Two-Town Team?

The Bills are scheduled to play eight "home" games in Toronto over the next five years. Financial success could lead to more games, though. And all early signals say this effect is almost inevitable. BFR's Tyler Dunne explains...

As if the holiday season wasn't stressful enough.

Preparing a Family Christmas...money-crunching for gifts...wondering if your football team is destined for Canada...

Toronto paranoia will be at an all-time high on Dec. 7. That's when the Buffalo Bills will travel across the border to "host" their archrival, the Miami Dolphins, at the Rogers Centre.

The Toronto Series has undoubtedly plucked plenty of nerves throughout Western New York as local Bills fans continually see the ever-thickening writing on the wall. The team insists the connection is purely regionalization – one step above Buffalo's training camp switch to St. John Fisher College, which dipped into a Rochester fan base.

Maybe they're right in that sense.

The switch from Fredonia to Fisher for camp has made the franchise a ton of money. As the Bills suffer through an eight-year playoff-less drought, ticket sales remain strong. Interest isn't an issue. This season's ticket lot sold out quickly. Buffalo's friends to the east are to thank for sustained popularity through the gruesome R.Johnson/Bledsoe/Losman years.

It's a foregone conclusion that the Toronto Series will be a booming financial success – even if fans are tailgating in parking garages instead of random fields and sipping wine instead of…whatever. Point being, these games are going to sell.

More than 180,000 requests were put in for the eight games spread out over the next five years. Two sources said the average ticket price for the Toronto games will be an astronomical $183. This figure is more than triple the amount that Bills' home tickets at The Ralph have cost ($51). And last we checked, the Canadian dollar is doing a tad bit better than the U.S. dollar.

Naturally, greed will set in. More Toronto games, more money. And gradually Orchard Park will be dumped like an old fad. That's the fear, anyways.


The Bills and Dolphins will battle in Toronto this season.
Getty Images

Maybe it won't go that far – at least in the short-term. Maybe Commissioner Roger Goodell – who is locked in a mission to make the NFL an international attraction – wasn't just giving fans at Chautauqua lip service last week. But what may develop quicker than many anticipate is a two-city team. The Bills very well could play two, three or four "home" games in Toronto in the near future.

Erie County Executive Chris Collins provided what could be a sad, prophetic truth.

"If we have half, or more of the games here in Buffalo, given the financial realities of the NFL, I would consider that a win," Collins said one month ago.

The move to Toronto – albeit a drastic one – helps the Bills stay competitive in a rapidly changing NFL landscape. Since 1987, NFL revenue has grown from $970 million to $6.9 billion per year. According to Forbes, the top eight wealthiest teams averaged more than $125 million in local revenues. A Buffalo News report said the Bills bring in about half of that amount.

There's no denying that the Bills are a small market team struggling to compete with the big dogs – a cry for help Ralph Wilson isn't afraid to make.

Ten words still echo in the heads of Bills fans: "I can't speculate what's going to happen in the future," Wilson said.

"The greater Toronto area has significant importance to us," said Russ Brandon, the team's chief operating officer. "When you have the population, demographic and corporate base of close to 5 million people who are settled within our defined own marketing territory, it's very important that we bring our brand to that fan base."

Emphasize "very important" with a handful of mental exclamation points. Toronto is the fifth-largest sports market in all of North America. And as Wilson has said repeatedly, the city of Buffalo is losing jobs at a frightening rate.

Just how far will the Bills and the NFL push the limit, though? When will loyalty be compromised for continued financial gain. Quite possibly, it may transition one more game at a time. Slowly, but surely.

First up – the Dolphins. Let the bets begin at how long frustrated Buffalo fans will sit in line at the Peace Bridge…

thdunne@gmail.com


Buffalo Football Report Top Stories