The Great Expansion Debate

-Matt Magill

With news coming down last week that the NFL was expanding their London series of games to a quartet next year, it almost feels like a foregone conclusion that we will get to the point in the next few years where the continental United States will not be the only place to visit for some professional football action.  There are a few possibilities moving forward in terms of expansion, and while we explore them, realize that none of these are going to happen overnight.  We are most likely looking five to ten years in the future.

Oh Canada!

Wait, Canada!? How did they get here?  Okay, hear me out on this one.  For awhile there, the Bills were playing a couple games a year in Toronto, a city that has a presence in every other major sport in America.  They have a big fan base over there just waiting for a team to keep them warm in the months before hockey season really gets rolling, and with the amount of transplants to Canada from the United States once Trump officially takes over (or so they say), there will be a huge base of people there that are already familiar with the sport.  And Canada is literally right there!  Seriously.  No need to jump a transatlantic flight, no need to really travel that far at all.  So, why not?  Throw a team in Vancouver and/or Toronto and let’s see who really has the frozen tundra.
Viva la Mexico!

With the success of the game in Mexico City this year, there’s no doubt we will see future games south of the border in coming years (maybe they’ll even get the laser-pointer thing under control).  What about a permanent team taking up residence in Mexico?  While that country does not really take part in other American sports in terms of housing their own teams, there is no doubt that the fans down there are rabid for the product.  Hell, you could have moved last week’s Jets/49ers contest to Mexico City and garnered more attendance than they did in California.  Now that’s commitment to the sport.  How cool would it be to have a contest between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Mexico City Cartel?  The Houston Texans and the Cabo San Lucas Sammy Hagars?  It’s a win for everyone!
The London Conundrum

On paper, London sounds great.  You have stadiums to play at while one is being constructed if you so choose.  You are building a fanbase by playing multiple games there over the last few years.  It is a completely untapped market for all of your NFL merchandise.  So, it’s a no brainer, right?  Sign us up for a trip to see the London Monarchy’s season opener in 2020.

Not so fast.

Logistically speaking, visiting London a couple times a year with different teams is pretty rough.  We rarely see good football, and when we do, at least recently, people have not paid attention because it’s on at nine in the morning.  And that’s with teams we already know.  No one in America is tuning in to see the London Fog when our fandom has been established, sometimes for years beforehand.  What you are banking on if you are the NFL is that there will be enough of a fanbase for the London Queen Mums that it will make up for the fact that this sport is pretty new on that continent.

Then, let’s get in to the travel.  From London to New York, it’s 3470 miles.  Compare that to a place like San Diego, which is clear across the continental United States which is only 2424 miles.  You’re telling me that every week, either the London team or a team in the United states will be making at least a 3500 mile flight?  That feels like a logistics nightmare.  What will probably happen is that London will go 8-8 every year and enjoy the best home field advantage the league has ever seen while losing every road game.

So how do you navigate that logjam of travel (which will ultimately lead to mediocre or bad football)?  Maybe the answer is to not just create an expansion team overseas, but an entire expansion division.  I know.  There are a lot of moving parts and this will probably take the longest to implement, but what if you expanded to six European teams.  Three AFC and three NFC teams which would then not only play round-robin twice within a season, but would also make the trek to the United States once a year to get all of their divisional road games out of the way at once (kind of like the San Antonio Spurs and their annual Rodeo Road Trip where they travel around the state of Texas, but on a grander scale).  Yes, scheduling would probably be a nightmare, and you may have to think about an extra bye week, and maybe an extra game every season (at least) but it could be doable.  That way, there is no great home field advantage until you get to the playoffs.  At that point, you hope that the better team wins, regardless of any superficial advantage.

The other option, regarding London is that you make London a permanent site and you have teams rotate through there every week for the entire season without ever actually expanding the league.  I think this may be a short-term solution as I feel like the NFL would rather have a team over there for the long-haul.  But it could work in the interim.

When asked on Twitter, the overwhelming majority (70%) of you said that London would be the best fit for an NFL expansion team.  While I don’t think London would be the best fit as a standalone expansion city, I understand where you’re coming from, and expanding the European market is something the NFL should consider down the road, as long as it does not hinder the product here at home.

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