“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 wedding:
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 10k.
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 States.
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.
History (40%) – 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.
Location (20%) – 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 bird’s path.
Venue (15%) – A city that has a larger venue or more options for a suitable arena is probably more likely to land a team.
Proximity to 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 early 2000s.
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.