Goodell: Bills franchise to stay in Buffalo 'a long time'
CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell dismissed fears the Buffalo Bills will relocate to Toronto, adding he believes the franchise's future is more secure with the additional revenue it generates from playing an annual game north of the border.
"The Buffalo Bills are doing terrific," he said Friday. "I think their step to Toronto has helped strengthen that. And I see the Buffalo Bills being in western New York for a long time."
Goodell noted the Bills' bid to play in Toronto, which received unanimous approval from NFL owners, is part of the team's regionalization plans first instituted in the late 1990s. Under the deal, which begins this year and runs through 2012, the Bills will become the first NFL team to play an annual regular-season game outside the United States.
The series begins with Buffalo set to play Miami on Dec. 7 at the downtown Rogers Centre, which has a retractable roof. The series also includes three preseason games played every other year, starting with a game against Pittsburgh on Aug. 14.
The Bills will be paid $78 million -- more than double their calculated 2006 operating income -- for the eight-game series, which is far more than they could have generated playing in economically troubled Buffalo.
Besides adding revenue, the Bills hope to secure numerous marketing deals and attract more fans by having a firm presence in Canada's financial capital and North America's fifth-largest market. Toronto has a regional population of about 5 million and is a 90-minute drive from Buffalo.
Toronto organizers, led by communications billionaire Ted Rogers, have been careful not to discuss the long-term future of the Bills. But they have described the series of games as an opportunity to showcase Toronto as a city that can host a permanent NFL franchise.
"I don't think there's anyone that thinks negatively of the city of Toronto. It's a great city," Goodell said. "But this is about making sure that we keep the Bills successful in western New York."
Goodell spoke before taking part in an hour-long question-and-answer forum to close a weeklong sports symposium held at the Chautauqua Institution. He grew up in nearby Jamestown, and his family maintains a cottage on the grounds of the gated and picturesque community overlooking Chautauqua Lake.
Team owner and founder Ralph Wilson, 89, has maintained he has no intention to sell or relocate the Bills during his lifetime. But it's unclear what provisions he's made in his will about the Bills. Wilson has previously said his family isn't interested in taking over the franchise, which would potentially put the team on the open market.
Goodell said he's had discussions with Wilson and said the owner "would like to see the team stay in Buffalo, and we're going to work very hard to make sure that it does."
Goodell also noted there are strict relocation rules that any new owner would have to meet before considering a move. As commissioner, Goodell said he would also have a say in determining the Bills' future.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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