The Buffalo News

Monday, February 11, 2008

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Bills have deal in place for Toronto games

By Mark Gaughan and Jerry Sullivan - News Sports Reporters
Updated: 01/30/08 6:33 PM

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Buffalo Bills have finalized a deal to play one regular-season football game in Toronto over each of the next five seasons, league sources have told The News.

The agreement also is scheduled to include three preseason games over the five-year span. The deal has been in the works for almost a year and first was made public in October. It will start with the 2008 NFL season and run through the 2012 season. It is likely to be formally announced in Toronto sometime in the next week.

The Bills will play seven regular-season games at Ralph Wilson Stadium instead of eight, reducing by one the number of games for which season-ticket holders will have to pay. It's expected that the game that will shift to Toronto will be in December, perhaps the last home game of the year. Games in mid- to late December typically are harder for the Bills to sell out because of weather concerns. Moving a December game would be preferable for Toronto, as well, because it would be after the end of the Canadian Football League season.

The Toronto games would be played at the Rogers Centre — formerly the SkyDome — the domed stadium that is home to the baseball Blue Jays and the CFL's Argonauts. The capacity of the Rogers Centre for an NFL game was not announced.

The Bills have had great success marketing the team and selling luxury seats in the Rochester area. While the Bills attract a strong contingent of fans from Canada to home games — estimates are in the 10,000 range a game — they have not made strong inroads into the business community in the Toronto metropolitan area, which has a population of 5 million.

The Bills think that besides making money by playing one game a year in Toronto, they can spur more corporate support from Canadian businesses for some of the high-end seats at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Toronto fans would love to have an NFL franchise. It's expected that wealthy Toronto interests would make bids for the Bills when the Buffalo franchise goes up for sale after Wilson dies. That's likely to happen, regardless of whether the Bills market the team in Southern Ontario now or not.

For more on the Bills' plans see Thursday's Buffalo News.

mgaughan@buffnews.com and jsullivan@buffnews.com


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