Which League Will Be the Next to Expand? – Following the end of this NHL season, the league will undergo the process of adding a team to its ranks for the second time in 4 years, as the Seattle Kraken, the latest expansion team in the NHL and the eighth expansion of the league under commissioner Garry Bettman. Expansion is often a great thing, bringing a sport to new markets or returning them to markets which have desperately craved for it since a former team left. And the NHL has been able to capitalize on new markets in recent years, the surprise on-ice success of the Vegas Golden Knights spurring financial success as well.
After Seattle, with the league at 32 teams, and even eight-team divisions across its entirety, it’s likely the NHL halts expansion for now. Although cities like Quebec and Milwaukee are ripe for NHL teams, the league is already tied for most teams in their league with the NFL at 32, and without proof of leagues being able to be financially profitable with more teams than that, the NHL will not be taking those first steps.
But that then begs the question of which leagues will follow in their footsteps and enter new markets with expansion teams? There are markets that the other leagues can and should expand to in order to reach fan bases which they haven’t before, and can prove to be profitable ventures for the leagues and for the newly formed teams themselves.
The last expansion of the National Football League came in 2002 when the Houston Texans joined the league, a gap of nearly 20 years that doesn’t look like will be filled anytime soon. This mostly comes as a result of the league already at what many would assume to be a max capacity, and with the NFL not known for being innovative and ahead of the curve as it comes to marketing and expansion, it doesn’t look like their chances of adding a team will come anytime soon.
With this is the additional issue of the division alignments and scheduling. It is not as though the league can add a single team and be done with expansion. If the NFL wished to keep a similar structure to what they have now with even divisions, they will need at least another four teams in order to have six divisions of six. With that, necessary changes to the playoff structure and scheduling will be made. While the additional 17th, and eventual 18th game ease scheduling concerns and possibly indicate the desire for league expansion, there still lies a number of problems structurally that the league would have to address.
And then where would the NFL expand into if they were to start the process? Expansion in the NFL would require four new cities to push into or return to, and could all four actually provide enough of a financial incentive to go there? St. Louis could potentially see a return of an NFL franchise, and a city like San Antonio would be able to support a new franchise, but after that the options seem mixed at best. And any intention the league has of expanding internationally into London or Mexico City, which have played hosts to NFL games for the past few seasons, is a functional nightmare that has no hope of succeeding. If anything, the NFL will be the last of the leagues to expand, if they ever do at all.
Of the leagues, Major League Baseball has been the one with the longest drought in expansion, the last coming in 1998 when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devils Rays entered the league. In the 23 years since, talk of expansion has circulated but nothing serious has been put to paper. While the popularity of baseball has waned in recent years as the NFL and NBA have overtaken it, expansion is still an open door that could even regenerate interest in America’s pastime, especially in areas which haven’t played host to an MLB team in the past.
While Commissioner Rob Manfred’s expected price tag for an expansion team of over $2 billion is a tough pill to swallow, it would be hard to believe that there wouldn’t be some sets of individuals who would come together in order to make new teams a reality. Functionally it would be simpler than an NFL expansion, as adding two teams would bring the MLB to 32 and allow for eight divisions of four. Market wise, Las Vegas, now the home to two sports franchises, could play home to an MLB franchise. Montreal could see a return of baseball with the right effort from the league and investors in a new team. And while not cities that come to mind when thinking of where leagues could expand, the Carolinas, Vancouver, and Portland all have the ability to take on a team. The only limiting factor is the expansion fee, and with baseball not being seen as profitable as other leagues, it may take a while before we see a new team added to the ranks of the MLB.
Perhaps the most innovative of the leagues in America, the NBA is primed for teams to be added. Last expanded in 2004 with the then Charlotte Bobcats, the NBA has only grown in popularity since, and could be argued as the most popular league. Why not capitalize on the popularity and expand? Adam Silver has placed a steep price tag on expansion, claiming that $2.5 billion would not be nearly enough for a new team, which would dash the hopes of those hoping the NBA would come to their city. However, that isn’t to say Silver is not open to it, as he has in the past pointed out the inevitability of expansion at some point.
With the league moving away from the importance of divisions in recent years, making playoff positioning based on conference rankings solely, the structure of the league wouldn’t radically change with expansion. Under the assumption of two new teams entering the league, a format that resembles the NHL’s would make sense, with four divisions of eight. Scheduling changes likely wouldn’t be significant, and an 82 game schedule could still be used even with the additional teams.
There would be more than a fair share of cities marketing themselves as the next home of an NBA team. Seattle would be one of the most desired markets, a return to the city that hosted the SuperSonics for so many years. Any group that can get a team back to Seattle would be highly praised and find a devoted fan base ready to accept a basketball team again. A return to Vancouver shouldn’t be out of the question either, nor would Las Vegas or Nashville, as any of those three could easily be a successful basketball market given the right opportunities and ownership.
Expansion in sports is always an exciting time, for better or worse. And although the first few years of newly established teams can always be rough(the Golden Knights being the exception), new markets can become hubs for their sports, and can make for winning cultures and great teams consistently. And though it looks like the NHL’s expansion period will cool for some time, the other leagues can more than make up for the slack in that department, and given the fact that profits will return to their normal growth sooner than later, it should be expected to see new teams established within the next few years. And all for the better in growing the passion for sports across the county.