Bills close to Toronto extension

Updated: September 21, 2012, 5:27 PM ET
Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills are closing in on a deal to extend their series of playing regular-season games in Toronto.

"We'll be having an announcement on that," Rogers Communications vice chairman Phil Lind said Friday. Without providing a timeline, Lind said, "It'll be soon."

Bills CEO Russ Brandon said discussions with Rogers are continuing, and added: "We hope to announce a new deal in the near future."

The Bills and Rogers, the Toronto-based media giant, already have NFL approval to extend the series once it expires after this season. Brandon said last week the two sides are expected to meet in early October.

The extension is expected to be similar to the previous one, lasting five years and having Buffalo playing one annual regular-season game in Canada's largest city. It's unclear whether preseason games will be included in the extension.

The original deal, reached in 2008, had the Bills playing three preseason games -- one every other year. That was eventually dropped to two preseason games after a scheduling conflict led to Rogers returning this year's game to Buffalo.

Rogers paid the Bills $78 million for the eight-game series, but that price is expected to drop under a new agreement.

Rogers had difficulty selling out games, in part because it launched the series with ticket prices averaging around $200. Rogers has since cut prices, a move that is expected to reduce the overall value of a new agreement.

Lind was in Buffalo on Friday attending a news conference announcing the Rogers-owned Toronto Blue Jays' new Triple-A affiliation agreement with the International League Buffalo Bisons.

Brandon also attended the announcement and chatted extensively with Lind, who spearheaded the previous negotiations.

Buffalo has been the NFL's only team to play annual regular-season games outside of the United States.

The Bills' decision to play in Toronto was a bid to expand their market into southern Ontario and gain a firm foothold in Canada's financial capital to help generate additional revenue to help ensure the small market's long-term viability in Buffalo.

Toronto is located 100 miles from Buffalo.

The team's talks with Rogers are happening at the same time the Bills are negotiating with New York State and Erie County to extend their lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium, which is currently set to expire in July.

Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy and deputy county executive Rich Tobe met in New York on Friday to discuss how to proceed with negotiations, which have been described by the Bills as "stalled."

Duffy and Tobe released a joint statement saying talks were productive.

"Both the state and county are lockstep in their commitment to keeping the Bills in Buffalo, and we will continue to refrain from negotiating through the press," the statement said.

A lag in negotiations has led to the team already missing a deadline to apply for an NFL loan assistance program to help the $200-$220 million in costs the Bills and taxpayers would share for proposed renovations and upgrades to the 39-year-old stadium.

The Bills' next chance to apply for the loan won't come until March, which could be potentially too late to have in place once the current lease expires.

County executive Mark Poloncarz has said the parties have agreed in principle to negotiating a one-year lease extension that would allow the team to keep playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium next season while talks continue on a long-term deal.

Brandon has said lease talks will have no effect on the Bills reaching a deal with Rogers.


Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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