|Bills to introduce plan to NFL to play annual game in Toronto|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 22 October 2007 12:09|
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -Bills owner Ralph Wilson frequently has lamented how difficult it is for his team to fully tap into Toronto, the Canadian metropolis considered the NFL franchise's northern - and, by far, largest - market.|
Turns out, the Bills might have finally come up with a solution. If they can't lure Toronto's vast cache of corporate dollars the 90-mile drive to Buffalo, then the Bills intend to go north twice a year.
That's part of the pitch the Bills will make at the NFL fall meetings in Philadelphia on Tuesday, when the team unveils its plan to host an annual regular-season and preseason game in Toronto starting next year.
The Bills' plan is broader than what filtered out last week: reports the team intended to host a preseason game in Toronto next season, followed by a regular-season game there in 2009.
Brian McCarthy, NFL vice president of corporate communications, said Monday the Bills' bid to play annually in Toronto is viewed as both ``logical'' and ``necessary'' steps to secure the small-market franchise's long-term viability.
``They do need to further regionalize both fan and corporate support in their home territory,'' McCarthy said. ``So this would help the team further successfully operate in the future in western New York.''
Toronto represents the final and most lucrative frontier for the Bills, who insist they have reached their revenue-generating limits in a rust-belt region with a perennially struggling economy.
The games would be played at Rogers Centre, a downtown stadium with a retractable roof that serves as home to baseball's Blue Jays and the Canadian Football League Argonauts.
Except for releasing a statement last week outlining potential plans to play in Toronto, the Bills have declined to comment further until after they make their presentation to the league.
The Bills' proposal will be discussed by NFL owners before going up for a vote within the next two months. The motion would have to pass before the end of the year for a Toronto game to go on Buffalo's 2008 schedule.
The proposal, if passed, would change the NFL's landscape, going beyond the league's recent bid to play games outside of the United States, McCarthy said. He was referring to Miami and New York Giants preparing to play at London's Wembley Stadium on Sunday in the first NFL game outside North America.
While the Packers previously split home games between Green Bay and Milwaukee, and the Chicago Bears played their 2002 home games at Champaign, Ill., because of renovations to Soldier Field, the Bills would be the first NFL team to play at least one annual home game on international soil.
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon is open to the Bills playing in Toronto, but ``under the right circumstances,'' and so long as it doesn't affect the viability of the Argonauts or neighboring Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
``The one thing I want to be crystal clear about is that for the CFL to continue to be successful, we need to have our two southern Ontario franchises be successful,'' Cohon told The Associated Press. ``It's an issue critical to our business.''
Cohon said he's had preliminary talks with the NFL regarding the Bills' plan and also about securing a marketing relationship between the leagues after a previous deal expired last year.
``I think there's good intentions on both sides,'' Cohon said.
McCarthy said the NFL supports the CFL and it's three-down version of the game.
``Canada has a football-rich history and we hope to help it continue in making it wildly successful,'' McCarthy said.
The Bills cleared a hurdle Monday when New York's Empire State Development granted the team approval to play games in Toronto. The state body's approval was required because it partly controls the lease agreement the Bills have at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Erie County, another leaseholder, gave the Bills consent last week.
The lease, which runs through 2012, requires the team to play all of its home regular-season and home preseason games at the Orchard Park facility.
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