NFL news good for T.O.

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

Paul Tagliabue is retiring in July, and if there's one thing he wants on his resume at the end it is to have brought the NFL back to Los Angeles.

The second-largest market in North America has been without an NFL team since the 1994 season when the Rams moved to St. Louis and the Raiders went back to Oakland.

The wheels are in motion and the league is planning to spend $800 million of its own money to get a stadium ready, either at the downtown LA Coliseum or in Anaheim. It's uncertain yet if the team will be an expansion franchise or a relocation.

SIDEWAYS

"I'm not going to rush," Tagliabue told city officials. "But I've always emphasized this is the year for us to make some decisions. We're not going to keep moving sideways."

Either way, though, this has to be good news for those who want to bring the NFL to Toronto. For a dozen years, the giant metropolis of Los Angeles has been the elephant in the room whenever new franchises are discussed.

If the league decides to move a team -- the San Diego Chargers have been mentioned -- that will be a signal that other franchises might want to do the same thing.

And Toronto, as the 10th-largest metropolitan area in North America and an acknowledged pro sports town, would certainly be a desirable destination.

If they decide to supply Los Angeles with an expansion team, that would make the NFL a 33-team league. The NFL traditionally has not stayed on an odd number for long. You can bet a 34th franchise will be created within a few years and, once again, Toronto has to be high on that priority list.

Paul Godfrey, the Blue Jays president and lifelong crusader for an NFL franchise here, has not changed his outlook.

"I still have big NFL dreams," he said this week.

Over the past two years, Tagliabue delivered mixed messages regarding the possibility of the NFL coming to Toronto.

At the 2005 Super Bowl, Tagliabue said: "My guess is it will happen. It's impossible right now to have a timetable. It could very well be the next franchises in the NFL are outside the U.S., certainly Toronto, certainly Mexico (would be considered)."

Then, a year later at this year's Super Bowl, Tagliabue laid waste to any notion of the NFL heading north, at least as it pertains to the Los Angeles situation.

"I don't see expansion to Canada as being related to what we might do in Los Angeles," he said.

But the fact is, once the Los Angeles franchise is taken care of -- and that could take three or four years before it actually happens -- the next order of business will be international expansion.

Up until now, the league has been preoccupied with domestic circumstances. Cleveland and Houston lost teams and now have been taken care of. Once there is a team in Los Angeles again, there are no markets of any substance remaining in the U.S.

You could make a case for Las Vegas but, given how squeamish sports execs are about the proximity to legalized gambling, that's a longshot.

The renewed strength of the Canadian dollar would make the initial cost of a franchise and the inevitable stadium that would need to follow a lot more palatable than five or six years ago.

When Houston joined the league three years ago, the Texans owners paid a franchise fee of $700 million US.

That was before the NFL signed new television contracts that increased revenue from that source from $2.2 billion to $3.1 billion a year. That's about $100 million of revenue per team, before they even open the doors of the stadiums.

When the next expansion comes, as it surely must, the new team(s) will be paying a franchise fee estimated at about $1 billion.

REVENUE STREAMS

Add in another $800 million in stadium and start-up costs a 90-plus cent Canadian dollar looks a lot better than the 65-cent dollar of five years ago.

Given the massive NFL revenue streams, 75% of which would be in U.S. dollars, prospective owners won't even blink at the numbers. Indeed, if and when Toronto gets a franchise, it won't be a matter of who gets to share in the ownership, but who gets shouldered out.

It's not going to happen in seven days, or seven weeks or seven months.

But it could happen within seven years, no matter which side of his mouth Tagliabue is speaking from as he concentrates on the Los Angeles situation.

Sooner or later, the NFL is going to turn its eyes on Toronto, and Toronto will be ready.


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