Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Updated: February 22, 11:14 AM ET
Toronto optimistic about Bills game talks
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- There's growing optimism that the Buffalo Bills will renew their deal to play games in Toronto beyond this season. And Bills fans shouldn't worry about losing more than one regular-season game a year north of the border.
That was the message delivered by Rogers Communications Media president Keith Pelley in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.
"We continue to have dialogue, just as we did at the Super Bowl in Indy, and we're optimistic that an agreement could be reached," Pelley said. "We're definitely interested in continuing the relationship with the Bills in Toronto."
Pelley wouldn't provide specifics on the length or terms of a potential extension to the existing five-year deal, but did say that Rogers is not looking to expand the number of regular-season games the Bills play in Toronto.
"No," he said. "At this point, without getting into any details of the conversation, I think that it would be a deal that would that would certainly work for both sides. We're not looking to increase the number of games."
That's a switch from before, when Rogers vice chairman Phil Lind expressed interest in Toronto hosting more than one regular-season game.
The Bills-In-Toronto series enters its final year after the team and Rogers negotiated a five-year, $78 million agreement in 2008 to have the Bills play five annual regular-season and three preseason games at Toronto's Rogers Centre.
Though talks are ongoing, it's expected the new deal would be similar to the existing contract.
Bills owner Ralph Wilson told The AP in December that he's optimistic an extension would be reached, while adding that Rogers is asking to cut ticket prices, which could reduce the overall value of the deal.
For the Bills, the series has served as an opportunity for the team to expand its market into Canada's largest city and financial capital. For Rogers, it was regarded as an opportunity to bring the NFL to Toronto, and for the communications giant to build ties with North America's most lucrative sport.
The series has so far paid off for the Bills, who have experienced a significant boost in season-ticket sales from fans in southern Ontario, who now represent about 15 percent of the team's base.
On Tuesday, Bills CEO Russ Brandon noted that negotiations with Rogers were under way.
"Our core goal is to continue to regionalize our franchise," Brandon said, "and continue our series in Toronto, which has served us so well."
The Bills announced Tuesday that they are losing their preseason game at Toronto this summer as a result of scheduling conflicts at Rogers Centre. The preseason game will now be played at Orchard Park.
The Bills will still play their scheduled regular-season game at Toronto, which will be determined once the NFL schedule is released in the next two months.
Pelley said he offered the preseason game back to the Bills because Rogers Centre was running out of open dates in August. The Blue Jays have a lengthy 10-game homestand that spans two weekends, and Pelley said another event that has yet to be announced has been added to the calendar.
Pelley called the series a chance for Rogers to bring a premium event to Toronto, and showcase the Bills.
"The bottom line is, the Bills are premium content, and that's what we're obviously looking to bring to Rogers Centre," Pelley said, noting Rogers has a "terrific" relationship with the Bills. "It's a complete partnership, and that's what we've tried to build. And if we are to be successful in extending the deal, then the partnership will get stronger."
Pelley did acknowledge some hiccups, and added Rogers is still attempting to address fans' concerns that Ontario laws are more strict in limiting their ability to tailgate the same way they can at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Another issue has been the price of tickets, which initially averaged about $180. Rogers has responded by offering more than 10,000 tickets for under $100.
The Bills also announced Tuesday that there will be no increase to their season-ticket prices, and have dropped prices for certain sections by as much as $15 per seat for the upcoming season.
The Bills already had among the NFL's lowest ticket prices. And they're coming off a season in which they failed to sell out their final three home games last year.
The team's season-ticket base dropped to 37,555 last year, down from 44,000 the previous season. The Bills blamed the drop on the NFL lockout wiping out most of the offseason, when the team generates most of its sales.
"Everyone in the organization is committed to building upon our strong foundation," Brandon said, "and taking a significant step forward this year."