“Deep Routes” is a
weekly series that will look in-depth at AFL stats and present weekly updates
to my AFL model.
By Anthony Reinhard
I did not write a post last week as I was on my honeymoon in
Jamaica with my wonderful wife Gina. Here we are on July 20th at our
Arena Bowl XXXII
Philly and Albany will collide in the ArenaBowl Sunday night
after convincing playoff wins. I’m giving Albany a 70.1% chance to take home
the championship. This makes them an 8.4pt favorite on their home field. With
one pick to go, my model has been 28-12 so far this season. My model is
2113-1066 (66.5%) all-time.
I want to spend most of this post on something that I’ve
spent a fair amount of time thinking about since the regular season ended:
expansion. Commissioner Boe announced that there would be around two to four
expansion teams that would join the league for the 2020 season. With my team
out of the running for the ArenaBowl, I got to thinking about what cities might
be added to the league next year. I proceeded to gather some data and here is
what I came up with!
Let’s start with the basics. You need an arena to have team! So who has an arena? I found a list of arenas in the United States so we’ll begin with that.
Remaining Arenas: 327
Can all of these arenas house an AFL team? The max capacity
of an arena is maybe 2,000-4,000 more than what it could hold for an AFL game.
The league average attendance in the regular season was about 7,600 and the
smallest arena now (Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City) is listed at a max
capacity of 13,800, so let’s say we need arenas with a max capacity of at least
Remaining Arenas: 145
It is also fair to ask what regions of the country are in
play. As for next year, I’d be surprised to see an expansion team west of the
Mississippi River, so we’ll limit ourselves to arenas in the eastern United
Remaining Arenas: 83
Some of the arenas that remain are already occupied by teams
in the AFL or other arena leagues. We’ll assume that the AFL will not adopt or
supplant any of these existing teams. We’ll also knock out a venue in DC and a
venue in Columbus as no team would be added there.
Remaining Arenas: 64
Let’s assign each of these 64 arenas to a Metropolitan
Statistical Area (MSA) as defined by the 2010 US Census. There is only one
arena on our list that is not located inside or near a metropolitan area so
we’ll toss that one. Sorry Tupelo, Mississippi!
Unique Metros Remaining: 49
So now that we’ve defined the 49 cities that could
potentially host a team, how do we compare them? I’m going to pull together a
bunch of different factors, standardize them among all 49 cities, weight them
as I see appropriate, and then take an average of the weighted standardized
factors to form a composite score. The composite score will be a number between
0 and 100 and will allow us to rank all of the potential expansion sites.
– Let’s start by gathering some details about cities that have hosted AFL or af2
teams in the past. Attendance is our probably the best available proxy for fan
engagement in arena football. It is also probably relevant how many years a
metro has hosted a team and how recently that team left.
– Columbus is the only non-East Coast team which leads me to believe that a
metro’s vicinity to other existing teams would be a plus. Because I am lazy, I
am going to estimate distance by taking using longitude and latitude on a
– A city that has a larger venue or more options for a suitable arena is
probably more likely to land a team.
Untapped Markets (15%) – Metros that are located near other high-quality
markets that do not currently have teams could be more attractive than metros
that don’t expand the league map.
Sports Betting (5%)
– The AFL has branded itself as being forward on sports betting and any municipality
that is located in a state that has passed or is working to pass legislation
related to sports gambling could have an edge.
Metro Population (5%) – Obviously bigger cities are more appealing than smaller ones, but the effect is likely marginal in this case. This all conjecture and I have no inside information about how the AFL has been evaluating new opportunities. There are many ways to slice this. If you’d like to take a stab at it, check out
This all conjecture and I have no inside information about how the AFL has been evaluating new opportunities. There are many ways to slice this. If you’d like to take a stab at it, check out my dataset on google sheets. A summary of the standardized data by category is below.
My method probably overrates New York and Chicago who are
stronger than most cities in every category, but may not be markets the AFL
wants to wade into. I suspect it underrates Louisville, KY and Scranton, PA who
both have great locations and had long records of success in af2. Indianapolis,
IN is another that may belong in stronger position after a short AFL run in the
It goes without saying that nothing above should be taken as
gospel. I would however be surprised if a team outside my top 30 were named as
an expansion location. Ultimately, we won’t know who the new expansion teams
are until the league makes an announcement this week.