts of the needs list? That said, the largest obstacle would be a stadium. Omaha doesn’t have one, and the cost may be prohibitive for Omaha.
London, England. Most lists of possible NFL expansion teams, or places for an NFL team to move, begins with London. The British loves American Football, the NFL always does well when games are played in London. Even the mention of the Chargers moving to London had NFL fans and sportswriters buzzing until the owner of the Chargers shot it down with an anger-filled, profanity-laden response. However, economically (the Pound is weaker than the Dollar), and the massive time on a plane for other games across the pond, would make such a location for the NFL challenging. That said, the World League of American Football did quite well in Europe for a period, and the NFL even used the league for a while as a developmental league. American Football is extremely popular in Germany, and I am betting there are more cities in other countries who would like to join the NFL too, sometime soon. I mean, if they don’t become Islamic havens, first. So, instead of sticking a lone team out in London, create a division, or even a conference, in Europe. Maybe start with four teams, or so, and since the NFL is talking about expanding the playoffs to two additional teams, let one of those wildcard slots belong to the winner of the European Conference/Division. Eventually, if it’s a success, two things happens. More cities join, and the talent pool becomes richer because now a whole new continent will begin preparing their young men for a career in professional football.
Riverside/Ontario/San Bernardino, California. The Inland Empire metropolitan area is more populated than a number of areas currently successfully hosting an NFL franchise. Within driving distance of this region are fans eager for football, such as the Temecula Valley (Sister cities Temecula and Murrieta alone boasts over a quarter million people), the desert communities near Palm Springs, Orange County, and San Diego. But, the area doesn’t need a new expansion team, because a team struggling in the L.A. market is already nearby. The Chargers are trying to exist in a land filled overwhelmingly with Rams fans and Raiders fans. The Chargers never built a large fan base in San Diego because of the military nature of that city. The residents are largely transient fans, who were going to Chargers games to see their own team play. It was like the Bolts were in a hostile environment every game of the year. But, if the Chargers changed their name to something that would fit the Inland Empire, and move to that region, I believe the surrounding area would embrace them, and support them. They wouldn’t be the hated Chargers anymore for the Inland Empire football fans who despised the old San Diego franchise, but the Chargers fans in the area, and down in San Diego, would be glad to continue to follow their old team knowing they used to be the Chargers. Win-Win. Otherwise, I don’t see the Bolts surviving in Los Angeles. It’s worse than the whole L.A. Clippers thing all over again. The only way the Chargers can get a bigger fan base than Southern California’s Inland Empire would be if they moved to London, England, and owner Dean Spanos has already said that is off the menu.
Mexico City or Monterrey, Mexico. I actually believe that either of these cities, or both, will have NFL franchises, someday. Not now, however, not in the near future. Our southern neighbors, like Europe, may eventually be a part of an International Conference in the league. I could see four divisions, just like with the NFC and the AFC. It would play havoc on the playoff system, but I could realistically see an International Conference with a Mexican Division, Canadian Division, a European Division, and Mediterranean Division (which may include a couple Israeli teams, and perhaps Cairo and Istanbul). But that may be decades in the future, if it ever materializes at all. Or, Mexico City might just join the AFC West someday, or convince Dallas to join a division more agreeable to it geographically so that America’s Team can directly challenge Mexico’s Team.
Toronto or Montreal, Canada. We share a hockey league with Canada. Three Major League Soccer teams are in the Great White North. There’s an NBA team (Toronto Raptors) and a Major League Baseball team (Toronto Blue Jays) in Canada. Why not the NFL? The Buffalo Bills played six regular games in Toronto from 2008 to 2013, averaging close to 50,000 with each game. That said, part of the problem is when it comes to Toronto, its CFL franchise, the Toronto Argonauts, tends to have among the lowest average attendance in the league. The other reason is a lesson learned from the Expos. Yes, like the Blue Jays, the Expos did fine for a long time. But, eventually, they moved to Washington D.C. to become the Nationals. Why? It’s hard to survive in a league with a foundation in the United States with a national economy that is not as dynamic as America’s. That said, I think eventually Canada will break into the NFL, but like Mexico, I believe it will be much later, rather than sooner.
Louisville, Kentucky. The city is large enough. The city has investors who have voiced an interest in a team. The city has indicated it is willing to build a stadium for a team. So, why not? The problem is location, location, location. While a couple years ago Hunden Strategic Partners, a real estate development consulting firm, named Louisville one of the country’s top markets ready for a pro sports team, coming in second behind Austin, Texas, the problem is that the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, and Tennessee Titans already have the area covered. The television market would only draw the local viewers, and all three nearby franchise owners would probably object loudly to a team arriving in the State of Kentucky. That said, if push comes to shove, I am thinking like most rural States, the whole State of Kentucky would get behind having their own team. One wonders, but poor Louisville is one of those cities right on the edge of the line between having a team, and not having a team, and they are slightly on the wrong side.
Columbus, Ohio. Like Louisville, the problem is location. In the case of Columbus, it’s right between Cincinnati and Cleveland. Interestingly, Columbus is the largest city in Ohio, with a more vibrant metropolitan area and economy. I think a team would be fine there, but I don’t think the league would ever put a team in Columbus due to its location. Perhaps the XFL will consider a franchise there in the future … if the league survives.
Oakland, California. The Raiders left for a reason. The city is economically a failure, and they could not, or would not, build a new stadium for their NFL franchise. It was a longtime problem, as well. The Raiders are now in Las Vegas, and for a while went to Los Angeles. That said, if the surrounding communities were to work together, an NFL return to Oakland may be in the future … but, don’t hold your breath on that one.
San Diego, California. The Chargers did okay in San Diego, but the problem is the military town has a transient population that really never produced a large fan base for the Chargers like one would hope. The city is large. The metropolitan area is vibrant. It may have simply been the ownership of the Chargers that doomed them in the city on the southwest corner of the continuous 48. Perhaps a new team may ignite the interest the Chargers just could not quite pull together. Perhaps.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The city welcomed the NBA with open arms, and like Texas, the State of Oklahoma is crazy about football. The problem is that Oklahoma is too close to Texas and Kansas City, and has a metropolitan area population only larger than Buffalo and New Orleans when it comes to a fan base. They also don’t exactly have a massive television market, ranking 41st, just behind Las Vegas, and ahead of only Jacksonville (who is constantly considering moving), New Orleans, Buffalo, and the only small city capable of handling an NFL franchise, Green Bay. That said, as populations change in the country, someday in the future the State of Oklahoma may finally get a football team of their own.
Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham has the same problem that a number of cities has. While the city seems big enough, there is not a large enough surrounding metropolitan area to help out with supporting an NFL team. Don’t get me wrong, Birmingham did fine with the USFL in the eighties, but the reality is a pro-team may never be able to hold a candle to the Alabama Crimson Tide or the Auburn Tigers enough to truly take solid enough root. Chances for Birmingham to get a team is likely low, but they have been close to consideration in the past.
Salt Lake City, Utah. The whole State of Utah stands firmly behind their NBA team, the Utah Jazz, and there is no worry about a team in Salt Lake City interfering with any other NFL team’s zone of influence. Salt Lake City is ranked in the top ten as among the fastest growing cities in the country, has the 31st largest television market, and the State has proven that they love football with their support of BYU and the Utah Utes. The only tough obstacle? Convincing the heavily Mormon population that it’s okay to turn out for a team on Sundays. That’s why the city is so low on my list of honorable mentions. Yes, I think all arrows point in the right direction, but when it comes to that Sunday thing, I am not sure it will work.
Providence, Rhode Island. 38th largest metropolitan area. The area has a television market larger than Green Bay’s. And, a team in Providence could be a team other than the Patriots for New Englanders outside Massachusetts to root for. So, why not? Do you really think the Kraft family would allow another team to exist in New England? I don’t.
Chicago, Illinois. New York has two teams. Los Angeles has two teams. Chicago has two baseball teams. Why not a second NFL team? I think it would work, but I don’t think Da Bears would approve.
Anaheim, California. The Rams used to play at Angels Stadium. The area could easily support a team, but there’s no room to build a new NFL stadium. The problem is that Los Angeles already has two teams, and as the Angels have done, the team would probably call themselves the Los Angeles somethings in order to associate themselves with the nearby major city… and three L.A. teams are just too much. I’d rather see a team on the other side of the hills in the Inland Empire catering to the local area, Orange County, the desert communities, and San Diego County. How about the Temecula Gamblers? Murrieta Gems? Ontario Hammers? Riverside Squadron, or Pilots (due to the long-time Air Force presence at March Air Base). As I said with my Riverside idea, rather than an expansion team, maybe Orange County, or the Inland Empire, simply needs the Chargers to move into their area, and then lose the old name that makes people think they are still in San Diego.