Bills owner waits to determine success
GROSSE POINTE SHORES, Mich. -- Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson is in no hurry to have his team play more than one annual regular-season game in Toronto.
Wilson told The Associated Press on Sunday he'd prefer waiting "two or three years" to determine whether the northern experiment is a success before he'd consider reworking the contract reached last year with Toronto-based Rogers Communications. The Bills are locked into playing five regular-season -- one a year -- and three preseason games in Toronto under the agreement which runs through 2012.
Rogers officials have expressed interest in adding at least one additional regular-season game a year, particularly if the NFL goes forward with a proposal to expand its regular-season schedule to 17 or 18 games.
Wilson said an expanded schedule wouldn't make a difference at this point.
"I'm sure they want another game. And who knows?" Wilson said in an interview conducted at his home outside Detroit. "I don't know whether they'll get another game or not. We'll have to see how it works out up there."
The series kicked off last year to mixed results as the Bills became the NFL's first team to play annual regular-season games outside the United States.
High-priced tickets averaging just under $200 were considered a major reason why Toronto organizers experienced difficulty selling out Buffalo's regular-season game against Miami on Dec. 7. There were also thousands of empty seats for Buffalo's preseason game against Pittsburgh in August.
Organizers have already attempted addressed that concern by lowering prices by 17 percent, including pricing 11,000 tickets at less than $100. Last year, only 4,700 tickets were priced at under $100.
Another disappointment for the Bills was how the game lacked a "home" atmosphere. Aside from being played inside the domed Rogers Centre, rather than in the wintery outdoors at Ralph Wilson Stadium, there was also a large contingent of Dolphins fans in attendance for Miami's 16-3 win.
The Bills "host" another AFC East rival, the New York Jets, in this year's game at Toronto,scheduled for Dec. 3. Buffalo is not scheduled to play a preseason game in Toronto until next summer.
The Bills were interested in playing in Toronto in a bid to expand their market and tap into the revenue-generating potential of Canada's largest city and financial capital. Toronto is considered part of the Bills' market, and located about a 90-minute drive east of Buffalo.
The deal is already paying off for the Bills, who are getting $78 million -- more than double their calculated 2006 operating income -- to effectively lease their games to Toronto organizers.
The Toronto group was led by Rogers CEO and founder Ted Rogers, who died the week leading up to the Bills game against Miami. Rogers Communications, which also owns the Toronto Blue Jays and Rogers Centre, remains committed to the series following Ted Rogers' death. Another member of the group is Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors.
Rogers and Tanenbaum were eager to use the eight-game series to show that Toronto and it's regional population of about 5 million can support its own NFL franchise.
Bills fans have persistently expressed fears that the series is the first step in the permanent relocation of their small-market franchise.
Not so, Wilson reiterated Sunday.
"We're doing this to keep the team [in Buffalo]," Wilson said. "I could see why people think that this is just the first step of moving the team. But they don't realize how difficult it is to compete against the Cowboys and all these new stadiums."
Though he didn't have the exact figures, Wilson said the team has noted a significant increase in Canadian-based fans purchasing season tickets this year.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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