ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills on Thursday's announced they are
seeking approval to play a preseason and at least one
regular-season game in Toronto as part of the franchise's
attempt to expand its market base beyond western New York.
"The team hopes to capitalize on the increasing interest of
fans in the Canadian market by playing a regular-season game in
Toronto," the Bills announced in a release.
The Bills hope to play a preseason game at Toronto next summer,
with plans to play a regular-season game as early as 2009. The
games would be played at Rogers Center, a downtown stadium with a
retractable roof that serves as home to baseball's Blue Jays and
the Canadian Football League Argonauts.
The Bills require both county and state approval to play "home
games" outside of Ralph Wilson Stadium as a condition of their
lease, which runs through 2012. The lease requires the team to play
half its preseason and all regular-season home games at the Orchard
The team began the process by sending a letter of request to
Erie County on Wednesday.
The Bills would also need approval from the NFL, considered a
formality with the league already scheduling games in international
markets. In two weeks, Miami and the New York Giants will play at
London's Wembley Stadium in the first NFL game outside North
America. In 2005, Arizona and San Francisco played in Mexico City
in the first regular-season game outside the United States.
Toronto is the next logical choice as part of the Bills'
expansion plans. Canada's largest metropolitan center is a 90-mile
drive from Buffalo, boasts a large corporate base that can
translate into additional marketing revenue, and the team also
draws an average of 15,000 Canadian fans to its home games.
The Bills also consider this a chance to lure Toronto companies
to purchase corporate suites at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills
currently have three suites unsold and, next season, will unveil
new prime suites as part of a plan to relocate the existing press
The Bills stressed the games at Toronto are part of their
regionalization plans and should not be considered a first step for
the franchise's relocation. The Bills noted the success they've
enjoyed since moving their training camp in 2000 to Rochester,
where they've taken advantage of the city's corporate base.
Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who turned 89 on Wednesday, has
maintained he has no intention of selling or relocating the
franchise. The team's future remains unclear because Wilson has no
plans to keep the franchise in his family once he dies, leaving the
door open for a new owner to move the team.
Toronto newspapers have published stories speculating whether
the city can be a viable NFL market, and most often mention the
Bills as a prime candidate.