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Bills owner addresses NFL owners about annual game in Toronto

10/23/2007 - NFL Buffalo Bills

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Bills owner Ralph Wilson made his case
Tuesday for Buffalo to play an annual regular-season home game in
Toronto, and now it's up to NFL owners to determine whether there's
potential north of the border.

"The discussion was constructive and encouraging," Wilson said
in a statement released by the team following the league's fall
meetings in Philadelphia. "When the matter is finalized, it will
be referred to commissioner [Roger] Goodell for his announcement."

The proposal was discussed at length and received what Goodell
said was general approval, although no vote was taken.

The Bills' proposal requires two-thirds majority approval from
the league's 32 teams, with a vote expected to come within the next
two months.

The plan is for the Bills to annually play one regular-season
and one preseason game in Toronto starting in 2008 and lasting
through 2012, which is the duration of the franchise's lease at
Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills' proposal is the franchise's most ambitious bid to
secure its long-term future in Buffalo, by tapping into the vast
corporate base of Canada's largest city and financial capital.

Toronto is a 90-mile drive from Buffalo and is counted as part
of the Bills home territory.

The Bills attract an average of 15,000 Canadian fans to their
home games, but have had little success establishing marketing
deals and selling luxury suites with companies north of the border.

Playing annual games in Toronto's downtown Rogers Centre would
give the franchise a more immediate presence in a region that has a
population of about 4.6 million. The Bills are forced to seek a new
frontier after having reached their revenue-generating limits in a
rust-belt western New York region with a perennially struggling
economy.

Despite Wilson's vows that he has no intention of selling or
relocating the Bills, the franchise's future in Buffalo is cloudy.
Wilson, who turned 89 last week, has no plans to keep the team in
his family once he dies, leaving the door open for a new owner to
move the team.

Erie County executive Joel Giambra described the Bills' proposed
link with Toronto the best chance of securing the franchise's
long-term future in Buffalo.

"It's my belief that after the Wilson era, it's going to be a
real challenge to keep this team in this community," Giambra said.
"That challenge is strengthened by this experiment in Canada. ...
If the Bills are successful with that, then I think the probability
of keeping the team after the Wilson era goes up."

The proposal, if passed, would change the NFL's landscape, going
beyond the league's recent bid to play games outside of the United
States, which begins Sunday when Miami and the New York Giants play at
London's Wembley Stadium in the first NFL regular-season game
outside North America.

While the Packers previously split home games between Green Bay
and Milwaukee, and the Chicago Bears played their 2002 home games
at Champaign, Ill., because of renovations to Soldier Field, the
Bills would be the first NFL team to play at least one annual home
game on international soil.