If/when the NFL offers St. Louis an expansion team in an effort to resolve the Rams relocation litigation, the league wouldn’t move to an odd number of teams. The league would add a second team, if it adds a first one.
Which gives rise to a bigger question. How many more teams could the NFL eventually add?
Regardless of whether the league successfully expands the regular season to 18 games in order to increase inventory for betting purposes (it wants to do it; the question is when it can persuade the NFL Payers Association to do it), adding teams adds inventory, too. With more and more young, capable quarterbacks entering the NFL, it’s not crazy to think that the talent pool from college football can support 34, 36, 38, or even 40 teams.
Yes, 40 teams. If the expansion process from 32 begins, 40 becomes the natural ending point. That would result in eight divisions of five teams each. And it would make sense at that point to have 16 playoff teams.
There could even be a preliminary round that trims a field of 20 teams to 16, with six teams in each conference getting a bye and four others playing in a new wild-card round, locking in a field of eight teams per conference.
So where would the teams be headquartered? Obviously, St. Louis. London, which has two NFL-ready stadiums, would have two (like L.A.). And then it would be time to find five other domestic markets.
Making that task somewhat easier would be the potential emergence of a trend toward smaller stadiums, especially in cities that would never be in the Super Bowl mix. A venue in the range of 40,000 to 50,000 could be nearly as profitable as a larger stadium with an extra 20,000 upper-deck, general-admission seats. Smaller stadiums would be cheaper to build, and easier to fill in a smaller market.
As legal sports wagering spreads, the cash spent by the in-stadium crowd matters less than the revenue from, for example, live in-game wagering via real-time broadcasting of the games with no latency. (It’s coming.) At that point, what matters is how the game is televised, not where the game is played.
The conversations about possibly growing to 40 teams already are happening, at the highest levels of the league. It will take time to get there, but in time it will happen. The money will make it so.