Bills Notebook

Earlier this week, the Bills' first of eight games in Toronto was announced. How much money will these tickets go for? Could Toronto support an NFL franchise? This and more inside, including how an injury to one draft prospect could play into the Bills' plans...

Three-hundred dollars for a preseason game?

This past week, Buffalo's first game of its eight-game Toronto Series was announced. The Bills will play a "home game" against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, Aug. 14 at the Rogers Centre.

A letter on the website www.billsintoronto.com, hints that the price range for the Bills-Steelers preseason game is $75-$300, according to the Toronto Star.

"We haven't finalized ticket prices yet," Adrian Montgomery, the Centre Rogers Communications' director of strategic alliances said in the Toronto Star article. "I can tell you there will be price points for every NFL fan. It means there will be ticket prices that every NFL fan of various means will be able to afford."

Tension over the Bills' future has been high on the home front. Local celebrities such as Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and Buffalo Sabres' owner Tom Golisano have voiced their assurance that the Bills will remain in Buffalo. The Bills' owner, Ralph Wilson Jr., has sent frequent uneasy shockwaves through Bills Nation, saying it will be hard for a small market team to compete in the modern day NFL.

Still, the Bills' insist the Toronto Series is purely marketing-based.

"We needed to begin and continue to regionalize this brand," said Brandon. "We've been very successful with our training camp model in Rochester and we anticipate to have the same kind of success in the Toronto marketplace."

How successful the Bills-Steelers game is will surely be scrutinized by Wilson and the Bills. Toronto has emphatically supported an NHL team (Maple Leafs), NBA team (Raptors) and a MLB team (Blue Jays), amongst several other lower-level sports franchises. While Buffalo sports fans are familiar with the Maple Leaf support (many Leafs fans fill the HSBC Arena for Sabres-Leafs games because they can't get tickets in Toronto), the city's support for the Raptors may be a better indicator. The Raptors joined the NBA 13 years ago, and have maintained very strong popularity.

From 2000-02 - in Vince Carter's heyday - the Raptors led the NBA in sellouts. Last season when the Raptors won the Atlantic Division, an average of 18,258 fans filled the Air Canada Centre – 13th highest in the league. This amount is 92 percent of the arena's capacity. In 2007, the value of the franchise was $373 million. Nine years ago, it was only $125 million.

Of course, NFL football is entirely different monster. No other sport experiences more fluctuations in fan support. How would a Toronto fan base reacted to the Bills near-decade long playoff drought? Tough to say.

The rumored high ticket prices aren't a good sign for local Bills fans. How successful each successive Bills game in Toronto, though, will show whether the city can support an NFL franchise.

Don't discount a trade down

Jonathan Stewart's toe injury may have an inadvertant effect on the Bills' draft strategy.

At best, Stewart will be ready to go by training camp and it's difficult to determine how healthy he'll be then. His injury equates to much, much more money for Illinois' running back Rashard Mendenhall. At No. 11, Buffalo is in prime trade-down position. Many teams, including Carolina (No. 13) Chicago (No. 14), Detroit (No. 15), Dallas (No. 22, 28) may be looking to leapfrog each other for Mendenhall now that he is probably the second-best running back available.

If cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are taken in the top 10, Buffalo might be wise to move down and take Aqib Talib, Mike Jenkins or another cornerback a few picks later – adding another selection in the process.

Two back-ups re-sign

The Bills re-signed exclusive rights free agents Tim Massaquoi and Corey Mace this past week.

The tight end, Massaquoi, signed with Buffalo on Nov. 14 and played in the team's final four games, primarily on special teams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers originally drafted him in the seventh round of the 2006 draft.

The odds are stacked against Massaquoi. Buffalo signed Courtney Anderson in free agency, and will most likely draft a tight end in the early rounds of the draft. With Robert Royal and Teyo Johnson also on the roster, Massaquoi may need a dynamite training camp to land a roster spot. Still, many teams in recent years have opted to keep three and sometimes four tight ends on the roster. It's certainly a position of great value, as running schemes become more complicating and more teams utilize tight ends in the passing game

Mace, a defensive tackle, signed with the Bills as an undrafted rookie last year, making the team's practice squad. He joined the active roster on Dec. 28, but was inactive for the team's final game at Philadelphia.


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