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Thursday, August 14, 2008
Toronto welcomes NFL with a yawn

Posted by's Tim Graham

TORONTO -- If the NFL is supposed to be a big thing in Toronto, there has been little evidence it before tonight's preseason game between the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers in the Rogers Centre.

 AP Photo/David Duprey
 Stadium workers apply the Buffalo Bills team logo to the field at the Rogers Centre.

This is the grand experiment for multi-billionaire Ted Rogers, who wants to show the world Toronto can support an NFL franchise.

While this is the preseason and expectations are far greater for a game that counts, when the Bills play the Miami Dolphins here Dec. 7.

But today's response has been a resounding whimper.

One ticket scalper outside Gate 13 told me he's getting killed. His starting price for a $250 seat was $50 -- and that was 75 minutes before the game. He probably would have taken half that on the spot, and the price certainly will plummet as kickoff approaches.

"I'd rather go home," the scalper said. "What am I going to do, sell 'em for $10?"

A couple blocks away, a group of 21 baby-faced dissenters gathered outside a poor excuse for a tailgate party -- essentially a corporate-driven area where people can drink beer with no grills or tag football -- to protest the NFL interlopers.

The planned protest generated decent coverage in the Canadian press but, like reaction to the game, the demonstration was underwhelming.

They waved Canadian flags and Toronto Argonauts banners. They wore white T-shirts with the Bills' logo crossed out.

"Bills belong in Buffalo!" was their chant. A forty-something man in a Buffalo Fire Department shirt walked past and raised his fist in solidarity: "You got that right!"

Sterling Halliday, the 19-year-old ringleader, apologized for the low turnout.

"It's my first protest," he said with a shrug.

He organized the event to defend the CFL, which could be threatened by the NFL's intrusion on their turf.

"I'm a CFL supporter and an Argos fan, and I felt somebody needed to stand up for the CFL. It's a proud part of our country," Halliday said. "We can't lose the CFL to the NFL."

"The NFL advertises so much, it would swamp everything. The CFL can't compete with the hype."

As I looked around, I thought: "What hype?"