Archive for the ‘Bills Toronto Series’ Category

Ralph Wilson continues to insist that he has no intention of selling the Buffalo Bills in his lifetime. But Ralph Wilson is 92. And the Buffalo Bills aren’t really raking in dollars.

With the prospect of a move to Toronto or Los Angeles or (fill in the blank) looming, a Buffalo native has made it public that he desires to purchase the team with help from investors.

Or, more specifically, he’s “thinking about thinking about it.”

From the Wall Street Journal:

High-profile bond-fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach says he’s in the early stages of attempting to acquire the Buffalo Bills.

“I’m trying to put a group together to buy it,’ he said Thursday, adding that he has floated the idea to several wealthy clients for whom he manages money. The discussions are in the early stages, he said. “Now, I’m thinking about thinking about it.”

Brought up in Buffalo, Gundlach was a star fund manager for Trust Co. of the West, or TCW, which he joined as a bond analyst in 1985. After an acrimonious split with TCW, Gundlach founded DoubleLine Capital, which is headquartered in Los Angeles.

This isn’t the first time someone with his heart in Buffalo has talked about organizing a group of rich dudes in an effort to essentially save the Bills from becoming a free agent upon Wilson’s death. Jim Kelly has repeated to me and others that he plans on making a push for the team when the time comes for such a move to be necessary. Tom Golisano and Terry Pegula have also been mentioned.

But everyone’s treading carefully, because no one wants to say something that they’ll regret, especially considering the fact that we’re dealing with the life and death of a legend.

It’s clear that Gundlach realizes that the Bills won’t be available while Wilson is alive. Still, it’s a good thing for the people of Buffalo that yet another name can be added to the list of potential future owners who would at least give Western New York a legitimate shot at keeping its franchise.

The Bills haven’t won a regular season game in Toronto yet, and it’s not about to get any easier.

If the NFL’s labour impasse doesn’t wash away the latest edition of the Bills Toronto Series, Buffalo will face the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles next November, according to a report from the Fan 590. The league’s schedule will officially be released tonight at 7 p.m. ET, an event surrounded by the usual pageantry from the major networks despite the unknown status of the 2011 season. So we’ll know the date when the Eagles will land in Toronto in about seven hours, but for now the Fan 590′s Greg Brady reports that the next Bills loss at the Rogers Centre will likely be either Nov. 13 or Nov. 20.

There’s an interesting little sidebar to the Eagles visiting the Great White North, and it involves Michael Vick (doesn’t everything?). As Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio notes, if the reports of an Eagles/Bills game are true, then hopefully the NFL thought about Vick being able to clear customs and get into the country.

The fact that the Eagles are making the trip is a bit curious, given:  (1) the stringent Canadian rules on the admission of felons into the country; and (2) the fact that the Eagles’ starting quarterback is a convicted felon.  Our guess (and it’s just a guess) is that the NFL has worked out these details in advance, ensuring that Mike Vick will be able to play.  If, for some reason, Canada refuses to allow him onto their soil, the NFL will look foolish in hindsight for sending the Eagles north of the border.

Don’t worry Eagles fans, you’ll still have Kevin Kolb. Maybe.

Rogers Communications is looking to purchase a majority stake in the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and the Toronto Marlies, according to a report in Wednesday’s Toronto Star.

Buying a majority stake in Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment from the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan would transform Rogers, which already owns the Toronto Blue Jays, into one of the most powerful sports enterprises in North America.

“I know it’s real,” said one top sports industry executive, who requested anonymity. “I’ve heard it from Rogers at a high executive level and from MLSE at a (the highest) level.”

Sources close to the talks say the asking price for the 66 per cent stake owned by the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan, which has about $95 billion in assets, is in the neighbourhood of $1.3 billion.

And since Rogers has brought the NFL to Toronto on a part-time basis, there’s a good chance the rumoured $1.3 billion sale would greatly affect the Buffalo Bills and their future (or lack of a future) in the city of Toronto.

Rogers appears to be extremely interested in the Bills long term. The company indicated last month that it was interested in extending the current five-year series with the team, and there’s been talk that more games may be added in to the Toronto docket in the near-future. And since it’s widely known that the Bills Toronto Series hasn’t been a success from a business standpoint, many believe that the company’s ultimate goal is to cozy up to the team before making a pitch to move it to Toronto permanently when it no longer has an owner (Ralph Wilson is 92 and isn’t keeping the team in his family).

So is Rogers looking to become the biggest sports media empire in North American professional sports? The Leafs and Raptors joined with baseball’s Blue Jays would draw them close to that. The Bills would lock it up. Three issues:

1) The city doesn’t have an NFL-ready stadium and there are no immediate plans to build one. That hasn’t changed. No one wants to pay for a stadium, and there isn’t likely to be much money coming from a city that is focused on building facilities for the 2015 Pan Am Games.

2) The NFL, smartly, precludes corporate ownership. And there likely isn’t an individual from the Rogers empire able to emerge as the majority stakeholder of a billion-dollar operation. Ted Rogers died in 2008.

3) You have to wonder if this sale would remove Rogers from the list of potential suitors for the Bills. Maybe it’s one or the other. And if that’s the case, the Maple Leafs brand — which is far more valuable in Toronto than the Bills brand — takes precedence.

Then you have to wonder if the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan, which according to the Star has about $95 billion in assets, would consider taking its $1.3 billion from the sale and spending it on the Bills, plus a stadium. That’s unlikely. Why sell the Leafs, who print money, and spend most or all of that cash on the Bills, who have failed miserably in their limited time in Toronto?

The name that continues to emerge when analyzing the situation is Larry Tanenbaum’s. At last check, the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman was worth just shy of $1 billion. You’d think that following a sale, Tanenbaum, who worked with Rogers to bring the Bills Toronto Series together, would have enough cash to become the majority owner of an NFL team.

Ted Rogers was a pioneer in many ways prior to his passing in 2008. He started a communications empire that now has 12 year olds J-walking while updating their Facebook status. And in his final years he loosened the purse strings on the Toronto Blue Jays, a young team that maybe–just maybe–is ready to seriously compete.

But for all of his innovation and ambition, there’s one project he overestimated. For the fifth time we’ll be reminded of that fact this weekend, as the latest instalment of the Bills Toronto Series takes place at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Actually, there may be many more years of mediocre football left to be played in Canada’s largest city. Despite lacklustre ticket sales and merchandise rotting in the Rogers Centre store, executives are engaging in standard business backslapping, saying they’re “in this for the long haul” and committed to extending the series beyond 2012 and the original five-year plan.

Those words came from Rogers vice chairman Phil Lind Friday afternoon, one of the high-ranking officials who flanked Rogers as he signed off on a infamously obese $78 million contract to bring NFL regular season football to Canada for the first time in 2008.

Enthusiasm and charisma are captivating character traits that can drive great leaders to do great things. But even Lind admits the youthful ambition of Rogers hasn’t been matched in capital returns throughout the series.

“I think that, when we first announced it, Mr. Rogers was perhaps a bit over-enthusiastic,” Lind told The Canadian Press. “That’s how he was with everything.”

Read the rest of this entry »

After the Bills-Colts preseason game Thursday in Toronto, I grabbed Colts linebacker Philip Wheeler in the locker room and quizzed him on all things Canada. Here’s the best (or worst) part: Wheeler didn’t know the first line of Canada’s national anthem…but neither did I! I claimed it was “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee,” when in fact it is “O Canada, our home and native land.” So I’m pretty much the worst Canadian ever.

Wheeler’s got some brushing up to do, too.

I then headed over to the Bills locker room to see if rookie Arthur Moats could fare any better…

Well done, Mr. Moats.

And apparently, I don’t know how my home country’s anthem starts or ends.

Once again, there were lots of empty seats at Rogers Centre Thursday night.

TORONTO — The Bills played the Colts Thursday night in the fourth instalment of the Bills Toronto Series. The crowd was once again relatively quiet and relatively neutral, and for the fourth consecutive time, not every seat at Rogers Centre was filled.

And so we’re all ready to get our panties in a knot once again, or strengthen a knot that has only been twisted deeper since Ralph Wilson and the late Ted Rogers originally tied it when they announced this series on Jan. 30, 2008.

That was 933 days ago, and the series has yet to receive a truly positive review by a single correspondent not employed by Rogers Communications, which infamously paid $78 million dollars — nearly 10 percent of the team’s overall worth, according to Forbes — for this eight-game array of mediocrity.

We can all agree that the series has been a failure. The crowds continue to be stale, the tailgating parties continue to be non-existent and the ticket prices continue to be too high, despite Rogers’ attempts to soften the blow by lowering them in consecutive years.

What I don’t understand is why this botched series is being connected to the NFL’s potential future in the city of Toronto. The two things do not go hand-in-hand.

I should apologize now to both of my regular readers, because I’ve said this time and again, but the people of Toronto aren’t interested in a bad foreign team playing overpriced exhibition games in their city. Football in Toronto isn’t a novelty — the CFL’s Argonauts play 10 or more home games per year here and the Bills are a 90-minute drive away.

There is very little appeal to these games to Torontonians, but that doesn’t mean Toronto isn’t a city that is well-suited to one day have its own team. The fifth largest market in North America would embrace a team with “Toronto” on its jersey.

Anything short of that, and this is the best you’ll get. Stop being surprised by the reception.

Barring a work stoppage, this series expires after the 2012 season, which is a bad thing for the Bills and a good thing for football fans north of the 49th parallel. That’s because it’s highly unlikely the marriage between Rogers and the Bills continues beyond that. The two sides have not been negotiating an extension and — this is just speculation — Rogers can’t be thrilled with the way things have turned out.

It would make very little financial sense for Rogers to continue the series, unless it gets a large discount the second time around.

That will once again make Toronto a free agent. It’ll also cost the Bills money — they’re making significantly more money off Toronto games than games at Orchard Park. Eventually, Ralph Wilson will die and the Bills will essentially become a free agent themselves.

When that happens, the wheels will undoubtedly be in motion for a move to Toronto or Los Angeles.

It’s sad, but from a financial standpoint, the Bills — as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars for that matter — aren’t carrying their weight in North America’s most powerful professional sports league.

Toronto has the corporate presence to support its own team, so does Los Angeles. Right now, we’re delaying inevitability.

There’s no room for Ma and Pa operations in the NFL.

Unless they’re based in Green Bay.

TORONTO — It started as a sea of green and blue. Green and blue seats, going around and around the Rogers Centre.

The scene before kickoff in Toronto looked scary to say the least. Sure, it’s the preseason, a time undrafted rookies get to become boxscore superheroes. But this is still the NFL, and it’s in Toronto. The presence of the NFL in a foreign country is still kind of a big deal, right?

Then suddenly a bomb went off. Or maybe it was that incessantly loud cannon that went off at every conceivable opportunity. Or perhaps it was the Bills band oddly starting the pre game performance with Auld Lang Syne. But something ignited this crowd.

The empty seats were still there (final attendance was 39,583, compared to the 48,434 who attended the preseason game against Pittsburgh in 2008), but the Rogers Centre sounded alive, and that definitely counts for something. In the middle of the first quarter Bills rookie first-round pick C.J Spiller–now carrying the load in the backfield with both Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson injured–sprinted to the outside for a 31-yard touchdown. The roar came.

Joseph Addai hit the hole hard for a 17-yard score to tie the game. The roar was there again.

Terrence McGee intercepted Peyton Manning for a pick six. And there was the roar once more.

Should this be surprising? No, far from it. It should be commonplace. Here’s the ridiculously simple, borderline intelligence-insulting equation: football is a hard-hitting, fast-paced sport, with quick bursts of action. So it should be exciting. Yet there is a perception amongst some media south of the border that there’s an overwhelming sense of indifference to the Bills Toronto Series.

Emotionally, the crowd is invested. Visually, the crowd is lacking, and that’s the root of the problem. It’s nice and cute when the noise slowly builds on a third and long, and when eyes widen as a deep ball sails through the air, and don’t forget that collective “ohhh!” and stadium-wide wince that follows a solid hit. It’s especially adorable when the wave rolls around the lower bowl amidst the still vacant green and blue seats.

But football is a business, and the Bills Toronto Series is a business endeavour, one that needs quantity to be successful and quality will be worried about later. At the best of times it’s difficult to take two areas with separate identities that are linked by little more than geography, and find some common bond.

For the players, it feels different. But it’s OK to be different. Just ask Trent Edwards.

“I thought the environment was great, I really enjoyed it,” said the Bills quarterback, who threw for 93 yards and a touchdown.

In a small way, this has become a home away from home for Edwards, like the family cottage that’s visited a couple times a year.

“The playing surface, and the stadium is a little different. The fans are on our side though, and I really enjoy playing here.”

Who the fans were supporting Thursday night is debatable, as the cheers for the “home” side nearly equalled those for the Colts. But winning the AFC Championship and going to the Super Bowl will do that for you.

Lee Evans, who caught a 70-yard bomb from Edwards for a first-quarter touchdown, has been around since the beginning of the Bills Toronto Series, and says the atmosphere is getting better with each visit.

“It certainly feels as though we have a lot of support out there, and the fans were a lot more into it than they have been in the past,” said the former first-round pick.

“It is different, but it feels a lot more like a home game now than it did the first time we played here.”