Monday, May 17, 2010

Growing Football

Whatcha gonna do when your team threatens or says good-bye? Whatcha gonna do when they're gone? Baseball teams have moved around the country since the 30s, some more famously than others while football fans have gone through similar transitions. The Chiefs were originally in Dallas until the Cowboys came to town. The Oilers moved to Tennessee, Browns to Baltimore, Rams to St. Louis, Colts to Indianapolis and the Cardinals to Arizona.

The Redskins were one of the first as they trace their roots to Boston in 1932 before moving to Washington in 1937. Others have threatened to move if they don't get new stadiums or their attendance numbers don't improve, including some teams many consider irrevocably linked to the flesh and blood of the people who have long supported them (hello Buffalo). Toronto isn't necessarily that far and it would be interesting to have an NFL team north of the border but Jacksonville is facing something arguably more compelling.

Los Angeles is the 2nd largest television market in the country but lost both the homegrown Rams and the temporary Raiders due to poor performance, lack of fan support and nothing in the way of new stadiums. The powers that be are having a hard time accepting a city like Los Angeles, home to 14 million people and major league corporations not being regularly featured on Fall Sunday football programming. I won't debate the merits of having a team in a city that failed to keep two already but am rather more curious about league balance if instead of inheriting a "failing" team from somewhere else the league decides to add a brand new team.

Number 33? In a league with two conferences, eight divisions and four teams in each, where do you put this oddball? Geography says one of the two "West" divisions but who's? It might be cozier in the AFC since there's already a blood feud in California between the Chargers and Raiders. Then again, the San Francisco 49ers don't have an instate rival and the Dodgers and Giants (baseball) already hate each other so maybe the better fit would be in the NFC. Either way, it still means one division has more than the other seven and oh my, the scheduling nightmares that might pose? Maybe two "BYE" weeks per team!

My two cents in order to keep a balance would be to always have an even number of teams that is divisible by at least three and preferably four divisions in each conference. That means that in one season the league would have to grow to either 36 teams with an East, West and Central division structure or 40 teams and keeping the compass system in place. Uh....what? More to the point, where?

Here's a few reasons why neither of those is likely to happen and Jacksonville may soon lose its team in the near future. Large metropolitan areas that don't already have a team are more than likely "claimed" by the nearest franchise whose owner would vigorously oppose a new franchise cutting in to his revenues and talent pool. Salt Lake City is Broncos country as much as Portland "belongs" to the Seahawks. San Antonio almost got a team when Katrina ran through New Orleans but is not recognized as a "front tier" market despite being one of the largest cities in the Southwest. They are overshadowed by Houston and Dallas whose Cowboys "own" arguably every inch of the state except Greater Houston and maybe Corpus Christi.

Louisville, Kentucky is a perfect storm of conflicting agendas. It has a sizable sports loving population and major corporations in UPS, Yum! Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Long John Silvers), Humana Insurance and Papa John's. The deal breaker, however, is the fact that it sits at the center of a two-hour drive triangle between Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Nashville (the Titans). Portland, Oregon is in a worse situation: only Seattle is nearby but as far as corporate sponsors are concerned there are a few regional banks, some family owned dealerships and Nike.

Other fairly sizable cities without NFL franchises likewise don't necessarily miss or need a team. Nebraska is Cornhusker country so that leaves out Omaha while Columbus, Ohio lives and dies by the Buckeyes, thanks just the same. Birmingham, maybe but you'd have to get past the Crimson Tide and Auburn rivalry first. Not a chance, so what's left? Honolulu and Las Vegas, it would appear, both of which are totally reliant on tourists who have loyalties to their teams back home. Moreover they might object to hosting NFL games that keep people away from the beach or the tables!

So, between current teams claiming territory rights and the need for high visibility sponsors, what cities out there fit that description, the relatively isolated and rich? Anchorage?

Now come up with a name for the team.

Gotta go!

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