The NFL entertains and brings people together on Sundays like no other sport. The league has considered many expansion efforts through the years, but the cost of building a suitable stadium is usually the biggest roadblock that stands in the way. Some cities might not have the funds and infrastructure necessary to support an NFL team, but still earn points for this list for being deserving of one.
The following metropolitan areas make a strong case for hosting an NFL team. Many of them have healthy potential fan bases, television audiences, have very little competition to dilute the product and might even have experience with other professional sports franchises. Unfortunately, deserving and fan potential doesn’t necessarily equate to having the proper funding and facilities to accommodate an NFL team. Strong support is an essential ingredient to being able to overcome such shortcomings.
The population counts of the metropolitan areas are based on figures from the 2010 U.S. Census, while television markets are from the September 1, 2013 Nielson Company estimates. Starting with the locations earning honorable mention, there is something each metropolitan area could bring to the NFL’s table.
- Honolulu – Football crazed Hawaiians would support an NFL team and fanatical football fans could lead a push to upgrade or replace aging Aloha Stadium. Even with support, other problems would be the unfavorable time zone and travel on east-west trips.
- London – The NFL would love to expand overseas and London has expressed interest. The travel and establishing a foothold in a foreign country are all major concerns. It would not be easy for west coast teams.
- Orlando – A big metropolitan area and TV audience await any prospective NFL team, but another NFL team in Florida is hard to imagine with Jacksonville struggling to fill seats. Orlando is not that far away from Jacksonville either.
- Milwaukee – The city of beer and the state of cheese could support another NFL team, but the state is home to the Packers who used to play a couple of home games each season in County Stadium. Would not be easy, but a worthy candidate.
- Las Vegas – Sin City would be the perfect place for an NFL team, but how that would mix with the Las Vegas betting action remains to be seen. The potential for corruption would be too much of a concern for the NFL.
15 Riverside, San Bernardino, Ontario: 4,225,000 Metro population / Part of Greater Los Angeles Market
The Inland Empire of Southern California has gone through its share of growing pains but the many working class residents would flock to a stadium on Sunday. The problem with this region is the stadium that would need to be built and the gigantic shadow cast by the city of Los Angeles that is also in need of a team. Even though he Oakland Raiders have always had the identity of the East Bay of San Francisco, the LA Raiders were still well received here. Converting enough of the leftover LA Raiders fans in this region would create a terrific fan base.
14 Louisville: 1,236,000 Metro population / 670,880 TV Households
Kentucky has no major professional sports teams and yet has a population of about 4.5 million people to rally behind any franchise that happens to call Kentucky home. An NFL team would help unite the divided Cardinal and Wildcat fans. The would-be battle between red and blue colored uniforms would still be a potential point of contention. Regardless of that, the Louisville area offers a significant potential fan base and audience for an NFL team. The NCAA Louisville Cardinals have their own stadium that only seats 55,000 which isn't enough, so like many metro areas on this list the stadium is the major concern.
13 Hampton Roads: 1,677,000 Metro population / 709,730 TV Households
The state of Virginia could use a team to call its own and the Hampton Roads region has plenty of people and television households to make it work. The state has college teams that draw quite well, so an NFL team would be conceivable. The presence of many shipyards along with a large military presence make this region a perfect fit for drawing fans to the stadium on Sundays. Like others on this list, a stadium would have to be built and many NFL fans in the region would have to convert to the new team.
12 Hartford, New Haven: 1,212,000 Metro population / 996,550 TV Households
Connecticut might be one of the smaller states in the U.S., but it has plenty of sports fans and television viewers to rally around any new team. The approximately 3.5 million residents would have to be weaned from the Patriots, but having something to call their own might tap into this rich fan base. With a median household income of $68,595, many Connecticut fans can afford season tickets. The success of the U Conn Huskies has rallied many in the region, but the lack of success with the NHL's Hartford Whalers doesn't help their NFL cause.
11 Columbus: 1,902,000 Metro population / 930,460 TV Households
Columbus happens to be home to the consistent big draw Buckeyes and is also the biggest city in a state with two longstanding football teams. The population and healthy television market are hard to overlook, as well as the fact that both Cleveland and Cincinnati have multiple professional sports teams and Columbus only has the MLS Crew. This would be a great equalizer for the city of Columbus, as well as adding another solid fan base in a state of 11.5 million residents to the NFL fold. The "Horseshoe" can handle a big crowd, but to get it up to NFL standards might be difficult.
10 Birmingham: 1,128,000 Metro population / 717,530 TV Households
Birmingham is not a major U.S. city, but its metropolitan area and the state of Alabama would be more than enough to support an NFL franchise. Alabama loves football and tends to have disdain for anything to do with its neighbors. They can start with using Legion Field, the 71,000+ capacity city owned football stadium that was renovated in 2005. A new stadium would eventually have to be built and the color scheme might want to include crimson. Although Birmingham might not be the biggest market with luxury box tenants standing in line for seats, it sure could be a major market in a state of close to 5 million potential NFL fans.
9 Sacramento: 2,149,000 Metro population / 1,378,710 TV Households
Sacramento might be considered a small city but its metropolitan area is quite enormous. An NFL team in Sacramento would create a buzz felt all the way down to Lodi and Stockton and maybe even the central valley of the state. It is hard to overlook the close to 1.4 million Sacramento TV households that could tune in on Sundays. Sacramento doesn’t even have a major college football program to distract fans on Saturdays and the NBA Kings have proven to appeal to fans despite mostly mediocre results. The problems with keeping the Kings in town, might pale in comparison to getting a stadium.
8 Salt Lake City: 1,088,000 Metro population / 917,370 TV Households
Salt Lake City isn’t exactly the biggest metropolitan area on this list, but the state and its major metro area can support an NFL team. The state of Utah has had some great NCAA football teams. The BYU Cougars have won a National Championship and have sent many players to the NFL. The Utes were in the National spotlight during the Ron McBride and Urban Meyer years, producing the first pick in the NFL draft, Alex Smith. The Utah Jazz have enjoyed a solid home court edge through the years and yet football still seems to elude them. The stadium issue is of great importance once again.
7 Austin: 1,716,000 Metro population / 705,280 TV Households
The city of Austin has been growing by leaps and bounds and currently holds the spot of the 11th most populous city in the United States. The diverse residents of Austin range from high-tech workers to musicians, but football is still a big part of their lives. After all, the Austin based University of Texas' “Memorial Stadium” does seat over 100,000 fans making it the largest football stadium in the state of Texas. Austin would like its own identity, but competition from San Antonio and building a new stadium certainly stand in the way.
6 Oklahoma City: 1,253,000 Metro population / 717,770 TV Households
Oklahoma loves football and routinely sells out the 82,000 plus seat Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for Sooners’ games on Saturdays. The state with close to 4 million residents certainly can support another professional sports franchise in addition to the Thunder. Thunder fans have provided evidence that “loud city” can rally around a professional sports team. Considering that football is a popular sport in Oklahoma, an NFL team only needs a new stadium to prosper in a city that is hungry for entertainment options, especially on a Sunday.
5 Portland: 2,226,000 Metro population / 1,182,180 TV Households
Portland is the major city in the state of Oregon that is represented by only the Portland Trail Blazers NBA basketball team in the professional ranks. The state of Oregon is Nike country and currently the University of Oregon Ducks get the benefit of having Nike being such a major player in an otherwise quite humble sate. Fans in this region can be quite loyal as evidenced by the Trail Blazers record breaking home sellout streak of 814 consecutive games (1977-1995). A great fan base, a whole state with almost 4 million people, and Nike as one of the big kids on the block, make Portland a worthy contender despite having the stadium hurdle to overcome.
4 Orange County, CA: 3,010,232 / Part of Greater Los Angeles Market
The Orange County region of California is home to over 3 million residents with an identity all its own and the capability of selling tickets as well as filling luxury boxes. The county is a hotbed of high school football talent with big schools that have big attendance figures for their games. Home to the Angels MLB team and NHL's Anaheim Ducks, the county can easily support an NFL team with resources and a receptive audience. Of course a stadium deal would still stand in the way, but this prosperous region should not be overlooked.
3 Toronto: 5,583,064 Metro population / 2,703,000 TV Households
Toronto overtook Montreal as Canada’s principal city sometime in the 1970s, becoming one of the most culturally diverse cities in North America at the same time. Hockey and the Toronto Maple Leafs have been around forever, but the CFL Argonauts and NBA Raptors have both grabbed some headlines recently with an Argonaut Grey Cup win in 2012 and the Raptors recent playoff appearance. The fans can be fanatical, the city has good NFL appeal, the Rogers Centre to start playing in, and a large prospective fan base. It would make a perfect home for the first international NFL team.
2 San Antonio: 2,143,000 Metro population / 881,050 TV Households
San Antonio has the Alamo and the San Antonio Spurs, but could use an NFL football team. The city doesn’t even have a traditional NCAA powerhouse to call the Alamodome its home. The 65,000 seat stadium can offer a temporary home or permanent home with some upgrades, but all the city needs is a team. San Antonio sits in the most football-crazed state in the country, Texas, and has a proven fan base. The region is growing, the infrastructure is in place and the welcome mat has been put out for the NFL. Also, The Raiders have been rumored to be poking around...
1 Los Angeles: 12,829,000 Metro population / 5,613,460 TV Households
Los Angeles might not be clamoring as loudly as other cities for an NFL team, but the NFL sorely wants a franchise in what is the second largest television market in the U.S.. The city has two successful baseball franchises, two NBA basketball teams that share the same arena, and two NHL hockey teams within its metropolitan area. Even the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins draw big crowds on Saturdays. Los Angeles is by far the biggest metropolitan area without an NFL team. The NFL will do whatever it can to get a stadium built and a team in place to unlock this lucrative market and that is precisely why it tops this list.
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