Posted: Jan 31, 2008, 2:42 AM
It's Hammer Time
Join Date: Mar 2004
Sources: NFL has approved plan for Bills to play eight games in Toronto
TORONTO - The National Football League has reached an agreement with the Buffalo Bills that will allow them to play eight games in Toronto over the next five years, starting in 2008.
Two sources requesting anonymity said Wednesday that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will make the announcement Friday at his state-of-the-union address in Arizona. The Bills, as well as the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL, would then hold a joint news conference in Toronto next week to officially unveil the details.
That, though, was news to Argos co-owner David Cynamon.
"I have no idea, I swear," he said when contacted Wednesday. "I know about the Bills potentially coming here for games, but that's it."
Brian McCarthy, the NFL's Director of Corporate Communications, had no comment on the issue.
"The Commissioner's annual news conference is Friday," McCarthy said in an e-mail. "We anticipate this will come up during the news conference along with many other matters."
News of the NFL's approval isn't surprising.
The sources said the Bills will play a regular-season game at Rogers Centre in 2008 after the CFL season, avoiding possible conflicts with both the Argos and Ticats. As part of that deal, season-ticket holders with both clubs will be given some sort of priority at purchasing tickets to Buffalo's game here.
However, a Toronto all-sports radio station reported the Bills' agreement only ensures that the 2008 game won't conflict with the CFL schedule and that it wasn't clear whether that stipulation would also apply to the other four years of the deal.
The Fan also reported tickets would be done via lottery, with first crack going to Argos and Ticats season-ticket holders, then Bills season-ticket holders. The average price would reportedly be C$250 a game and fans would have to purchase all eight tickets and pay for them upfront.
In October, Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. asked the NFL for permission to play eight home games in Toronto over five years, beginning in 2008. Buffalo would play one regular-season contest each year at Rogers Centre, with three exhibition contests sprinkled in over the five-year span.
The plan, Wilson said, was to an attempt to expand the Bills market as well as its fan base by playing games in a more vibrant Toronto marketplace. The hope would be that playing games in Canada might result in more Canadian businesses purchasing the high-end seats at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bills attract a solid group of fans from southern Ontario - between 10,000 and 15,000 per game, depending on the opponent. Metro Toronto boasts a population of about five million people, compared to just 1.25 million for the metro Buffalo area. Another factor, too, is the strength of the Canadian dollar and the health of the southern Ontario economy compared the economic sluggishness currently plaguing Western New York.
That has prompted many to see the Bills' plan as their first step towards relocating to the richer, more financially appealing Toronto marketplace. Wilson, 89, fanned those flames last summer when he announced he wouldn't sell the Buffalo franchise in his lifetime but that it would be sold the highest bidder upon his death.
Talk of the NFL coming to Toronto has existed since the 1970s. But the combination of Wilson's statement, the Bills' playing regular-season games at Rogers Centre, the strength of the Canadian dollar and deep pockets of the Toronto NFL group headed up by Ted Rogers and Larry Tanenbaum has many believing the NFL's arrival here is inevitable.
Cynamon and Argos co-owner Howard Sokolowski obviously think so, too. They reportedly spoke to CFL commissioner Mark Cohon and the other league owners about buying an NFL franchise for Toronto to ensure the Argos' long-term survival in the city.
The overwhelming belief is that if the NFL does come to Toronto, it will not only spell the end of the Argos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but ultimately kill the CFL. But in November Cohon said he has a strong line of communication with Goodell and that the NFL commissioner's top priority is protecting the CFL's eight member franchises.