Opinion: Where is the Best Landing Spot for A New NFL Expansion Franchise?

Christian Maldonado, Lifestyle Editor

The National Football League has become the most popular professional sports league in the United States according to television viewership. The 2023 Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs had an average viewership of over 113 million people according to NFL.com. With all this said, the conversation of an expansion team being introduced into the league has been under discussion for a while now. The last expansion team in the NFL was the Houston Texans in 2002. When the team was assembled, it was in a general location that already had the historically successful Dallas Cowboys. It has been relatively difficult for the Texans to develop a solid fan base with a much more successful team less than four hours away from them.

Many discussions happen when there are considerations for an expansion team in any sport. Many people have debated where the best place is to put a brand-new team in the NFL. Before 2020, the obvious place looked to be Las Vegas. It is a big and populated city that has many tourist attractions, and a place where the National Hockey League saw recent success with an expansion team.

The NHL’s Las Vegas Knights grew a cult following quickly, and their immediate success resulted in them becoming a rich and successful organization. Now that the Raiders have moved from Oakland to Las Vegas, it seems less likely that the NFL would decide to put a second team there.

The Raiders themselves have had a difficult time gaining back the fan base they had in Oakland after moving to a new stadium eight hours from their previous home. The other issue that comes from developing a brand-new expansion team in the United States is the fact that many teams in the NFL have fan bases that reach far beyond their city or state borders.

For example, the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, and New England Patriots are all historically successful franchises. This has allowed them to gain fans from all over the country, and in some cases all over the world, according to a poll conducted by Sports Illustrated. For many, it would be tough to move their emotional investment from one of those teams to a team that is closer to them. Sometimes with fans, the investment matters far more than their proximity to the stadium.

So if the NFL decided for some reason to add a 33rd team into the league, where would it be? The options that make the most financial sense are outside of the continental United States. Over the past 15 years, the NFL has had multiple excursions into different countries, titled “The International Series,” to play one-off football games in their largest stadium.

The series started in 2007 when the Miami Dolphins took on the New York Giants at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Since then, they have continued to play multiple games in England, adding Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to the list. They have also recently added Mexico’s Estadio Azteca and Germany’s Allianz Arena to their list of venues.

In the first game in London, 81,176 people filled Wembley Stadium according to Statistica.com. Wembley is a venue that has a maximum capacity of 90,000 people. For a sport that is not normally played in England, this was seen as a massive success, as it showed the popularity of the NFL in another country. Since then, most games played in Mexico and England have eclipsed 80,000 in attendance.

This has sparked the conversation of potentially starting an expansion team in another country. Countries like Mexico, England, Germany, and Canada do not have NFL teams, and many believe that they are untapped markets that the NFL could explore. When it comes to European countries, there is a big issue with time zones and distance. During most of the NFL season, England and Germany are five hours ahead of the eastern time zone, and eight hours away from the pacific time zone. This would cause issues with the scheduling of games during the season.

Up until recently, the teams that would play in England would get a bye the next week to get back to the United States and not have to be severely affected by jet lag due to the time difference. Although the NFL does not do this for teams that travel to Europe anymore, it would still be very difficult for a home team in England or Germany to have their games in the United States scheduled. They would have to make sure that they had enough time for a team to fly there and back and would still have to carefully select one bye week for the team. While this is all possible, there would be few NFL players that would be willing to go through all this traveling every NFL season.

We have seen changes in the NFL that have benefited the league or certain franchises financially. Whether it is getting rid of grass fields and replacing them with more dangerous turf or signing contracts with multiple streaming services and platforms to put their games behind a further paywall, it seems like they will do anything that will fill their pockets.

The idea of building an international expansion team makes a lot of sense financially for whoever would invest in the team. Being that they are untapped markets, many people from these areas would spend money on apparel and tickets to games. This kind of publicity, coupled with the lack of competition in the form of other teams in the area, would form a massive fan base for this team.

In England and Germany especially, many soccer fans have close bonds and fandoms when it comes to their favorite team. That kind of passion that they show towards their soccer teams would make the environment and atmosphere at an NFL game over there far different than in the United States.

I am all for an expansion team in Mexico. When the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers visited Estadio Azteca in 2022, the environment and the energy that the fans brought were something that I hope to regularly see one day in the NFL. While many of the fans there chose between the two teams that are the closest to Mexico geographically, a team that they would have all to their own would create a very different vibe and would still bring in a lot of money for whoever decides to invest in the team.