Illustration by Charlie Teljeur
Analysis | NFL in Canada
Is Toronto ready for some NFL football?
Last Updated Sun., Oct. 19 2006
Landing a National Football League team has always seemed a remote possibility for the city of Toronto.
After all, with a new NFL franchise estimated to be worth $1-billion US these days, who can blame the skeptics who view Toronto’s continuing fascination as mere rhetoric.
Aside from Toronto Blue Jays CEO and president Paul Godfrey’s interest in pursing a franchise since 1988, deep-pocketed business people have shied away from all the NFL talk.
That is, until a news conference held on Sept. 5 brought together Larry Tanenbaum, minority owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and Rogers Communications tycoon Ted Rogers. It was there the two business moguls informed a media gathering of their latest objective.
"I’m highly interested in an NFL team and Ted is, too," Tanenbaum, a construction magnate, said at the time. “We hope to pursue it more rigorously as soon as the NFL gives us the word.”
Tanenbaum and Rogers have remained tight-lipped since that day, leaving others to speculate just how viable this newest chapter concerning the NFL really is.
"We now have a group that actually has the money to bring an NFL team to Toronto, and that wasn’t the case before,” Globe and Mail columnist and former cynic Stephen Brunt said.
The news generated more momentum two weeks later as veteran NFL writer Peter King reported on Sports Illustrated's website that New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson turned down a $1-billion offer from a Canadian consortium.
Although Godfrey vehemently denies the offer came from either Rogers or Tanenbaum, Brunt discounts the validity of another Canadian group willing to make such an offer.
“I can’t imagine what other Canadian consortium it would be or why Benson would make up the idea that it was Canadians making the offer,” he said. “So I’m assuming that they [Rogers and Tanenbaum] did make inquiries about the Saints, which suggests that they’re serious.”
While the Rogers-Tanenbaum alliance gives Toronto a legitimate ownership group, major obstacles persist.
New stadium a hurdle
The NFL’s head office, which did not return repeated phone calls on the Toronto question, has reiterated on numerous occasions that the city of Los Angeles remains its only priority for an expansion team in the foreseeable future.
Even if the league were to consider Toronto, the Rogers Centre is currently not up to NFL standards with its seating capacity. The stadium currently holds roughly 55,000, significantly less than the 65,000 the league mandates.
Many also believe that the NFL will require any prospective owner to pour millions more into a new stadium if Toronto is to be granted a franchise.
Paul Godfrey has long lusted after an NFL team for Toronto (Canadian Press)
But Godfrey, who is credited with helping bring the Blue Jays and the former SkyDome to Toronto, isn't fazed by these potential hurdles.
When Los Angeles finally does become the 33rd NFL team, Godfrey is convinced the league will need another franchise to keep a balanced schedule. In addition, the NFL has seemingly exhausted every other U.S. major market, so Toronto should be next in line, according to Godfrey.
"Toronto's market probably ranks in the Top 10 teams right now," he said. "So we're probably bigger than 22 of the NFL teams at the present time."
As for the stadium issues, the Blue Jays CEO believes a Rogers-Tanenbaum ownership team can overcome any stadium concern.
“We’d like to try and convince them that we can adapt the Rogers Centre to house a National Football League team,” said Godfrey. “We think that adjustments can be made to the facility. But I also think a new facility can be built by personal seat licenses the way they’ve been done in the United States.”
Don't count on the city's help: Mayor Miller
Should Rogers and Tanenbaum land an NFL franchise for Toronto, the funding for a new stadium may have to come out of their own pockets. Toronto Mayor David Miller has made it clear the city won’t help with any public money for a new facility and remains adamant of the area's loyalty to the CFL's Argonauts.
“If private people want to raise a billion dollars for the NFL franchise, good for them,” Miller said. “But the health of the CFL is very important to this city and to the country and I don’t want to see anything happen that’s going to risk this league."
Miller, who lived in Boston for a time, also doesn't see the NFL expanding into Canada under any circumstances.
“I understand how Americans think, and there’s no way on Earth that a team in Toronto is going to come before a team in the U.S., it just won’t happen,” he said.
"So if somebody has the money to buy a franchise it may be different, but it certainly won’t be an expansion team, not in the next 10 or 20 years.”
For his part, Howard Bloom, publisher of sportsbusinessnews.com, backs Godfrey on the expansion issue, but on a much larger scale. Based on the continued financial bonanza the NFL receives through the major television networks, Bloom sees four cities, including Toronto, added within the next 10 years.
"Four billion dollars in expansion fees is a tremendous source of revenue," he contends.
Bloom also predicts the NFL will expand its television coverage to include games from Thursday to Monday on a weekly basis.
"In order to be able to successfully play from Thursday to Monday, the NFL needs a strong presence with more teams. It’s not going to work any other way."
Billion-dollar bill for Buffalo
Some, however, are convinced Toronto's only hope lies with a neighbouring team about 130 kilometres west along the Queen Elizabeth Way.
Since Ralph Wilson has been the owner of the Buffalo Bills, the franchise has been a stabilizing entity in an otherwise struggling economy.
But there are growing fears in Western New York that the team will be sold and moved once the 87-year-old Wilson passes away. Moreover, no other Buffalo business owner has shown an interest in purchasing the Bills.
"It’s not going to stay in Buffalo unless you have the most amazing philanthropist in the world who’s got a billion dollars, and I can’t image who that would be," said Brunt.
"The team will be sold, and outside of L.A., there is no other market left where you can max out sponsorship and stadium advertising like Toronto.”
With the NFL continuing to avoid the issue, debates over the city's chance of landing a team carry on, but the question of whether Toronto can afford a franchise has been answered.
NFL by the Numbers
- Average attendance for 2005-06 NFL season: 67, 593
- Average attendance for 2005 CFL season: 28,438
- Estimated cost for future NFL expansion teams: $1 billion*
- Cost of expansion Cleveland Browns in 1998: $530 million*
- Cost of expansion Houston Texans in 1999: $700 million*
- Sale price of Washington Redskins in 1999: $750 million*
- Sale price of Minnesota Vikings in 2005: $600 million*
- Total worth of NFL’s previous T.V. deal: $17.2 billion*
- Total worth of NFL’s current T.V. deal: $21.4 billion*
- Average value of NFL franchise: $898 million*
- Most valuable NFL franchise: Washington - $1.4 billion*
- Least valuable NFL franchise: Minnesota - $720 million*
- Most revenue generated NFL franchise in 2005: Washington - $303 million*
- Least revenue generated NFL franchise in 2005: Arizona - $158 million*
- Value of Buffalo Bills franchise: $756 million*
- Revenue generated by Buffalo Bills in 2005: $176 million*
- Average ticket for Buffalo Bills games: $39*
*Figures compiled by forbes.com – Aug. 31, 2006
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