On expansion, some sports leagues have it right, others have it wrong


Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the latest sports news in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @AkiemBailum.

Nov 23, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; A hopeful Rams fan pleads for a stadium in Los Angeles during the Rams


Realists, when this word is used in regards to sports leagues wanting to add more teams, it appears to be an issue (like most others) that has two sides.

Those on the pro-expansion side laud the expansion of a league with the addition of more teams, meaning more cities get to be represented within a sport. Others on the anti-expansion side of the issue believe that adding more teams (and more cities) to a league only dilutes the leagues product, further allowing players that perhaps do not belong in the professional ranks in the professional ranks.

No matter which side of the issue one is on, expansion has always been a hot-button topic within sports and always will be.

But, some seem to be doing it wrong and others appear to be doing it right.

At the top of the list is the NFL. The NFL has 32 teams, with the latest of those 32 coming over a decade ago. This was when the NFL (with Paul Tagliabue as commissioner) had granted an expansion franchise to Los Angeles before things got Avril Lavigne-level complicated to where Houston got the franchise instead of LA.

Of course, giving Texas any football team will be successful and the Texans have been a successful addition to the NFL.

Recently, the NFL’s fetish with wanting to expand has taken a disturbing turn.

The league seemingly wants to expand to either Los Angeles or London. After the last time they tried bringing pro gridiron ball back to Southern California’s largest city, one would think that they may tread lightly when mentioning “NFL” and “Los Angeles” in the same sentence.

The San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, and Oakland Raiders are the three teams that are being looked at when the idea of renewing pro football in Los Angeles are talked about. Especially now, the league appears beyond hellbent in wanting to go back to LA with all of the stadium proposals that are out there.

The league unapologetically wants to go back to Los Angeles, even if it does not necessarily need to. The NFL Network is based in Los Angeles, but the allure of returning the NFL to the nation’s second-largest media market is the primary thing that has Roger Goodell and Friends in Park Avenue grinning from ear to ear.

It is one thing to want to expand to LA. It is something different when Goodell’s expansion fetish seems to run so deep that they’re thinking about a franchise in London.

Never mind the fact that the last time the NFL had a sub-league in Europe (NFL Europa), it failed. Never mind the fact that placing a franchise in the United Kingdom would be a logistical and television nightmare for the entire league, not just the London team. The only thing that the league and its 32 owners seemingly care about on the issue of London is the fact that it is a city flush in money.

What also is perplexing is how the NFL has no problem expanding to two cities that can do without the league, but the NBA does not get how there is a city that wants them to return.
That city is, of course, Seattle.

The Emerald City has been without the NBA since 2008 when Clay Bennett relocated the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City. It appeared that a deal was reached in 2013 to relocate the Sacramento Kings to Seattle before a last minute effort from Sacto scuffled the entire thing.

Adam Silver recently said that he does not foresee any team in Seattle for at least the next two to three years. Silver said that a 30-team league is stable, but if that’s the case, why are the Milwaukee Bucks asking for taxpayer money to fund a new arena in its downtown?

This is where both he and the NFL have it wrong. Placing an NBA team in Seattle is a move that would make a lot of sense. Placing an NFL team in Los Angeles or London does not. So, don’t you wish the NBA was as adamant about Seattle as the NFL is about either LA or London?

There are many unsolved mysteries about sports—this one is at the top of the list.

The NHL would love to expand into Seattle as it perhaps would love to expand into Las Vegas. The difference is that there already is an arena being built in Vegas. The Seattle process for its proposed stadium seems to have shrouded itself in an abyss of municipal politics.

Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner, also believes that his 30-team league is stable. Tell that to the Arizona Coyotes, who were within one or two votes by Glendale politicians from relocating to Seattle two years ago. Tell that to the Florida Panthers, who must be so in the red that they cut their dance team and have been one of the instruments of Bettman’s expansion strategy south that has gone in the wrong direction.

Give credit to the NHL though. It at least sees the value in expanding to cities that would be immediate hockey hotbeds such as Seattle and Quebec City. It also supposedly wants a second team in Toronto along with one in Las Vegas. The latter two are questionable while the former pair are no-brainers.

But the NFL-Los Angeles issue and the NBA-Seattle issue is a confluence of two distant media narratives. So much more attention is placed on the NFL-Los Angeles “problem” when there is no question in my mind that the absence of an NBA team in Seattle is much more glaring than the absence of an NFL team in LA.

Since football is the most popular sport in America, more media attention will be placed on the NFL-Los Angeles dilemma than that of NBA-Seattle. If the media did its due diligence and focused half as much on the NBA’s problem than the NFL’s, the Seattle process may be moving along much faster as the LA process looks to be going ahead now at break-neck speeds.

The media narratives are conflicting and the positions of both NFL and NBA make little to no sense. Arena politics and other things are holding up expansion in the NBA to a basketball-loving city while money is the only thing driving the NFL’s desire to expand to two cities that either do not need the NFL or cannot logistically support the NFL.

And only the NHL has it half-right by at least looking at cities either in Canada or near the Canadian border for its expansion efforts.

The moral of the story for sports leagues is simply this: Expand, but expand wisely.

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