The NFL is a still-growing business. Every time the league renegotiates a television contract, owners and players alike cash in big. It’s strange that small markets like Buffalo, Jacksonville or even the Packers should be blessed with an NFL franchise yet big markets such as Los Angeles, London and Toronto are left completely in the dark.
Fortunately for NFL owners’ ailing pocket books *sarcasm*, expansion may actually be on the horizon. As of right now, the team most likely to relocate would be the Bills, and that prospect is looking weaker and weaker as time goes on. When owner Ralph Wilson Jr. passed away, it was thought the team may be a sold to an owner willing to move the team, but even if that were the case, the Bills only fill one city’s needs.
Instead, the NFL may look to add a few expansion teams to the league in the not so distant future. Obviously, such expansion teams wouldn’t see the field for several years yet to come, but the process may get started in earnest in the near future.
The biggest obstacle to such expansion remains the construction or renovation of stadiums to accommodate an NFL team. The NFL demands that its teams play in top-notch facilities, and constructing them often comes out of taxpayers’ income, not necessarily from the NFL owners. That creates tension in cities hoping to lure a franchise to town because before the team ever plays a game, citizens are often subjected to increased taxes to support the construction of a stadium that not everyone will ever enjoy.
Then, of course, there’s a simple organizational problem to consider. With 32 teams currently in the NFL, the league has a perfect balance of two conferences divided into eight total divisions of four teams each. Any additional teams would throw off the balance, and aside from adding eight teams (not going to happen either), the NFL will have to get creative with how it develops its yearly schedules. That, of course, is a minor issue, especially considering that the NFL was composed of asymmetrical divisions prior to the existence of the Houston Texans.
There are still a number of teams in the league that could relocate in the future, but many of them would have to wait several years, or even longer (the Jaguars’ lease ends in 2030 for example). The NFL is all about growing now while the product is still hot, and waiting more than a decade to tap into some of the biggest available cash cows left on the map doesn’t seem like an acceptable solution.
The NFL’s planned playoff expansion should also provide room for more teams in the league. By adding two additional playoff spots, the league is essentially watering down the level of play required to make it into the postseason. The simple solution to that particular problem would be to simply add more teams into the mix. That way, although the number of teams in the postseason would increase, the percentage of teams making the cut would nearly stay the same (providing that the NFL adds two or three new franchises).
The NFL wants to put teams in L.A., London and even Toronto, but it’s becoming more and more clear that relocation may not be the way the league will make those moves. As time continues to trudge on with little signs of progress in putting franchises in those big, empty markets, league expansion could become a serious possibility moving forward.