Beginning of the End?

Super Bowl 42 was a classic, a game to remembered forever, one the league can be proud of.  Four days later, the problems have begun.  First, is the mess called SpyGate.  When word surfaced that former Patriot coach Matt Walsh had tape of the Patriots videotaping the St. Louis Rams walk-through prior to Super Bowl 36, Commissioner Roger Goodell pooh-poohed it.  Next, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter decided to look into it and the NFL may have a problem on its hands.  Say what you want about politicians, but when they get involved, watch out.

Next, is the situation in Buffalo.  On Wednesday, there was a press conference in Toronto, where Bills owner Ralph Wilson, along with Toronto billionaire Ted Rogers announced that the Buffalo Bills will play one regular season game per year in Toronto from 2008-2012.  Fans in Buffalo think this is the beginning of the end of the Bills in Buffalo, a place they have called home since the 1960 AFL season.

Time have changed.  In 1960, there were over 500,000 people living in the city of Buffalo.  The steel mills were booming, as were the automobile factories.  People without higher education were living the middle class dream, and the standard of living was much better than average.

Today, those steel mills are all but gone.  Many of the old factories sit in decay, and the city population is under 290,000.  Toronto, on the other hand is the commerce capital of Canada and has a metro population of over 5 million people.  They have the people and they have the money, but they have no NFL team. 

Ralph Wilson is 89 and has said that when he dies, his daughters will sell the team to the highest bidder, rather than keep the team and pay the over $300 million in inheritance taxes.   Ted Rogers owns Rogers Communications, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Rogers Centre, where the Bills will play those five regular season games beginning this fall.  Rogers is worth $4.9 billion and that figure undoubtedly delights the NFL.

The stakes have changed.  Just because a team sells all of its tickets, doesn’t ensure financial success.  Buffalo fans pay an average of $46 per ticket, one of the lower figures in the league.  The game in Toronto will have an average ticket price of somewhere between $200-250.  Do the math.

The Bills lease with Erie County expires after the 2012 season.  By then, the Bills will need a state-of-the-art new stadium, something that is unlikely to happen.  In essence, the Bills will became a free agent for the 2013 season, free to go to Toronto, Los Angeles or any other city in North America.  How can an area justify building a stadium when it can’t keep its young people from fleeing?

The situation is not good for Buffalo.  Today’s NFL requires huge corporate support, and these corporations rent luxury suites for NFL games, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for the privilege of watching an NFL game.  Simply, Buffalo does not have enough major corporations to drive up the price of these luxury suites and boxes.  The have the fans, but the fans unfortunately don’t mean that much anymore.

There is another side to the story.  There is a Canadian Football League that has eight teams, including the flagship franchise, the 15 time Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts.  The Argonauts are owned by two men, and neither have anything to do with Ted Rogers and his associates.  If Toronto lands an NFL franchise, what happens to the CFL team that calls Toronto home?  Sure, they could co-exist, but what type of coverage and fan support, already lukewarm, will the CFL team get when there is an NFL team in town?

The CFL cannot exist with Toronto, and the Toronto CFL team may not exist with an NFL team in town.   Rogers, Wilson, and the NFL say that they care about the future of the Canadian Football League, but the Rogers cares more about landing an NFL team.

Toronto is a major league city.  They have won two World Series championships, they have an NBA team and they have one of the NHL Original Six teams in the Maple Leafs.  In a league that has teams in Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton and Hamilton, Toronto sticks out as the bully, a men among boys.  While people in Regina embrace the CFL and its connection with Canadian culture, Torontonians want more because they already have more.

Stay tuned.  If Toronto gets an NFL team, there is one big winner (Toronto) and two losers (the CFL and Buffalo). 

When was the Super Bowl again? 

John Furgele

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