NFL International Expansion: Top 20 Possible Teams of the Future
It's a question of when, not if, the NFL expands again. Los Angeles is the most likely landing spot for the first new or relocated team, but it's only a matter of time before more changes follow.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is a huge advocate of global expansion, which would eventually lead to several additions to the NFL.
There are several possible locations for these new teams, both in the U.S and abroad, so here's a list of the top 20 NFL teams of the future.
20: Rome Rhinos
Wouldn't a football game in the original Rome Colliseum be amazing? It can't, won't and shouldn't happen, but Rome's biggest soccer stadium, Stadio Olimpico, provides a modern day marvel of a stadium itself. Capacity is over 82,000, falling shy of only Fed Ex Field and the Meadowlands among NFL stadiums.
Rome is the biggest city in Italy, with a population of over 3.3 million people. American football isn't exactly established there, but it's on its way. The IFL (Italian Football League) has grown since it first began in 2008, and has 10 competing teams in only it's third year.
Rome has three teams total, but Marines Lazio is the best and only squad of the three competing in the IFL. The other two (Grizzlies and Barbari) don't allow foreign players and play at lower levels of competition. Still, it's a good start for establishing interest to precede an NFL expansion attempt.
American football is still relatively new in Europe, so it should still be a few years before the NFL really tries again across the pond. If the NFL does succeed over there, Italy could be a great country for the sport with other cities like Milan and Naples being other possible locations if a full foreign conference ever develops.
19: Tokyo Seadevils
Japan is to California as London is to New York, so there is no reason that the NFL can't expand off of the west coast as well.
Sadly, Bloomburg Businessweek's Ken Belson reports that football is struggling in Japan, but if European teams enjoyed success and the sport became global Tokyo could easily hop on the bandwagon. Benson also mentions that the sport was twice as popular in the 80's, so there actually is a potential fan base there.
The IFAF endorsed JAFA (Japanese American Football Association) also works to keep youth football popular, which could lead to a restoration of the sport's popularity. Japan's X-League has several teams that are kept afloat by corporate sponsors who wouldn't contribute money if there wasn't money to be made, so there is hope yet.
If football does make a comeback in Japan, Tokyo's population of over 12 million people would easily support an NFL franchise. At any rate, they definitely shouldn't struggle to find cheerleaders.
18: Dublin Dragons
Dublin might not be the most populated or biggest European city, but imagine true "Fighting Irish" spirit mixed with American football. Assuming Goodell would already have a team in London before Dublin ever got one, the rivalry between the two would be as intense as any other in the NFL.
Scotland already had a team, the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe, but they only enjoyed marginal success. Football might be better suited off the southwestern coast in Ireland where football actually has a fairly long history. There is already an established collegiate league in Ireland, the IAFL, and it seems somewhat popular for a foreign sport.
The team could just be a nationwide team (Ireland Dragons), because even if there was a huge expansion there aren't any other cities large enough to have their own team.
17: Madrid Mayhem
5,762,000 people live in Madrid Spain. That population is comparable if not better than the population of most NFL cities and their general metro area. Spain is and always will be a futball first country, but American football is enjoying steady growth there nonetheless.
The Liga Nacional de Fútbol Americano (LNFA) is currently in it's 17th season, and there are an impressive 14 total teams involved. Spain probably isn't ready for an NFL team just yet, but be sure that they would get involved quickly if professional football spread to Europe.
Spain has potential to house other teams as well, with huge cities like Valencia and Barcelona being other top candidates for a team.
16: Sacramento Stampede
California's capital might be about to lose their NBA franchise, but an NFL team could land there some day. The population of the metro area is just under three million, and with football being as popular as it is in the Golden State a Sacramento team could add fuel to the west coast rivalry fire.
Football is already doing okay in Sacramento anyways in the UFL, where coach Dennis Green and quarterback Daunte Cullpepper reunited to lead the Mountain Lions last year. It was their first season in Sacramento after moving from San Fransisco, and they were pretty successful in their inagural season.
Over 18,000 people attended home games last year, an impressive number for a semi-professional team in a very young league.
A fifth team (assuming L.A would get one too) in California might be a bit excessive, which bumps Sacramento down the list, but it could still work out well.
15: Montreal Mustangs (or Mounties)
Toronto may be more involved in football than Montreal or any other Canadian city right now, but our northern neighbors could have more than one successful team.
The Expos didn't work out, but to be fair they weren't exactly fielding good teams too often (13 winning seasons out of 36, no World Series titles). Besides, baseball is a bit less exciting as a sport. Football's inherent excitement allows a much better chance at success.
Expanding to Canada would be much easier than crossing the Atlantic theoretically. There wouldn't be any major time zone differences and the distance from the U.S is obviously significantly shorter.
Players that would prefer not to go abroad would most likely be more open to barely crossing the border than going to a place like London or Berlin.
In the CFL, the Montreal Alouettes have enjoyed crowds of nearly 70,000 in big games (Grey Cup matches). If the elite NFL talent graced Olympic Stadium, those numbers could easily reach capacity every week.
14: Frankfurt Storm
If Goodell manages to bring the NFL to Europe, London isn't the only place that could have a chance at holding onto a team. Throughout years of experimentation in Europe, Germany has always had several teams competing, and football seems to have really gained a foothold there.
Through all of the changes with NFL Europe, the Frankfurt Galaxy stuck through it all and enjoyed the most success out of all of the teams. The population is only 650,000, so the market doesn't seem very large, but the Galaxy's past success probably left a strong enough mark to leave fans waiting for another team.
Frankfurt has a surprisingly beautiful skyline and provides amazing scenery around the stadium, which would probably still be Commerzbank Arena, the home of the Galaxy. If a team did end up in Frankfurt they might just stick with the name Galaxy for old time's sake, but the bland logo (not that mine is any better) warranted another shot.
USA Today reported that the commissioner seems to think that Europe could house an entire division of teams, and with better talent than NFL Europe ever had, the second time might be the charm. Still, the NFL would have to find away around huge issues like time zone differences, jet lag, and getting players to move to Europe if they get acquired by one of the teams there.
13: Oklahoma City Kings
Oklahoma City is one of the fastest growing cities in the country according to the USA Today, with a population that has jumped 15 percent since 2000. The total metro area population exceeds 1.2 million and CNN Money ranked it as the number one city to start a business.
They have already acquired a NBA franchise and an NFL squad could follow somewhere down the line.
Football is huge in Texas, but don't think it isn't just as big in Oklahoma. The Sooners always draw a huge crowd, over 83,000 on average since 2003 according to SoonerSports.com.
The "Kings" or whatever they would be named could have a lot of people rooting them on right off the bat. They would add another team to southern football and could easily find a rivalry with any Texas team if not all three of them (San Antonio?).
12: Virginia (Norfolk) Venom
Virginia doesn't have a professional football team, yet the state has a population of almost eight million. Norfolk would probably be the best location for a team, with a decent population of about 250,000 and a beautiful skyline to complement a possible stadium.
Virginia probably doesn't have enough room for two teams, so it would be smartest to combine them into a statewide team. This seems to work well enough for places like Minnesota, Tennessee, Arizona, etc.
The main advantage to adding any team in the USA is that the interest in football is completely established. Norfolk just received a UFL team, the Virginia Destroyers, and they'll begin play right away in 2011. Their success or failure could be a great indicator of the potential of Norfolk as a future NFL franchise location.
A new stadium would be needed though, which is never an easy thing to make happen.
11: Las Vegas Luck
You can always count on the NFL to be hypocritical, just ask Hines Ward, and putting an NFL franchise in Las Vegas is being strongly opposed by Roger Goodell for hypocritical reasons as well.
Ed Graney of the Review Journal reported that Roger Goodell was strongly against gambling and thus an NFL team in Vegas. The Commissioner can only resist the inevitable for so long though, as the allure of the country's gambling capital can't be avoided forever.
One interesting scenario is Al Davis moving the Raiders out of Oakland to Las Vegas. The NFL's best looking owner loves to be hated, and Bleacher Report's own Auguste Archer agrees that it's a possibility. He has moved his team before, and he could move them again.
Just to spite Goodell, wouldn't changing their name to the Luck just be great? As funny as it would be, Davis will never change their name, nor should he, but an angry Roger Goodell is a happy thought for fans.
10: Portland Pirates
Portland could add a team to bridge the huge northern gap between Seattle and Minnesota. They may only have an NBA franchise, but with a metro population of about 2.2 million people they could easily add a football team
The passion for football there is alive and kicking today, with Oregon and Oregon State enjoying huge fan bases. Oregon's recent undefeated regular season run brought in great crowds of course, but the fans are still there this year. Oregon's spring game broke a Pac-10 record according to Jeff Musall of Rivals.com, with over 43, 000 people in attendance.
Oregon State hasn't enjoyed the same success as the Ducks, but their crowds are still pretty big too. They drew over 40,000 people for a game during the eighties (Civil War vs Oregon), but with the huge investment recently made at Reser Stadium Oregon has shown that they care about their football.
It's over an hour and a half from Portland to Corvallis (home of the Beavers), and even a bit further to Eugene (Ducks). If an NFL team was located in Portland, the crowds could be a lot bigger, and they would most likely thrive.
This has been something Portland has actively sought after since 2000 according to the Portland Business Journal so starting a new franchise or relocating one within the U.S would be a lot easier for the NFL than trying to cross national borders.
9: Utah Rebels
While Utah doesn't exactly pop up in the mind right away when thinking of highly populated metropolitan areas, Salt Lake City and the surrounding metro area has a population of about 1.2 million.
That's plenty of people to root on a team. In a city where the Jazz dominate the sports scene, a change could be refreshing. If the team is named after Utah as a state, that would officially include the entire population of over 2.7 million people.
The Utah Utes and the BYU Cougars draw pretty large crowds for college teams.
The Utes have exceeded capacity at every home game for the past two years according to the school's website. The perennially less successful Aggies of Utah State understandably attract much larger crowds, but BYU does better out in Provo. Average crowds last year exceeded 60,000 according to Desert News.
If crowds like that are attending the college games, imagine how well a pro team would do there. Students definitely make up a high percentage of those numbers, but they definitely don't make up those crowds themselves.
8: Orlando Owls
It's starting to look like Jacksonville could lose their team, but Florida absolutely can easily have another team in Orlando. There's no need to delve into too many attendance records, football is huge in Florida and everyone knows it. Collegiate and professional teams (other than the Jags) do very well there.
Jacksonville just isn't showing the attendance and support to keep an NFL team around, but Orlando could give it a shot. Jaguars fans show up when the team is doing well, but if they ever hit a slump they disappear. In Orlando, the recently successful UCF Knights have drawn bigger and bigger crowds every year according to the school's newspaper, and they are only a Conference USA team.
A professional team would draw much bigger crowds and help revive the struggling economy there. Football in Florida is never a bad thing and Orlando players could go to Disney world whether they win the Super Bowl or not.
7: Berlin Bulldogs
Back when NFL Europe was still operational, the Berlin Thunder enjoyed a steady growth in their fan base. In 2003, they moved to Olympic Stadium and drew an average crowd of over 12,000 despite going 3-7 on the year. Just two short years later, they topped 20,000 fans to set a new attendance record in their last regular season game.
There were no players from that 2005 team that made big names for themselves in the NFL, which really was the issue with NFL Europe as a whole.
There were some players that did well and came over to the NFL, like Jake Delhomme and David Akers, but overall the league's talent just wasn't very good. It was only supposed to serve as a developmental league, but still, there wasn't much motivation for fans to go see teams
The popularity of football rapidly grew in Germany's huge capital city despite the lack of popularity NFL Europe enjoyed as a whole. If a true blue NFL squad was brought to Berlin, 20,000 fans would be an all time low in attendance.
6: Omaha Bulls
Omaha might not seem like a great spot for an NFL franchise, but a look at the popularity of the UFL's Nighthawks and the Nebraska Cornhuskers who play in the nearby state capital show that an NFL franchise would do very well there.
The Nighthawks, Omaha's UFL team, have enjoyed wild success considering their semi-pro status. They are even reshaping the UFL's expansion plans according to Jeff Sheldon of UFL.com. They sold out their first two games in 2010 and averaged over 5,000 more fans than anybody else in the league.
Over in Lincoln, the Cornhusker's "Sea of Red" has always demonstrated the passion for football in Nebraska. Their Spring Game attendance was second in the nation this year, with over 77,000 in attendance according to ESPN's Tim Griffin. It shouldn't be looked over that all of those people paid ten bucks to see a glorified scrimmage.
Omaha and Lincoln both demonstrate huge fan bases with their teams, so the NFL should take a long hard look at the heart of the nation in Nebraska.
5: Toronto Bucks
Toronto has done everything they could to get an NFL team shy of demanding one. Apparently a couple of Buffalo Bills regular season games over the years in Toronto won't satisfy the cities appetite for world class football.
Attendance at last year's Bill's game in Toronto was only 20,000 according to NBC Sports, a number some UFL teams beat, but can you blame the locals? The Bills haven't made the playoffs since Tony Hawk first landed the 900.
A year earlier attendance topped 50,000, a number easily large enough to warrant a NFL franchise of their own. Yahoo News reports that the NFL is in huge demand in Toronto and it's only a matter of time until they make their move.
According to ProFootballWeekly, the city is biding their time until L.A gets their team, then they will make their move for the next team.
4: San Antonio Slash
The NBA has three teams in Texas. With football even being more popular in the Lone Star State there's no reason to believe that the NFL shouldn't add one too. Jerry Jones might not like it, but it seems like it's been a long time coming.
The Saints relocated to San Antonio temporarily in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the popularity was amazing. According to CBS Sports Pete Prisco the team was forced back to New Orleans, ownership didn't even want to bring the team back to the Bayou.
San Antonio makes a lot of sense for an NFL team as AOL News points out. Most wouldn't guess it but their population is one of the biggest in the nation (over 1.3 million in the city alone).
Football will always thrive in Texas, and all things considered it's absolutely amazing that San Antonio hasn't acquired a team yet.
3: Los Angeles Sharks
Los Angeles doesn't top this list because they've already had two chances at a franchise. Their first two franchises, the Rams and the Raiders, left because of lackluster attendance and the city's inability to provide a new stadium.
Los Angeles has aggressively tried to acquire another franchise ever since the previous two bolted. It hasn't worked out so well because the effort to bring a team in has been too unorganized according to ESPN's Arash Markazi.
Markazi also reports that the site—Industry/Grand Crossing—has finally been decided and the funding is coming together. Once the stadium is built, at least one of the teams on the long list of candidates will come over.
2: Mexico City Bullets
Just like going north to Canada, heading south to Mexico wouldn't require overcoming huge time zone difference issues. Soccer is undoubtedly the most popular sport there, but football is a close second.
ESPN's Pablo Viruega beautifully lays out football's long history in Mexico. He reports that Cowboys games are televised frequently in Mexico and there have been regular season games played at Estadia Azteca in Mexico city. Those games drew crowds of over 100,000 people, with the most recent one being played in 2005 between San Francisco and Arizona, where 103,467 fans attended.
Estadia Azteca's huge capacity coupled with Mexico City's huge population of over 20 million leave no doubt that a football team would be extremely well off there.
America's favorite sport is obviously already established in Mexico and a Mexico City team could be the first team of many south of the border.
1: London Leopards
London's five year old Wembley Stadium provides a world class venue that any NFL team would be glad to call home.
Despite the dark cloud of doubt surrounding this NFL season, Skysports reports that London is fully expecting to host their fifth wildly popular regular season match up, which will be between the Chicago Bears and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year.
The best part about bringing a franchise to London is that it could be the spark that ignites the global expansion of American football. If Britain's capital started to enjoy the success and profits of an NFL team, then all of Europe would want one.
If teams started to sprout up all across Europe, then it could become a worldwide epicdemic.
What separates London from other international locations is that it has enjoyed the most success recently and it seems to be Goodell's favorite potential international expansion city. London would obviously love to have a team of their own and Goodell wants to make his move as soon as possible.
Since it would be the first of many new teams, fans should look forward to London's first NFL franchise the most.
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