Glass Half Full: Toronto could help Bills

Marshawn Lynch celebrates with fans at The Ralph

Last week it was announced that the Bills surpassed 50,000 season tickets for next season - the most in 15 years. What does this say about the fan base? BFR's J.P. Butler explains that the move to Toronto could have a very positive effect on the Bills staying in Buffalo.

So the question remains: Are Bills fans buying all these season tickets because they truly believe Buffalo will benefit from the partnership with Toronto, or do they feel they should go see the team play while they still have the chance?

That's what I've found myself pondering after it was announced last week that the team had surpassed 50,000 season tickets for the upcoming season, its highest total since 1993, when the Bills sold 53,004 season tickets.

Or maybe it's simply because these fans really do think it's the Bills' year, although this would strike me as odd considering the team has gone into other seasons with high hopes and weren't nearly as close with season ticket sales.

It makes you wonder.

Upon hearing the news of Buffalo's five-year agreement with Toronto, Bills fans became rightfully nervous, especially considering the deal coincided with the time remaining on the team's lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Most saw it as the first step toward moving the team into the Rogers Centre full time.

But the Bills could actually benefit from the Toronto arrangement. And some fans are beginning to see this.

With the average ticket price in Orchard Park rising by 10.3 percent this season, the team's ticket revenue from its seven regular-season Buffalo home games could roughly match the gate proceeds from the eight contests last year, assuming all the 2008 games sell out. That means the money brought in from the Toronto game (which under the agreement will be around $9.75 million) will be, in effect, brand new income over last season. And this will be the case for each of the eight games played there over the next five years.

Then there are the additional marketing and sponsorship opportunities that come with playing a game in Canada's biggest city, a metropolitan area with more than 5 million people and the fifth-biggest municipality in North America.

Bills' officials hope the team's arrangement in Toronto will bring in new and lucrative sponsors, just as it increased focus on the Rochester market a decade when they moved training camp from Fredonia to Pittsford. Those sponsorship dollars and the money the team takes in from luxury seat sales are especially important because those revenues are kept entirely by the Bills.

So while Bills fans should continue to be anxious about what might happen in the long run, it's also important to understand that Toronto might actually be Buffalo's saving grace.

By formalizing a relationship with Toronto that includes playing one regular-season game a year there, the Bills have effectively claimed Toronto as part of their home market. That would make it difficult for another team to move there.

But there's always a possibility of the double-edged sword. Because, even with the benefits of the new Toronto relationship, the Bills would sell for far more to an owner who could move the team to Toronto than to one who continues to play all but one home game in Buffalo.


"Elvis" and other local Bills fans may benefit from the Toronto Series
Getty Images

For now, though, I'm going to believe Russ Brandon, chief operating officer of the Bills. I'm going to believe him when he says, "Our sole focus — our sole focus — is to keep this franchise financially sound in Western New York. We are doing everything humanly possible to reach more fans and more businesses to keep our franchise viable in Western New York."

And I'm going to assume that that's what the Buffalo bigwigs are actually trying to do.

So maybe Buffalo fans are gobbling up all these season tickets to show the front office that they're truly backing the organization 100 percent. Or maybe they're shelling out the money so they can see players like Marshawn Lynch, Donte Whitner, Paul Posluszny and James Hardy develop before they're gone for good.

Either way, for only $240 I can't think of a better place to spend my Sunday afternoons than the Rockpile at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.

jpbutler10@gmail.com

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