The burden of proof is on Buffalo
Friday, October 19, 2007 | 10:51 AM ET
This is about Buffalo. This is the NFL's warning to that city.
In case you missed it, the Bills began seeking approval this week to play a pre-season game in Toronto next year, followed by a regular-season game the following season. Those moves would theoretically help the small-market club expand its fan base and pull in more dollars to better compete with wealthier teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins.
People in Buffalo are worried this could be the first step toward a permanent move to Toronto. Octagenarian Bills owner Ralph Wilson is on the record: steep U.S. inheritance taxes will make it impossible for him to bequeath this team to his children, meaning the team could go up for grabs when he's gone.
It's the same process that a few years ago put the Redskins (who were owned by the late Jack Kent Cooke) on the market, allowing boy blunder Daniel Snyder to buy them for $800 million US.
Buffalo is not the smallest NFL locale - that honour belongs to Green Bay. But it is one of the most depressed, and one of the most financially insecure. (You could certainly argue New Orleans is a far, far worse scenario, but the p.r.-savvy league will not be allowing any movement there two years after Katrina.)
The Bills are not selling out all their games. They are not selling out sponsorship packages or luxury boxes. The ridiculously lucrative NFL TV deals make it impossible to lose money in this league, but the problem is that the Bills aren't making enough.
That's a problem now that Wilson is approaching 90 with no succession plan in sight. The danger to the league and other owners is that someone might actually try to swoop in and buy the team at a discount if Wilson is eager to sell.
Sure, the NFL might actually want to go to Toronto. And the CFL should be frightened that its commissioner didn't know about the Bills' plans until he was in his smoking jacket and slippers Thursday night.
With sports-savvy businessmen like Ted Rogers and Larry Tanenbaum expressing interest in Toronto, there is the will and the money to move the Bills. But the NFL would prefer to stay.
Now, it's telling Buffalo to prove it deserves to.
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About the Author
Elliotte Friedman is the host of the CFL ON CBC. Prior to being named host in 2006, Friedman worked on the CFL on CBC broadcasts for the three seasons as a sideline reporter. A Toronto native, Friedman is well known for his additional work on Hockey Night in Canada, as well as his presence on the Torino 2006 Winter Games telecasts as a hockey reporter. Prior to joining the CBC, Friedman worked at The Score network and was widely regarded as one of the best reporters in the country. Friedman used his reporting skills to break stories and file feature reports for high profile events including six Stanley Cup Finals, four Grey Cup Championships, two World Series and one Olympic Games. He is also a regular on the nationally syndicated Prime Time Sports radio telecast, hosted by Bob McCown.
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