Despite leagues expanding in recent years, there are still a lot of deserving US cities that aren’t home to one of the “Big 4” professional sports teams—that’s of course NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. One could argue MLS and WNBA should qualify, but for the sake of this exercise we’ll focus on the four most popular leagues.
So, let’s break it down. Which cities without a team make the most sense for landing one in the near future, and why?
Honolulu would probably be an enticing city to host a team with its warm climate. The downside, of course, would be a small market of just 1.6 million Hawaiians, and a horrific travel schedule. Its best bet might be the NFL, with only 16 regular season games and far less flying around.
Once home to the NHL’s Whalers, Hartford is nestled in between New York and Boston in relatively densely populated Connecticut. The downside to Hartford being home to a new team is simple—there are a lot of other pro teams really close by. Both Boston and New York are just over 100 miles. Then again, the population is there to support a team without cutting into either New York or Boston’s large markets much.
13. El Paso
With a metro population near 1 million, and no pro teams for many hours in any direction, El Paso could likely support a team. Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican city of 1.4 million, is just across the border, too. It wouldn’t be crazy to imagine baseball or football being a popular draw here.
12. San Juan
San Juan, Puerto Rico is part of the United States, as some are quick to forget, and has hosted pro sports before, most notably when the Montreal Expos shared time there in 2003. Puerto Rico is home to many famous major leaguers, from Roberto Alomar to Roberto Clemente. A MLB team would absolutely thrive in San Juan!
Oklahoma City has the Thunder, but Tulsa is left out of the major sports. Could this oil city support a team? It didn’t work out so well with their short-lived WNBA team. Kansas City and Dallas are about equal distances apart, and neither is a particularly easy drive. With a metro population of 1 million, Tulsa looks like it could be worth a look.
Virginia’s capitol has a metro population of well over 1.2 million, making it a desirable location for a new team. Virginia as a whole, surprisingly, has no pro teams of its own, and Richmond is not particularly close to any other major cities. It’s safe to assume most Virginians probably cheer for the Washington area teams, a 3-hour drive.
Poor Wichita. They finally raised money and built a state-of-the-art baseball stadium to host a AAA team. The Marlins moved in, and then the pandemic happened. They never hosted a single game, and this winter they have already been demoted to AA in the Twins’ system. This city needs a shot in the arm with an NBA or NHL team.
New Mexico’s largest city is a monumental drive to the nearest pro cities of Phoenix or Denver. No, it doesn’t have a huge population like some of these other cities at just 560,000 and no metropolitan area to speak of, but it’s a fairly large city and so far from any other large cities. An NHL team in the desert makes just as much sense as Miami or Anaheim, after all.
It kinda feels like California doesn’t need any more teams, but then again, it is a very large state in both land area and population. Fresno is pretty far away from any of the other California teams, landlocked nearly smack-dab in the middle of the state. With a metro population of around 1 million, it stands to reason a pro team could survive here.
Riverside is another California city often cited as deserving of a pro team, but come on, LA is right there! Nevertheless, the LA area is obviously gigantic and there is little doubt you could throw a team from any sport into Riverside and draw big crowds without hurting LA. Plus, the traffic from Riverside to any of the LA or Anaheim stadiums isn’t generally very forgiving. Or why not just bring the Clippers or Chargers over from their shared arenas?
Kansas City’s teams wouldn’t much like seeing Omaha cut into their already relatively small market, but then again a Nebraska team could make for a nice local rival. The metro area is home to nearly 1 million, and that’s not counting Lincoln, another sizable city, which is just to the south. An NBA or NHL team here makes tons of sense, but then why not just put one in Kansas City?
Kentucky’s largest city is home to the renowned bat manufacturing facility and horse racing’s biggest stage, but little else when it comes to the pros. Cincinnati would hate this move if Louisville somehow landed an NFL or MLB team, but an NBA franchise here makes a lot of sense.
Not since Michael Jordan played for the Barons has Alabama gotten a taste of the pros. Birmingham would be a great place for an NFL team to set up shop, and was briefly mentioned when the Chargers were on the move not long ago. Its metro population is well over 1 million, and while Atlanta is just 150 miles away, Birmingham wouldn’t cut into Atlanta’s sports market that terribly much. A city of this size deserves a shot at the pros.
2. Virginia Beach
The metro area including nearby Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Newport News easily has the numbers to support pro sports. Look around, and it’s not like there are other teams within super easy driving distance either, with Washington a 3 1/2 hour drive on a good day. How they haven’t yet landed a team is fairly surprising!
Far and away, the most glaring city without one of the Big 4 teams is Austin. Houston and Dallas are far enough away that losing central Texas’ sports market to either city wouldn’t be crushing, necessarily. The Texas Longhorns play in Austin and sell out a 100,000-seat stadium, so one would easily think that could translate to supporting any of the Big 4 sports. Austin’s city population is nearly up to 1 million, and growing rapidly. With new celebrity residents like Elon Musk and Joe Rogan, to big tech companies setting up shop in town like Apple, Tesla and Oracle, Texas’s capitol city should be on every Big 4 sports’ lists for expansion.
There aren’t too many other sports-less American cities that feel deserving that come to mind. One could make weak arguments for places like Lubbock, Sioux Falls, Lexington, Des Moines or Wilkes-Barre, but this list feels pretty airtight. Now, if you want to expand beyond the US, cases could be made for Canadian cities like Quebec, or Mexican cities like Mexico City. Maybe even London, Paris, Tokyo or beyond.
What do you think, sports fans? Is this list spot-on, or did we egregiously overlook a few cities?