EXCLUSIVE: Bills-in-Toronto to be extended 5 years

(STORY UPDATED AT 4:25 pm EDT)

Toronto will continue to play host to one regular-season Buffalo Bills game per year through 2017.

And tickets will be “significantly” cheaper, according to a source in the position to know.

The NFL’s International Committee on Tuesday morning in Atlanta approved the Bills’ intention to extend its deal with the Rogers Centre, as we first reported here earlier this afternoon.

While a final agreement has not yet been reached between the Bills and Rogers Media, the source said the term will be for five years, the two sides are “very close,” and “you can probably expect an announcement in the coming weeks.”

From 2013-17, then, the Bills will continue to play one of their eight annual regular-season home games at Toronto’s downtown domed stadium. Probably only one pre-season game will be part of the new contract, the source said.

The final regular-season game of the Bills’ original five-year, $78-million contract with Rogers takes place Dec. 16 against the Seattle Seahawks.

The source said the extension will be “significantly” less lucrative for the Bills. As a result, NFL fans in Ontario and Western New York can expect ticket prices to be “significantly reduced.” Rogers has received immense criticism for the high prices of tickets to Bills-in-Toronto games.

Both Rogers Media president Keith Pelley and Bills CEO Russ Brandon have said in recent months that both sides were optimistic an extension would soon be reached.

In response to a request for a comment on this story, Brandon said in a statement:

“The International Committee’s decision to approve the continuation of our games in Toronto is a crucial step in our ongoing efforts to regionalize our franchise. As we have stated on many occasions, the regionalization process remains vital to keeping our franchise strong in Western New York. We are continuing our discussions with Rogers Communications on a new deal and remain optimistic that we can come to an agreement in the near future.”

When reached Tuesday afternoon, Pelley said:

“We are pleased with the International Committee’s decision to approve a continuation of the Bills series. Now our attention will turn to trying to finalize the deal with the Bills.”

Buffalo has won only one of the four regular-season Toronto-series games so far — a 23-0 pounding of the Washington Redskins last October, before an announced Rogers Centre crowd of 51,579.

Buffalo lost 16-3 to Miami in 2008, 19-13 to the New York Jets in 2009, and 22-19 to Chicago in 2010.

Three pre-season games were to be part of the original deal, but only two were held. Buffalo beat Pittsburgh 24-21 in 2008 and Indianapolis 34-21 in 2010. This past February, the third preseason game — slated for August — was moved back to Buffalo, because the Rogers Centre had a “scheduling conflict.”

The Toronto series has been a cash bonanza for the Bills. Not so much for Rogers.

Regardless of how many tickets Rogers sells, or how much they charge for those tickets, the Bills’ haul from each of the seven Toronto games works out to $11.14 million — more than double what the team clears from each home game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, according to the Buffalo News.

What’s more, Bills season-ticket purchases by Ontarians had risen 44% after three years of the Bills-in-Toronto Series, Brandon told fans at a function last year, according to the Buffalo News. And Canadians account for 15% of the club’s overall season-ticket sales — about 10,000 fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium on any given Sunday.

By any measure, the Bills-in-Toronto series got off to an atrocious start in 2008. Ticket prices averaged $183, compared to $51 for Bills home games at the Ralph. Rogers Media had to literally give away thousands of tickets to fill up its stadium.

Meanwhile, Bills fans in Western New York who’d bought tickets in Year 1 searched in vain for a decent place to tailgate — only to learn that (a) no such place exists in downtown Toronto to park and BBQ, and (b) drinking alcohol outdoors in Ontario is illegal except in licensed establishments or on residential property.

In Year 2, Rogers lowered ticket prices by an average of 17%, including 11,000 tickets for under $100. But communications/media giant still had to paper the place. It did so again in 2010 and, to a lesser extent, in 2011.

Renewal talks began last year, gained momentum at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis in February and have continued off and on into May.

The deal is between the Bills and Rogers, rather than between the NFL and Rogers — whereas the league alone orchestrates its annual “International Series” regular-season game in London, England.

At their annual meeting in March, NFL owners voted to delegate authority to the league’s International Committee on the Bills-in-Toronto renewal. On Tuesday at the NFL spring meeting in Atlanta, the committee approved.

The committee is composed of these NFL club executives: committee chairman Clark Hunt (owner, Chiefs), Joel Glazer (owner, Bucs), Rita LeBlanc (vice-chairmain, Saints), Jeffrey Lurie (owner, Eagles), George McCaskey (chairman, Bears), Mary Owen (VP of strategic planning, Bills), Art Rooney (owner, Steelers), Dean Spanos (president and CEO, Chargers) and John York (co-chairman, 49ers).

Rogers Media’s holdings include Rogers Broadcasting, Rogers Publishing, Rogers Digital Media, Rogers Sportsnet (regional cable sports channels), the Shopping Channel, the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club and the Rogers Centre.

Parent company Rogers Communications is Canada’s largest provider of wireless voice and data communications services, and one of Canada’s leading providers of cable TV, high-speed Internet and home telephone services.

As well, pending final approval, Rogers Communications has bought a co-controlling share of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and NBA’s Toronto Raptors, along with Bell Canada.

4 thoughts on “EXCLUSIVE: Bills-in-Toronto to be extended 5 years

  1. Brian

    Don’t forget starting next year Rogers will also own part of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, TFC, and Toronto Marlies. They are trying to dominate the sports market in Canada.

  2. Ron

    Since the owner of the Bills(Ralph Wilson)is now in to his nineties and he has repeatedly stated that when he dies the Bills will go the highest bidder, if this deal is consummated for another five years, it will be curious to see what happens if Ralph were to pass away during this period. The Bills can talk regionalization all they want but they always had a percentage of Canadian fans going to the games in Buffalo anyway and local TO corporations are not interested. The Bills are making money now because the team has been “paid for” for years but at $800 million, no one in Buffalo or WNY has that kind of money to buy the team and carry a big loan especially with their business model and lack of major corporate sponsors in the area.

  3. GaryP

    So far the Bills have had their AFC East opponents (Jets and Dolphins) play here. When are they going to host the Patriots? That’s the only team I want to see.

  4. Raina

    Guess that means that the Jays will not get rid of the stupid astroturf and get real grass anytime soon. Such a shame.

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