National Football League in Toronto: Wikis


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The National Football League (NFL) has long been rumoured to be considering placing one of its franchises in Canada's largest city, Toronto, Ontario.[1]

Toronto is the fifth most populous city in North America,[2] making it one of the continent's largest markets and an intriguing city in which to operate an NFL franchise. While The Canadian Football League (CFL) has professional Canadian football teams in Toronto and nearby Hamilton, there are no professional American football teams in Canada, NFL or otherwise. Despite being in Canada, Toronto is physically further south than existing NFL franchises in Minnesota, Seattle and Green Bay, and has teams in each of the other major professional sports leagues: the (Maple Leafs in hockey, the Blue Jays in baseball, the Raptors in basketball, the Argonauts in Canadian football, the Rock, and the Nationals in lacrosse and Toronto FC in soccer). Furthermore, San Diego Chargers executive Dean Spanos, speaking in regards to international NFL play, stated in January 2008 that "the long term goal is globalizing our sport" and that "it is possible that within five or 10 years, the league will have franchises outside the United States."[3]

There has been speculation that current NFL franchises, most commonly the Jacksonville Jaguars and the nearby Buffalo Bills, may possibly be relocated to Toronto.[4] The Jaguars are often mentioned due to the fact that they struggle to sell out Jacksonville Municipal Stadium even with its ticket prices near the lowest of the league[5] and its capacity reduced by covered-up seats; team officials anticipate that they will not sell out any of their home games in the 2009 season.[6] The Bills, on the other hand, are mentioned not because of attendance problems (which, as of 2009, the team does not yet have)[7] but because of the team's proximity to Toronto; the advanced age of Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who has no apparent successor; and the persistent economic and population problems that plague the Buffalo region, which, coupled with the longest active streak of seasons without appearing in the NFL playoffs, force the Bills to keep their ticket prices among the lowest in the NFL.[5] As of the 2010 season, the Jaguars and Bills rank 31st and 30th in ticket prices, respectively; the Bills jumped ahead of Jacksonville after raising prices for the 2010 season. Only the Cleveland Browns, who are unlikely to move because of an earlier Cleveland Browns relocation controversy, have lower ticket prices.[5]

Toronto would most notably be competing with Los Angeles, the second most-populous city in English-speaking North America, for an NFL franchise. Relocation of an existing team is the most likely scenario; at 32 teams (which divides the league into even divisions), the likelihood of an expansion is minimal.



The NFL has had a presence in Toronto since 1959, when the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League (CFL) played (and lost to) three NFL teams in a three-season span. These exhibition games, which had been first tried in Ottawa in 1950 and were later staged in Montreal, were played by CFL rules in the first half and NFL rules in the second. Injury problems led to many of the Argonauts' losses; the Argos at this time were in a rut and had missed the playoffs several times since 1953.

The Bills themselves, then an American Football League team, tried their hand with a game against the nearby Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Unprepared, and suffering from some injuries, Buffalo lost the game 38–21.

After several years, the American Bowl series brought three preseason games to the city between 1993 and 1997, two of which featured the Bills.

Former Toronto Blue Jays CEO and President Paul Godfrey has been interested in pursuing an NFL franchise for Toronto since 1988.[8] Before recent developments, most skeptics believed that it would be too expensive to bring an NFL team to Toronto and most possible investors may shy away from the approximately US$1 billion price tag that an NFL franchise comes with.[8] Then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue himself dismissed the prospects of a Toronto team in 2006, although he left the door open to including Toronto in the NFL International Series.[1]

The late Ted Rogers, owner of Rogers Communications, and Larry Tanenbaum met in 2008 and discussed the possibility of an NFL franchise in Toronto. Tannenbaum said that he and Rogers were "highly interested" in bringing an NFL franchise to Toronto. He also stated that he was going to "pursue it more rigorously" as soon as the NFL gave him word.[8]


Buffalo Bills

For many years, the Bills have had a large market in southern Ontario. In fact, the Bills average 15,000 Canadian fans to Ralph Wilson Stadium per game.[9] On October 18, 2007, the Bills announced plans that they were seeking approval to play a pre-season and at least one regular season game in Toronto in an attempt to capitalize on the Canadian market.[9] The team has a Canadian sales office and a radio affiliate in Toronto, CJCL. The NFL's television rules have also been applied in a similar manner to secondary markets in the United States, so that nearly all Bills games are televised in Toronto, on CFTO and CITY, except for home games that do not sell out (the Toronto television market extends to the Canadian border in Fort Erie, Ontario, well within the 75-mile radius of Ralph Wilson Stadium, and is thus subject to the league's blackout policy).

On January 30, 2008, it was announced that the Bills reached an agreement to play five regular-season and three exhibition NFL games over the next five years in Toronto. On Thursday, April 3 (although it had been leaked through various sources as early as early March), it was announced that the Bills would play the Pittsburgh Steelers in a pre-season game on Thursday, August 14, 2008, at Rogers Centre. On April 15, the regular season match was revealed, with the Bills hosting their division rivals, the Miami Dolphins, on December 7. Both games had standard ticket prices ranging from C$55 to C$295 and VIP tickets from C$325 to C$575.[10] The average standard ticket price of C$183 was significantly above the highest average price in the NFL, that of the New England Patriots, at US$88, and nearly four times the Bills' ticket prices (which are the lowest in the league).[11] The first of these games took place in the 2008 NFL season.[12][13] The preseason game against the Steelers was one day before the Toronto Argonauts played in the same stadium and was the same date and time as a Hamilton Tiger-Cats game (although the latter game was in Winnipeg). Buffalo won the game, 24–21, but the game was marred by reports that the game organizers had to give away over 10,000 tickets to assure a sellout crowd, an accusation Ted Rogers denied.[14] The regular season game against Miami was played after the end of the 2008 CFL season; the Bills, led by backup quarterback J. P. Losman, lost to the Dolphins 16–3, eliminating them from playoff contention for the ninth straight year. Reportedly, about half of the fans in attendance were Dolphins fans. [11][15]

Rogers Communications is paying C$78 million to host the games,[16] and have hired a general manager and management staff to handle the games.[11] There is speculation that when Ralph Wilson, Jr. dies, interests (including Godfrey) may bid for the franchise in hopes of moving the Bills to Toronto. [12]

For 2009, ticket prices were lowered an average of 17%.[17] The game was a featured night game on NFL Network's Thursday Night Football package between the Bills and the New York Jets.

Rogers Communications announced in March 2009 that it was in a position to renegotiate the agreement and that they would be able to land another regular-season Bills game to create a three-game package beginning in the 2010 season.[18] League officials are considering expanding the season to 17 games in 2010, possibly incorporating international play. The additional regular season game would require the approval of the NFL owners, and if the game resulted in the loss of a regular season game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, it would also require the approval of Erie County and the Empire State Development Corporation.[19]

Potential roadblocks

The Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts currently play in the city and have in the past been protected from American competition. The World Football League intended to place a franchise in Toronto known as the Toronto Northmen, but then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau threatened to pass a Canadian Football Act to prevent such a move. The WFL backed down and moved the team to Memphis, Tennessee, where it became known as the Memphis Southmen and later the Mid-South Grizzlies in a failed bid to join the NFL. (However, there were no complaints when the same league briefly moved the struggling Detroit Wheels to London, Ontario, which had no CFL team at the time, and still does not.) American teams that have made their home in Toronto include the Continental Football League's Toronto Rifles (1965-67, founded as the Quebec Rifles in 1964) and the Arena Football League's Toronto Phantoms (2000-02, founded as the New York CityHawks in 1997 and, incidentally, owned by Rogers during its time in Toronto). The Rifles, too, faced resistance from the CFL, as the Argonauts signed Rifles coach Leo Cahill, quarterback Tom Wilkinson and running back Joe Williams a few weeks into the 1967 season, forcing the team to fold. Any NFL team that entered the Toronto market would have to deal with the Argonauts as well as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who play in nearby Hamilton, Ontario and have vehemently opposed any presence of the NFL in Canada.

The Tiger-Cats responded to the Bills' move to play games in Toronto by making an April Fool's Day mock announcement on April 1, 2008 that they would move one of their home games against the Montreal Alouettes to Ralph Wilson Stadium (even though the playing surface at that stadium is too small to accommodate a CFL-size field), and would play the Bills in a rematch of their 1961 contest, which the Tiger-Cats won, in June 2008 (when the Bills would be in minicamp and the Ti-Cats would be playing preseason).[20] Former NFL receiver Oronde Gadsden even went further and suggested in February 2009 that a CFL expansion franchise be placed in nearby Rochester.[21]

The other major issue would be the stadium. Although Paul Godfrey believed that the Rogers Centre could be home to an NFL franchise,[8] it is unclear if the Rogers Centre could be a long-term home. Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome), a retractable roof stadium, has a maximum capacity of 54,088 when configured for CFL games; in comparison, although the Centre's capacity is above the NFL's 50,000-seat minimum, it would still be the smallest capacity stadium in the league, since the smallest NFL stadium in terms of capacity (excluding the exhibition-only stadiums in Canton and Honolulu) is Chicago's Soldier Field, which has 61,500 seats. While extra seats could be added near the end zones as a result of the shorter NFL field, a large-scale expansion would be very difficult because of the stadium's design. This means that a new football specific stadium would have to be built. David Miller, mayor of Toronto, has stated that funding for a new stadium would not come from the City of Toronto and would have to come from private funding.[8] Counteracting this small capacity is the large number of luxury boxes in the stadium, which count as "unshared" revenue in the NFL's revenue sharing and collective bargaining agreements.

Ted Rogers, the man responsible for leasing the Bills from Ralph Wilson for the Toronto Series and considered a leading contender for landing a Toronto NFL franchise, died in December 2008 at the age of 75. The lease was transferred to Rogers's company, Rogers Communications, in which Rogers had held a majority stake. Corporate ownership is forbidden under the league's ownership policy, which would not allow the company to buy the team outright.

Game history

CFL interleague games in Southern Ontario

Date Visitors Score Home Score Stadium
August 5, 1959 Chicago Cardinals 55 Toronto Argonauts 26 Exhibition Stadium
August 6, 1960 Pittsburgh Steelers 43 Toronto Argonauts 16 Exhibition Stadium
August 2, 1961 St. Louis Cardinals 36 Toronto Argonauts 7 Exhibition Stadium
August 8, 1961 Buffalo Bills 21 Hamilton Tiger-Cats 38 Ivor Wynne Stadium

American Bowls and NFL exhibitions

All games in the SkyDome/Rogers Centre except the 1960 game, which was in Exhibition Stadium.
Date Away Score Home Score
August 15, 1960 Chicago Bears 16 New York Giants 7
August 14, 1993 Cleveland Browns 12 New England Patriots 9
August 12, 1995 Dallas Cowboys 7 Buffalo Bills 9
August 16, 1997 Green Bay Packers 35 Buffalo Bills 3
August 14, 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers 21 Buffalo Bills 24

Regular season games

Date Visitors Score Home Score
December 7, 2008 Miami Dolphins 16 Buffalo Bills 3
December 3, 2009 New York Jets 19 Buffalo Bills 13


  1. ^ a b Canadian expansion not on NFL radar. CBC Sports. 3 February 2006.
  2. ^ "City of Toronto: Toronto Overview". City of Toronto. 2007. 
  3. ^ Acee, Kevin (2008-01-27). "Sources confirm Oct. 26 game, probably at Wembley". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2008-01-27. 
  4. ^ Smith, Michael David (2007-10-13). "NFL Up North? Toronto Owners Have Eyes on Bills, Jaguars, Vikings and Saints". AOL. Retrieved 2008-01-17. 
  5. ^ a b c Gaughan, Mark. Bills raising ticket prices. The Buffalo News. Retrieved 2010-02-12.
  6. ^ Garber, Greg (2009-11-05). "Hot Read: Small crowds, blackouts cloud future". Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  7. ^ Pollock, Chuck. Bills’ fans continue to show loyalty. Olean Times Herald. 12 June 2009.
  8. ^ a b c d e Care, Tony (2006-10-19). "Is Toronto ready for some NFL football?". CBC. Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  9. ^ a b Wawrow, John (2007-10-18). "Buffalo Bills May Play Game in Toronto". Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  10. ^ Bills Tickets for games in Toronto average $183. Associated Press. 7 May 2008.
  11. ^ a b c Warner, Gene. Bills’ Toronto venture fails to rouse passions of Canadian fans. The Buffalo News. 11 December 2008.
  12. ^ a b Huras, Adam (2008-01-30). "NFL: Bills reportedly playing games in Toronto for next five years". National Post. Retrieved 2008-01-30. 
  13. ^ Gaughan, Mark and Jerry Sullivan. Bills have deal in place for Toronto games. Buffalo News. 30 January 2008.
  14. ^ Campbell, Morgan. Bills win, scalpers lose in NFL exhibition game in Toronto. Toronto Star. 15 August 2008.
  15. ^ Russo, Jeff. WKBW-TV news report. 7 December 2008.
  16. ^ Warzala, Steve. Bills to be paid $78 Million. WGR. 29 April 2008.
  17. ^ Toronto ticket prices reduced for Bills. Buffalo Business First. 13 April 2009.
  18. ^ Graham, Tim. Plans afoot to move more Bills games to Toronto. March 2009.
  19. ^ Bills confirm Toronto interest in second game. The Buffalo News. 23 March 2009.
  20. ^ TICATS TO HOLD TWO GAMES SOUTH OF THE BORDER. Hamilton Tiger-Cats press release. 1 April 2008.
  21. ^ Naylor, David."Ex-NFLer wants CFL to expand to U.S.". Globe and Mail. 2009-02-05. Retrieved 2009-02-05. 

See also

External links


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