The NFL is still looking to expand. That way, it can reach more fans and pull in better figures. The newest franchise playing in the NFL currently are the Houston Texans who entered the fray in 2002.
Expansion teams are expensive to set up, and dates surrounding such things are rarely more than speculation. There have been talks, for example, going around the rumour mill that the NFL would like to push up to at least 36 teams from the current 32. Nothing seems likely to happen anytime soon though.
Why Toronto appeals
The history of the NFL in Toronto dates back to pre-1960, so there is a big affinity there. There are obvious reasons why Toronto would appeal as a destination for an NFL expansion. It is the third-largest city in the US and Canada, for example.
The city has also hosted NFL matches, even regular-season fixtures featuring the Buffalo Bills, so the demand is there. Since the turn of the century, there have been reports that consortiums were considering making a bid for the Buffalo Bills to try to create a Canadian franchise.
It has been a story that won’t go away. The Bills don’t have a massive market share in the NFL due to their location. In 2022, they ranked in the middle of the table for NFL attendance, with the late-season unfavourable weather not helping averages. A Toronto team would likely not have the same kind of issues.
However, money would need to be invested into a new stadium that can hold 70,000 plus. For comparison, BMO Field, home of the Argonauts, is around 28,000 capacity, coming in well below the average 60,000 attendance for NFL matches. Rogers Centre is around 50,000 for American football matches currently. The financial viability of a new Canadian franchise would need filled seats in a high-capacity stadium.
The current 32 NFL teams give the format a nice number of franchises to work with at four teams per division. Throwing another franchise into the mix from a Canadian expansion would disrupt that somewhat.
Toronto would likely naturally slide into the AFC East, creating some fixture re-jigging. However, that appears to be the smallest of issues that Canada joining the NFL would bring to the table.
Muscling in on Buffalo
If the NFL expanded into Toronto, then it could have a knock-on effect in Buffalo. The NFL wants the Buffalo Bills strong and stable, and a relative near-neighbour is going to create market competition for them.
Canadian NFL fans have Buffalo as their first port of call for action. Broadcasts and even travel south of the border to attend matches are relatively easy. Should Toronto muscle its way in, then that could affect the revenue collected by the Bills, even down to merchandise sales.
The Canadian Football League is another potential, and not an insignificant, stumbling block to any desired expansion by the NFL into Canada. The popularity of the NFL in Canada is already on the rise and it could put the CFL under threat.
Ontario, for example, is a red-hot hub for NFL fandom, which would only grow were it to get an NFL team. That could be a devastating blow to the Toronto Argonauts, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Redblacks, and potentially the Montreal Alouettes.
Should the NFL arrive in the Great White North, there is no way that the CFL is going to be happy. Competition is going to hurt it. Already, recent surveys have seen viewership of NFL matches by Canadians surpass that of CFL matches in certain regions.
Such a move could also pull potential stars of the CFL over to the NFL instead where bigger contracts are likely to be found.
It’s not just Canada that has been touted as a potential destination for foreign expansion. The growing interest in the NFL expansion to the UK is high. The NFL has sent more and more games over to London and talk of an expansion team there won’t go away either.
It could be that the NFL would look to a four-team European franchise expansion, though that would be a massive undertaking. Mexico City would be another option, and that would be an absolute mega-market for the NFL.
Domestically, San Antonio, the biggest city in the US without an NFL team, would be champing at the bit for franchise action. The big football state of Oklahoma or a return to St. Louis would be other expansion options closer to home.
There’s no clear picture ahead for Canada joining the NFL. It is perhaps not so much of a case of why Canada doesn’t join the NFL, but whether it can be done in a way that makes everyone happy.