Toronto councillor Doug Ford says he was told last week by NFL Canada that Toronto is “right up there on the list” of cities awaiting NFL teams.
“They have to take care of the problem in Los Angeles first,” said the candid Ford, who is the brother of Toronto mayor Rob Ford. “Two teams are kind of in play here: Jacksonville’s number one; New Orleans is the other. So there’s two teams. Once they take care of Los Angeles, we’re going to fly over to New York, set up a meeting with [NFL commissioner Roger] Goodell and give him our pitch.”
One problem, Mr. Councillor. The city lacks an NFL-ready venue, according to Goodell. But last month, Ford explained his vision of a waterfront stadium to The Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee. He expanded on the stadium issue in an interview with me at his office Wednesday, stating that he’s talked to Rogers Communications about adding seats to Rogers Centre.
“When I talked to Rogers they were very interested,” Ford said. “Now, they could take the hotel out and add another 10,000 seats but that still wouldn’t get us up to the 75,000 that we need for the Super Bowl.”
Did he just say “Super Bowl”?
“The NFL’s saying, ‘OK, if you’re building a stadium, build it [with 75,000 seats] or you won’t even be eligible for the Super Bowl.’”
Wait, he just said it again. A Super Bowl outside of the United States? In Canada? Now we’re dreaming big. Now we’re shooting for the stars. It’s enough to make an interviewer overlook the fact that, moments prior, Ford passively suggested demolishing the Renaissance Hotel’s 70 rooms that overlook the field.
(Editor’s note: NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tells me that there is no official policy in place requiring new stadiums to contain 75,000 seats in order to be eligible to host a Super Bowl. That said, the bigger the better … obviously.)
Ford, 46, mentioned four other potential locations for a new venue — the Portlands, Exhibition Place, Downsview and Woodbine — noting that he doesn’t favour any. When I told him I liked the idea of renovating Rogers Centre to save money and expedite the process, he talked about another trick Rogers might have up its sleeve.
“Rogers is getting very creative,” he said. “They’re going down.”
After taking a moment to determine what that means, I ask him if that is something he figures Rogers might consider.
“No, I know. They’ll dig out the floor, drop it down a couple levels and add another 15,000 seats all around the base.”
Mr. Councillor, you just blew my mind.
If that seemingly far-fetched plan is never fully hatched, Ford isn’t fretting over the financial implications of a stadium at another location.
“There isn’t going to be one penny from taxpayers coming into this,” he told me, explaining that, in his view, lucrative yet controversial personal seat licenses would cover the vast majority of the cost. “And it’s going to create thousands of jobs — it’s like bringing a Fortune 500 company to Canada.”
First, though, a home team is a necessity. And the Buffalo Bills once or twice a year doesn’t count. Ford said there’s “a huge difference” between the Bills playing here as part of the Bills Toronto Series and the presence of an actual team with a Toronto name.
“If we had our own team,” he said, “we’d treat it like it’s our own and build up a fan base.”
That doesn’t mean Ford is condemning the Bills. A lot of what he tells me blends relocation with expansion. I don’t get the feeling the councillor is overly concerned with how a team comes to Toronto, but international expansion has a nice ring to it from a business perspective.
“They want to expand internationally,” Ford said, noting that London, England is a top target. “But what better expansion than down the street to Toronto? They can’t keep ignoring a market this size.”
No one is as connected with Toronto’s past NFL pitches as Paul Godfrey, the former Blue Jays president and current Postmedia CEO. Still in shock after talking with Ford, I asked Godfrey, who has campaigned heavily for a Toronto NFL team in the past, about what to expect.
“If anyone’s going to compete with the Leafs in this city, it’s an NFL team,” Godfrey told me, adding that no duo would be better for the job of reeling a team in than Rob and Doug Ford.
“It’ll happen, but not with this team,” Godfrey added, referring to the Bills. “It’ll be a team with the Toronto name on it.”