Not paying the Bills

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

The lure of good field position for the Buffalo Bills at Rogers Centre did little to help the Toronto Argonauts' own season-ticket drive.

While the Canadian Football League club reports 14,000 subscriber packages sold for 2008 -- ahead of schedule according to team execs -- the Bills didn't provide the expected spike, on top of the Argos' perceived awkwardness of pumping the NFL's tires in their own market.

The Bills are set to play eight exhibition and regular-season games during five years at Rogers Centre. The co-promotion now has closed and the locals have resumed their own selling efforts with opening night six weeks away.

"There were some estimates what (joining with the Bills) could do ... but they were not met," club CEO Michael (Pinball) Clemons said yesterday in a state-of-the-franchise media conference call.

COO Brad Watters contended the 14,000 figure remained "a very solid number".

"We just looked at (the Bills' deal) as value added for our fans," Watters said. "It's nothing we forced on them.

"It would be naive to say it didn't help us. But we were not uncomfortable combining the two (ticket offers)."

The Argos also announced they are closing off the 500 level of the Rogers Centre this season, curtailing football capacity to 31,074. That means a higher average ticket price, but a more intimate setting, which has been a huge plus for their soccer rivals, Toronto FC, at the 20,100-seat BMO Field.

The Argos' single-game range now is $20 to $79, but cheaper for kids and students.

Watters insisted the team is staying at Rogers Centre, despite speculation they one day will return to their CNE roots at an enlarged BMO facility.

Watters says sponsorship is up and predicts a new European sideline signage system, one that allows advertisers to buy comprehensive rotating display space on a per minute basis, will also bring in more revenue.

Clemens committed the team to a five-year plan to win back baby boomer fans and their families, culminating in the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup which Toronto hopes to host. He admitted TFC has emerged as a strong rival for the entertainment dollar, but stressed the two clubs are after different fan bases.

"They have a rowdier crowd, a bit more drinking and a larger immigrant population," Clemons said. "But in a city this size, there is room for both.

"On television, we're second to hockey and ahead of baseball, but status quo isn't good enough. Our mission is to grow our business, to pass it on so fathers can come down here with their sons."

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2008 TORONTO ARGO-NEWS

- New quarterback Kerry Joseph.

- New head coach Rich Stubler.

- 500 level at Rogers Centre closed for 2008, reducing capacity to 31,074.

- New home game sideline signage system.

- Launch 'A Generation' under 16 kids community promotion.

- Rookies and quarterbacks report to training camp in Mississauga on Wednesday.

- First pre-season game in Montreal on June 12.

- Home opener is July 3 against Hamilton.


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