On Sunday, February 23rd, the St. Louis Battlehawks hosted the first professional football game in St. Louis since the Rams move back to LA in 2015. In a 29-9 victory over the New York Guardians, the Battlehawks drew a crowd of 29,554 fans at the Dome, the largest crowd so far this season.
This outnumbered the LA Wildcats home attendance through Weeks 1 and 2. In week four, the Battlehawks’ second home game drew 27,757, the third highest attendance in the XFL so far this season. When looking at highlights from both of these games, not only are fans going to the games, but they’re all in; Joe Powell’s kickoff return touchdown in Week 3 was met with deafening cheers.
With St. Louis’ embracing of the Battlehawks, it seems that the XFL has a clear target for future expansions; disenfranchised NFL cities. Although the endeavor may sound strange, it could be a better expansion model than the AAF’s for a variety of reasons, and when looking for a potential next target in Oakland, California.
Before I get into why Oakland may be a good fit for the XFL’s next team, let me explain why the XFL’s current team locations work, and why the AAF’s did not. During it’s inception, the AAF, and later the XFL, expressed that their main goal was not to compete with the NFL like the USFL of the 80s, but instead provide a smaller spring league that could continue the popularity of football later into the year.
One thing that the AAF did to express their lack of competition with the NFL was establish teams in cities where there were no NFL franchises, largely concentrated in the South in places like Orlando, Birmingham, and San Antonio. On paper, this is a pretty solid idea; fans of established NFL teams are hard to persuade over to your league, and a new city would let fans celebrate having their own team for the first time.
However, what the AAF seemed to forget is that when trying to make a professional league, the national TV contract is often more important than selling seats, and viewers from around the country won’t really care enough to root for a team from Birmingham, Alabama or Salt Lake City, Utah.
By mixing a team like the Battlehawks in with teams from markets like New York and Los Angeles, casual viewers have a better sense of each team’s identity. When the XFL expands, it’ll be great to see some new teams from smaller cities take on the more established franchises. The remains a theme in American sport. Franchises like the Vegas Golden Knights, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Atlanta United provide insight.
Here’s where Oakland comes into the mix. Starting next season, the Raiders will play their games in Las Vegas, abandoning the city that it called home for over forty non-consecutive years. Depending on when the XFL is ready to expand, Oakland would be a perfect target, considering that before the move, Oakland’s fanbase was one of the most popular in the entire XFL. Not only would this bring in more local fans, but it would be a great story line for the league in terms of recognition in the same way that the Battlehawks are perceived now.
When looking at this move, there is one glaring issue; the stadium. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum has been one of the main reasons for the Raiders’ departure. It’s small, and its dual-use identity has been a blemish in the eyes of the Raiders’ front office. However, given the fact that some XFL is actually looking to smaller stadiums. For example, the Guardians’ current bid for Red Bull Arena. It would be a great place for an XFL expansion team to play.