The NFL announced it would extend their season to 17 games per team this coming 2021 season. Season extension is the first step in NFL expansion since 2002, when the league went to 32 teams by adding the Houston Texans. The NFL adds approximately two teams every 15 years, and since the last franchise was added to the NFL in 2002, that would put the NFL 2021 past due on adding any expansion teams by 19 years. By the time the NFL gets its act together, it can only be as early as 2025 before an expansion team could start playing games in the NFL.
The NFL added the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars during the 1993 expansion process. It took those two organizations two years to create everything needed to get a franchise up and running. Had they not already had most of the infrastructure in place, they wouldn't have gotten an expansion team in the first place. So let's play a little game, shall we? Let's play who gets the franchise!
Cities like London, Toronto, and Mexico City will not be considered due to logistical issues, business conflicts, and safety issues. It is not a fan support issue. Based on over 30 years of watching the NFL and its business practices, this is my opinion.
The criteria for consideration is that the city in question has to be NFL-ready or in the process of becoming prepared to host a team in the next five years.
So, let's begin!
1. St. Louis
You knew this was coming.
I know I'm biased, but St. Louis deserves this spot, period.
St. Louis has already hosted two different NFL franchises with decent success regardless of the narrative that the Rams and the NFL put out that the fans didn't show up to games, which is just flat-out not true. With a metro area of nearly 3 million, not counting the surrounding market, it's a slam dunk that the fanbase is there to support a team. The city still has the existing Dome in downtown STL, and it is not as awful as the Rams and the NFL made it out to be. With a few million dollars in improvements, there is no reason that a team cannot play in the former ED Jones Dome, at least for the next few years, until a new facility can be built.
All their struggles to keep a franchise in the Gateway City are of no fault to the fans. After two horrible carpet-bagging owners in Bill Bidwill and Enos Stanley, Kroenke was more interested in lining their pockets and getting taxpayer-funded stadiums than trying to compete with a winning product on the field. The shining example of the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Blues organizations led by Bill DeWitt II and Tom Stillman has shown what it is to be a franchise owner in St. Louis, a steward, if you will.
The fans of St. Louis will not tolerate a lame attempt to appease their vanity for the sake of having a franchise. Look to the XFL's short stint in the Gateway City as an example of engaging a fanbase and getting them to support your product. The St. Louis BattleHawks outsold every team in the XFL in merchandise by far. The fans out-attended the games by double of any other team. Before the XFL canceled the season, the game was to bring nearly 50,000 fans into the Dome for an XFL game.
There is no denying that St. Louis fans love football. The question is, what will the lawsuit against the Rams and the other 31 teams in the NFL do for the city regarding a potential franchise? On October 25th, 2021, St. Louis shall see the NFL in court if it's not settled for a team by that point.
2. San Diego
Speaking of another city that was scorned by the NFL, coming in at number 2 in San Diego. Another tale of the fans supporting a team for decades, even with a primarily average or subpar product, only to get hosed when it came to the big-money relocation saga of Los Angeles. The Chargers had called San Diego home for 56 years before they bounced to LA's giant money pastures, leaving a dedicated fanbase behind. The Chargers happily experienced fan attendance numbers of nearly 60,000 per year until their last year in SD, where it was shown that the team had little to no interest in staying in the market.
San Diego is constricted by the same issues as other California teams, whereas teams in the state NEVER receive public funds for their stadiums. The State is continually broke, and to be completely honest, the amount of revenue these teams make in the southern California TV market alone should suffice. Yet, we all know that the NFL isn't just about making money. They want to make obscene money.
3.5 million people reside in the city metro, so it has the fanbase to support another team or a Chargers' return (just without Dean Spanos) to the market because we all know that the Chargers aren't going over well in LA LA Land.
San Diego has proven without a doubt that it can and has supported an NFL franchise for more than 50 years, so allowing them to have another franchise is a no-brainer. Let's not forget that San Diego is a southern California market sought after by the NFL for TV revenue. So the NFL has a sight set on San Diego for sure.
It's funny that my top 3 cities on this list are cities that have lost their teams, but let's be clear: but let's be clear, the NFL didn't want the Raiders to move from Oakland (Until Uncle Jerruh brokered the Vegas deal) or the Chargers to move from San Diego. The additional 100 million promised to those two markets if they could rally a viable plan to keep their teams was universally denied to St. Louis. Shall I add the memo? I shall!
As it has been so affectionately called over the years, the Black Hole has some of, if not the most rabid fanbase in the sport. The fans deserved better than what they got. They supported a lot of bad football over the years, and they were rewarded by their team moving. Oakland would be better suited for expansion rather than relocation.
There is no reason that Oakland shouldn't have a team. The only issue is that the financially strapped city will have to find a wealthy donor to bring football into the market. They need someone with deep pockets, not the penny pinchers that they've had in the past.
4. Salt Lake City
Salt Lake has carved out an excellent spot for itself here on this list. It has a good-sized TV market, Nice population growth, and a good location for a team. It just ticks all the boxes for an expansion or relocation city. Whereas Portland or San Antonio infringe on other markets. (Seattle, Dallas, Houston) The Chargers could be a great fit in this market.
The now-defunct AAF had a team there with decent support, and I could only imagine what type of excitement an NFL would bring to the market that is practically landlocked from other markets. A team would be on an island in Salt Lake, which could present some problems. NFL teams tend to bleed off into other nearby markets, whereas Salt Lake doesn't have one. It could be a stretch, but, I'll put them here.
5. San Antonio
San Antonio has been robbed of a potential franchise on several occasions. Most recently, the Raiders were looking to relocate to the region. Mark Davis, the Raiders owner, was courting the city until Jerry Jones stepped in to put the kibosh on the relocation plans. Along with the late Bob McNnair, owner of the Texans, Jones didn't want Davis double-dipping in their market. Jones stepped in and brokered the deal that sent the Raiders to Las Vegas instead. San Antonio has Jerry Jones to thank for that.
The market is more than capable of supporting a franchise, but as I stated earlier, Jones and the McNair estate will have to give the ok, and with Jones being the fault-o-defacto commissioner of the league, I find it hard to see how it happens.
Here's to hoping.