In 1859 a man by the name of Walter Camp was born in New Britain, Connecticut. Obviously no one knew at the time, but Camp's birth triggered a life that would arguably have more influence than any other on the future of American sport. In fact his influence spread globally.
During the mid to late 1800s, football in America resembled something much more like soccer or rugby, depending on whereabouts and with whom you were playing. Not overly fond of the laws of these games, Camp proposed radical changes such as a line of scrimmage, and the need to snap the ball from a center to a quarterback to start each play. He also suggested the attacking team should operate via a series of four downs. Similar rules would later be adapted by rugby league players back in England, and in Australia. The play the ball in rugby league, for example, is based on the snap in American football, while the four tackle limit took inspiration from the four downs system.
Camp's tinkering created the foundations of a new sport, which came to be American football. Today it's easily the largest and most watched sport in the United States. The NFL provides the professional version of the game, with 32 franchises across the country competing each year for a right to play in the Super Bowl. But America is a big place, and numerous cities are forced to cheer for teams outside of their residential postcodes.
Over the years the NFL has expanded its product throughout the country creating more annual turnover, greater attendances, and the discovery of previously unknown star players. They've even expanded internationally, as several games have been played in Toronto and now multiple games a year take place in London. There is scope however to take this growth even further. Here are 15 cities that would love their own NFL franchise.
15. Louisville, Kentucky
Kentucky is still waiting for its first major sports team, and this could be a prime opportunity for the NFL. The city's population is still growing steadily, and there's a potential rivalry with Cincinnati just 100 miles up the road waiting to kick a Louisville franchise into national prominence. Since 1875 the city has superbly hosted the Kentucky Derby, also dubbed 'the most exciting two minutes in sport'. Give them an NFL team and let's see what they can do with it.
14. Little Rock, Arkansas
Arkansas has a rich history of college football. In 1964 the Arkansas Razorbacks were the only team to go through a regular season and a bowl game undefeated. Five years later they were beaten 15-14 by the Texas Longhorns in what's since been dubbed the Game of the Century. They've always had huge home support, and the state has long craved an NFL team.
While the Razorbacks predominantly play their home games in Fayetteville, they do have two games at the War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock each season and this would be the better base for an NFL team given its the bigger of the two cities. The coolest things about home games in Little Rock would be the tailgating on the adjacent golf course which can attract upwards of 80,000 people. Sounds like great fun.
13. Honolulu, HI
They do a pretty good job every year of hosting a Pro Bowl, which is just one big holiday anyway. The NFL could easily get serious, put the Pro Bowl venue on a rotation like the Super Bowl, play eight games a season out of the Aloha Stadium instead and run a franchise straight from the pristine shores of Hawaii. Wouldn't that be a great away day?
The team could potentially be built around a core of local players too. Dozens of Hawaiian natives have played in the NFL over the years, while the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football program has produced several glitterati including Super Bowl winners Jason Elam, Maa Tanuvasa and Adrian Klemm among others. It could well prove a springboard for expanding the game throughout the Pacific.
12. San Juan, PR
Speaking of expansion, there's a huge untapped market just south of the U.S. border. An NFL franchise run out of San Juan in Puerto Rico might just be the answer to spreading the game through Central America. Puerto Rico is a United States territory so the NFL could easily look here.
It would take a team of good salesmen. San Juan like most of Central America is much more interested in baseball and soccer than football, and overcoming this hurdle would be crucial in making a San Juan football team successful. But it's definitely a market worth tackling. The NFL could start by outsourcing a game or two each year to San Juan's Puerto Rico FC's stadium which holds 22,000 people. From there investment would be needed to expand the stadium to NFL standard, or build a new one from scratch, the process of which should generate further excitement throughout the city. It's a pretty wild idea but one which could have huge future benefits.
11. Birmingham, AL
A study last year by American City Business Journals found Birmingham was 'underextended' when it came to professional sports teams and more importantly, that it had sufficient financial capacity to support an NFL team. The study was based on total personal income in the city, and matched against revenue data and ticket prices from other NFL teams to see if the economy was big enough.
The numbers were favorable, so how would it work in practice? Well football is huge in Alabama. The state's famous Crimson Tide football team claims 15 national titles, the most across America in the history of college football. Just imagine what they could do if given time to build an NFL franchise.
While Tuscaloosa will always belong to the Tide, there's enough room in the state for an NFL team and Birmingham would make a good city for it.
10. Las Vegas, NV
Sin City has been thrown around as a major sports destination for years without anything concrete ever materializing. Former Mayor Oscar Goodman made it his mission to bring a team to the desert, trying and failing to lure, among others, the San Diego Chargers and the NBA’s L.A. Clippers and Sacramento Kings.
There’s a huge market there and definitely an appetite for a football team in Vegas. It’d be a tricky away day too with all the bright lights on the strip likely to affect team preparation. A Vegas franchise would be glitzy and glamorous and would provide another huge presence for the NFL in the desert.
9. San Antonio, TX
The NBA's Spurs have been super successful in San Antonio, so what's stopping an NFL team? They already have the stadium, the whopping Alamodome which holds 65,000 and hosts the NCAA Alamo Bowl every season. San Antonio in the NFL would make a third Texas team, but the city is far enough away from Dallas and Houston to avoid stepping on their toes. There's also a Mexican fan base just across the border ready and waiting to be tapped into. An NFL team in San Antonio could really take off.
Here’s a city that’s worthy of consideration in any talks about internationalizing the NFL. It’s been more than 10 years since an NFL game has been played in Japan, which seems like a wasted opportunity. Between 1989 and that last game in 2005, the NFL featured 13 times in the Japanese capital.
The numbers here make this something the NFL should consider. There’s 100 million plus fans waiting across the Pacific for a team brave enough to make the move. If the NFL is thinking of expanding east to London, than surely heading in the other direction is also worth a conversation.
7. Portland, OR
Portland currently holds the title in America as being the biggest city without a second major sporting franchise. That is to say the NBA's Portland Trailblazers are all on their own up there in Oregon and don't have to compete with an MLB, NHL or NFL team. Portland is often one of the first suggestions when talks of expansion or relocation crop up in American sports. They've recently picked up an Arena Football team, the Thunder, and this could prove to be a nice little taster for football fans in the city. Perhaps retired quarterback Joey Harrington could return to the city he grew up in as Portland's first coach.
6. Hartford, CT
A 2011 poll by Patch.com asked Connecticut residents who they supported in the NFL. With New York to the west and Boston to the north, the three main choices seem to be the Giants, Jets and the Patriots. The rough poll found 34 per cent associated with the Giants, 18 per cent with the Patriots and only nine per cent are rooting for the Jets. The rest support other teams.
Connecticut once had an NFL team, way back in 1926 when the Hartford Blues had a 3-7 year. Then in the late 1990s, Hartford almost lured the Patriots when owner Robert Kraft was looking to leave the ageing Foxboro Stadium. Hartford was planning to build a 68,000 seat stadium and Kraft agreed to move his team before backing out at the eleventh hour over concerns the proposed stadium would be built in a contaminated river front area of the city.
The interest is clearly there, and it would create some very interesting rivalries with the New Yorkers and the Patriots.
5. Oklahoma City
Oklahoma is a prime destination for an NFL team. The city embraced its foray into the NBA back in 2008 when Seattle relocated and became the Thunder. They built a strong NBA team in Oklahoma City with a passionate fan base, and there's no reason the same couldn't happen with an NFL franchise. Between them, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma University have produced a staggering six Heisman Trophy winners.
This state breathes football. This would just work.
This looks like the most logical springboard for NFL expansion into Canada. The Buffalo Bills, just down the road, played one regular season game here each year in the Rogers Centre between 2008 and 2013. And Rams owner Stan Kroenke is reportedly considering Toronto as a fall back destination for his St Louis side should it fail to secure a move to Los Angeles.
Expansion into Toronto worked for the NBA 20 years ago with the Raptors still proudly representing the city. At the same time the Vancouver Grizzlies also started life in the NBA, but they lasted barely half a decade north of the border before moving down to Memphis. The Toronto market is just begging to be tapped by the NFL.
3. Memphis, TN
Twice this city has had proposed teams rejected by the NFL, the Southmen in 1975 before the Hound Dogs in 1993. They hosted the Tennessee Oilers for a year in 1997 while the team's Nashville Stadium was being being built, but Memphians weren't overly taken by the Oilers, with the sour taste of NFL rejection still fresh. In 2001 the city landed an NBA franchise in the Grizzlies, but its football itch still needs scratching.
Just imagine how good a show they could put on too. Elvis Presley could be blasting pregame. Morgan Freeman could introduce the teams. Aretha Franklin, or Justin Timberlake could belt out the Star Spangled Banner. This could be a good alternative for the Titans should they ever sour on the Nashville market.
2. London, UK
Possibly the greatest untapped market of them all. Early signs are very good, with Wembley Stadium consistently selling out whenever the NFL comes to town, like it did earlier this season for the Jaguars vs. the Bills, and for the Chiefs vs. the Lions. In less than a decade, the NFL has developed a huge presence in London and it might be time to strike by moving a team there, or building a new one from scratch.
Logistically it seems ridiculous housing a team in a different continent, but it’s not perhaps as far away as it might seem. A flight from New York to London doesn't take much longer than a flight in the other direction down to San Diego. The potential here is endless.
1 Los Angeles, CA
How is it that Los Angeles doesn't have an NFL team alongside the Clippers and Lakers of the NBA, and Major League Baseball duo the Dodgers and the Angels? Well, it's a long and storied history involving a number of teams, the usual politics of sport and a large but slightly outdated stadium. The L.A. Memorial Coliseum actually hosted the first ever Super Bowl, and the city's two former NFL teams, the Raiders and the Rams. They both left town simultaneously about 20 years ago and nothing has yet filled the void. In the late 1990s when the NFL voted on an expansion team, L.A. was shafted for Houston.
It may all be about to change though, with three teams clamoring to fill the NFL's gaping hole. The St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers have all recently submitted applications to move to L.A. Now here's where it gets interesting. The NFL's other owners all have to vote on who should move there. Whether that's going to be one team, two teams, or none remains to be scene. Keep a close eye on this one.
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