With Las Vegas finally getting an NFL franchise as well as finding unprecedented success after only one year in the NHL, the race to become the next big-league city is on in earnest. Seriously, the world of pro sports is in the middle of an epic game of fruit basket turnover, with more teams in the Big Four – NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball (MLB) – than you can shake a stick at threatening to move, and almost as many cities wooing team owners with promises of tax breaks and $billion state-of-the-art stadiums. For instance, San Antonio mayor Ron Nirenberg made news recently when he told a local news outlet that his city would have an NFL team within the next 10 years.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at a five cities that are on the brink of joining the Big Four. Each city mentioned either has no Big Four teams at all or currently has only one major league team.
Number of Big Four Teams – 0
The Magic City has been in discussions about finally landing a Big Four franchise for over 40 years, but the time might finally be right for Alabama’s largest city to break into the big time. The city is in the 45th largest television market and is the heart of the 49th largest metropolitan area in the nation. It’s also smack in the middle of one of the most football-crazy communities on Earth.
Birmingham AL, its the most passionate college football base in USA. There is no pro team in state, make 1 and fan base would rival the best
— Adam Lawley (@AdamLawley) June 26, 2017
Birmingham has been known as the Football Capital of the South for almost a century, with most of that passion for football directly squarely at the college game. The city has dipped its toe in the pro game a handful of times, hosting almost every fly-by-night professional league over the last 40 years. Birmingham won the only World Football League championship in the World Football League of the mid-1970s, and the Birmingham Stallions was one of the best-attended teams in the USFL. Birmingham has also landed teams in the World League of American Football (WLAF) and during the Canadian Football League’s strange experiment placing teams south of the Canadian border.
While consideration about Birmingham has mostly focused on football, the city’s closest brush with the Big Four came in hockey. The city was home to the Birmingham Bulls of the World Hockey Association, a short-lived pro hockey league competing with the NHL throughout the 1970s. Several WHA teams eventually merged with the NHL, but Birmingham was left out in the cold.
Success on the field or in the stands while in these leagues has not translated into serious discussions with any Big Four league, however, Birmingham is one of eight charter cities with a team – the Birmingham Iron – in the new Alliance of American Football, set to kickoff in February 2019. With the addition of a new open-air stadium planned for the city’s downtown, a new professional soccer team – Birmingham Legion FC – also set to begin play in the United Soccer League (USL) in 2019, and the resurgence of UAB football now might be a good time to consider Birmingham as an emerging Big Four town.