On the NFL: Murky future for Bills

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 5, 2008 - 12:18 AM

Why are the Bills playing a home game in Toronto? The answer is money, and Minnesota should take note.

Buffalo's Ko Simpson, Donte Whitner and Jabari Greer get ready to run out of the tunnel at Ralph Wilson Stadium ... the home of the Bills, most of the time.

Photo: Rick Stewart, Getty Images

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The Buffalo Bills are two games out in the AFC East with four to play.

They play at the Jets next week and at Denver the week after that. They're home this week, if by "home" you mean a dome in Toronto.

Sunday's game against the Dolphins is the second in an eight-game series of Bills home games to be held in Toronto. They'll play one regular-season game there every year through 2012.

Why are the Bills doing this? Money, of course, or lack thereof.

The Bills play in an aging stadium in a smaller market and fear they're being lapped financially by the Jerry Joneses of the NFL. Sound familiar?

The average cost of a Bills ticket is $51. It costs 70 bucks for a midfield seat about 20 rows up.

When Jerry Jones moves his Dallas Cowboys into their new stadium in 2009, fans sitting in similar midfield seats will have paid $50,000 for a personal seat license (PSL) and $340 per game for the ticket.

This isn't a unique windfall for the Cowboys. A Giants season-ticket-holder living in the Twin Cities area sent an e-mail just last week saying he has to fork over $20,000 for a PSL when the Giants move into a new stadium in 2010.

Now you know why playing games outside of Buffalo is something the Bills feel they have to do.

The Bills will be paid an average of $9.75 million per game from their partners in Toronto. That's about twice as much as the Bills get for a home game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.

It's no secret Toronto is a threat to steal the Bills. Wilson, the owner, won't move the team, but he's on record as saying his estate will sell the team after he dies.

Vikings fans and state and local politicians should take note of what's happening in Buffalo.

The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome stipulates that all home games must be played there. But that lease expires after the 2011 season. That's 32 scheduled games, 26 in the regular season.

What happens after the 2011 season depends on whether the Vikings make any serious headway on a new stadium with the state legislature. According to Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development, the Vikings will not extend their lease with the Metrodome under any circumstances unless there is some serious momentum toward a new stadium.

If that doesn't happen -- and it might not considering the state announced a $4.8 billion deficit on Thursday -- the Vikings essentially become free agents after the 2011 season.

The Vikings already have been approached by an group from Los Angeles that wants a team. Zygi Wilf, the team's owner, turned them away. If the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions produce nothing, the Vikings will be swarmed by other cities. Portland, Ore., Orlando, Los Angeles and Toronto are desperate for an NFL team.

Ted Rogers, the Toronto gazillionaire who was behind the deal with the Bills, died this week at 75. He was the one who REALLY wanted to bring an NFL team to Toronto.

It remains to be seen how his death will affect Toronto's lust for the NFL. But the guess is another rich Canadian will want to join the fraternity of rich American NFL owners. And the Vikings will look awfully good in four years.

After all, if the folks in Toronto are willing to pay nearly $10 million for one Bills home game, imagine how much they'll be willing to pay Wilf for the right to move the Vikings there permanently in 2012.

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