Eight Cities That Would Be Perfect Spots for NFL Expansion
The National Football League has established itself as America's sport and one of the most popular leagues in the world. The reality is that one day, the NFL will get bigger too.
The NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002, and while the current format works just fine, the league's quest to dominate the ratings and rake in revenue will lead to further expansion.
"The conversations about possibly growing to 40 teams already are happening, at the highest levels of the league. It will take time to get there, but in time it will happen," Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk wrote last November.
The question is, where will new teams be established?
According to Dallas Cowboys franchise owner Jerry Jones, the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas should be off the list. When Dallas mayor Eric Johnson mentioned bringing another NFL franchise to Dallas on social media, Jones was quick to shoot down the idea.
"He doesn't have the knowledge that others have regarding how unique Dallas is and how we enjoy the interest in the Cowboys," Jones said this past week, per Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News. "He wouldn't want to water that down as it relates to Dallas if he knew as much, and has spent as much time in sports as I have."
While Jones' stance is certainly debatable—and could change when presented with the money-making potential of a stadium-sharing agreement—the league may not want to battle one of its most prolific owners. It likely wouldn't have to either, as there are several other cities already ripe for an NFL franchise.
Here, we'll examine eight cities that would be perfect for expansion, if and when the league does decide to grow. We'll dive into factors like population, infrastructure, existing major league markets and any other region-specific considerations that would make a site special for an NFL team.
Cities are listed in alphabetical order.
Texas loves football, which is why it's hard to believe that the Dallas area couldn't support a second NFL franchise. Regardless, the NFL can find other opportunities in the Lone Star State.
A team in the state's capital of Austin would make a ton of sense.
Austin is far enough away from both Dallas and Houston (more than 160 miles from either) that it shouldn't create a major home-market conflict. The city also has a thirst for football, as evidenced by the rabid University of Texas fanbase.
In fact, the Longhorns could help provide an early home for quick expansion—assuming some sort of agreement could be worked out between city and school. Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, which has a capacity of over 100,000, could easily host professional games while a stadium is under construction.
Austin could support an NFL franchise too. According to World Population Review, it is the 10th largest city in the United States. Despite its size, Austin is home to just one major-league team: Austin FC of Major League Soccer.
It's hard to imagine a football team not flourishing in Austin.
"Not saying it will happen, but wouldn't Austin be a lot cooler if it happened?" Mayor Steve Adler tweeted last month about the possibility of having an NFL franchise in his city.
Yes, mayor. Yes, it would.
If the NFL isn't willing to add a second team in the Dallas area, perhaps it could be persuaded to have a second one in Chicago. Yes, the city already has the Bears, but adding an AFC counterpart isn't at all unrealistic.
New York City and Los Angeles, the two cities bigger than Chicago, are both home to a pair of NFL franchises. The Windy City already supports two MLB teams—the Cubs and the White Sox—along with the NBA's Chicago Bulls, the NHL's Blackhawks, the WNBA's Sky, the MLS' Fire and the NSWL's Red Stars.
The financial challenge of building a new football stadium in Chicago—Soldier Field opened in 1924—could be overcome by adding a second franchise along with the Bears.
"If Bears build their own stadium (like Rams owner Stan Kroenke has done), adding another team to the mix and the extra 10 home games per year that go along with it, a team in a market that can't or won't pay for all or most of a new or renovated stadium could be inclined to make the move," Florio wrote last June.
Chicago is a tremendous sports city and one of the biggest markets in the country. The NFL should be eager to double-dip into that market if the opportunity presents itself.
Ohio is already home to the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals. Could this Midwestern state really support a third NFL franchise?
Evidence suggests that it could. Columbus, the state capital, is home to the Ohio State Buckeyes, which to some fans is already like a third professional team. It's a huge city and a massive market that already supports the Blue Jackets of the NHL and the Crew of the MLS.
Columbus is the 15th-largest city in the U.S. by population and bigger than either Cleveland or Cincinnati. It's also more populous than NFL cities like Indianapolis, Seattle, Denver, Boston and San Francisco.
Columbus is also a growing hub of the tech industry.
"We see Columbus as an awesome ecosystem with tons of great potential there," Break Trail Ventures managing partner Jay Hirsh told Christine Hall of TechCrunch. "New founders and large corporate dollars are providing momentum in the area, and we are setting how that matriculates to the upscaling of the workforce."
As an already large and growing city that happens to love football, Columbus would be perfect for a startup NFL franchise. The only real question is whether fans would have enough energy (and perhaps enough hangover remedies) to root for their Buckeyes on Saturdays and their home NFL team on Sundays.
If and when the NFL decides to fully go international, London is the most logical landing spot for an expansion franchise.
England's largest city has hosted NFL games annually since the 2007 season outside of the pandemic-impacted 2020 season. And with the exception of 2020, London has hosted multiple NFL games since 2013.
Late last year, the NFL announced that it would push further into the London market as part of the International Home Marketing Areas programme—a program the NFL views as an opportunity for clubs to expand their global brands.
"This initiative enables the NFL to more effectively pursue its long-term fan growth efforts by empowering our teams to develop meaningful relationships and touchpoints that not only grow the number of NFL fans abroad but also drive fan avidity," NFL executive vice president Christopher Halpin said, per Neil Reynolds of NFL.com.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers will be the first clubs allowed to expand into the UK market.
At some point, a permanent London NFL franchise may be inevitable. The question is whether the league can make things work logistically.
Incorporating an international franchise into the currently purely U.S.-based NFL wouldn't be easy. It would require multiple teams traveling abroad each season and likely a totally unique schedule—perhaps two four/five-game home stands in London, paired with month-long trips to the U.S.
The other question is whether English fans would abandon their current NFL fandoms to support a local franchise.
"I would absolutely support a London team, get season ticket, the works—but if they play the Patriots, I know who I'm backing," Andrew Gamble, founder of the British Playbook podcast, said, per Jack Bantock of CNN.
Still, if the NFL does found an international franchise—and doesn't want to compete with the CFL in Canada—London will almost certainly be the first choice.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma City is another somewhat small-market option for the NFL that has a lot to offer. It's the 24th-most populous city in the U.S. and is larger than NFL homes like Las Vegas, Detroit and Baltimore.
While Oklahoma City is far from the biggest city on our list, it could be one of the quickest to embrace pro football. The city's metropolitan center is less than 30 minutes from Norman, home of the Oklahoma Sooners.
The Sooners, for the record, are one of college football's marquee programs and regularly draw 70,000-plus fans to Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Oklahoma City is also roughly an hour from Stillwater, home of the Oklahoma State Cowboys. OSU's Boone Pickens Stadium has a capacity of around 60,000. Pulling football fans from both markets is far from unrealistic.
The city has also shown itself capable of supporting a major-league team, as Oklahoma City is home to the NBA's Thunder. It has been the franchise's home since the Seattle SuperSonics relocated in 2008.
Like Ohio and Texas, Oklahoma is a football state, yet it doesn't feature an NFL team. Putting a franchise in OKC would change that.
While Portland would make for a somewhat smaller NFL market—it's the 26th most populous U.S. city—it's by no means a small city. The largest city in Oregon has a larger population than current NFL cities like Detroit, Atlanta and Baltimore.
Portland is also already home to three professional franchises: The Trail Blazers of the NBA, the Timbers of MLS and the Thorns of the NWSL. There has also been a push to bring Major League Baseball to downtown Portland, though those dreams may be in vain.
"Four years after they gave us hats, jerseys and stadium renderings on the Terminal 2 site on the banks of the Willamette River, the MLB rug seems to again have been pulled from beneath the feet of myself and people like me who thought this might be the one," Wade Evanson of the Portland Tribune recently wrote.
If MLB won't come to Portland, why not the NFL?
There's a healthy appetite for football in the area, as both the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers play nearby. The state has no NFL team, though, at least not yet.
The area could support an NFL franchise, is hungry for more professional sports and would provide a great backdrop for big-time games. Imagine the shots of the downtown skyline and sprawling Pacific Northwest vistas set to the theme of Sunday Night Football.
Many in the league office can likely see it, and if the NFL does see an aggressive expansion, fans may one day see it too.
San Antonio, Texas
As we've already mentioned, the NFL can find multiple expansion opportunities in Texas. If it's not a second franchise in Dallas or a team in Austin, the league could quickly find a new home in San Antonio.
It's not a new idea. Back in 2014, city leaders met with the then-Oakland Raiders to discuss the possibility of moving the franchise to South Texas. The Raiders opted for Las Vegas, but San Antonio should remain firmly on the NFL's radar.
San Antonio is the sixth-largest city in the United States and the most populous city in the country that doesn't currently have an NFL franchise.
In fact, there is only one major-league team in San Antonio: the NBA's Spurs. The only other pro team is the San Antonio FC of the United Soccer League. This seems like a big missed opportunity, considering San Antonio boasts nearly 1.6 million residents.
With the city less than 80 miles from Austin, the NFL would likely have to choose between the two cities for expansion. There are reasons to give an edge to San Antonio, though, including its large market and increased distance from Houston and Dallas (more than 195 miles from either city).
And if you've ever seen those gorgeous shots of the San Antonio River Walk during the break of a Spurs game, well, those shots would look pretty great on Monday Night Football too.
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is no stranger to football. The Rams resided here between 1995 and 2015 after moving from and later back to Los Angeles.
The Rams and franchise owner Stan Kroenke bolted back to California to build a privately-owned stadium, though the city of St. Louis was far from happy about it. Last year, the NFL and Kroenke reached a $790 million settlement with a St. Louis interests group over the relocation.
According to ESPN, the settlement "does not include a promise from the NFL to grant St. Louis an expansion franchise in the future."
Yet a return to St. Louis would make perfect sense for the league. St. Louis might only be the 72nd-largest city in the U.S., but it successfully supports two major league franchises: the NHL's Blues and the MLB's Cardinals. Meanwhile, St. Louis City S.C. of MLS is expected to play its inaugural season in 2023.
There's also a lingering hunger for football in St. Louis, as evidenced by the city's brief but passionate embrace of the XFL's BattleHawks.
During the XFL's pandemic-shortened relaunch in 2020, the Battlehawks repeatedly drew more than 25,000 fans, according to ProFootballTalk. That's huge for a startup spring league and clear evidence that residents are ready for the return of pro football.
St. Louis interests proposed a new $1 billion stadium for the Rams before their relocation, and it's not hard to believe that they'd be ready to make another proposal for a new NFL franchise. The league should have St. Louis on its short list of expansion options.