Fans won't foot Rogers' Bills

STEVE SIMMONS,SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

There was not a sucker born every minute, even though P.T. Barnum thought so and maybe Phil Lind, too.

Lind, you might remember, is the big-wig from Rogers Communications who negotiated this ludicrous Bills in Toronto football series of games that has denigrated its way into a game show called Begging for Dollars.

The truth is, the deal Lind negotiated with the Bills was doomed from the start. He thought Toronto would pay anything, stupid money really, to watch eight National Football League games at the Rogers Centre, watch a team we have no real connection to or care about, three of those games of the awful pre-season variety.

That was his insulting logic, his way of getting the attention of the NFL, his way of endearing Toronto to the league.

Some people in the NFL take a different look at the deal Lind made with the Bills. They say Lind got snookered by the Bills, used badly, in fact. While this was sold and spun in many quarters as the beginning of the Bills moving to Toronto, the interpretations of the deal Lind and Rogers agreed to points to Rogers as the pansy in this negotiation.

Lind agreed that Rogers would pay the Bills $78 million US for eight games in Toronto, five of those regular season. That was before the dollar went bad. So if Rogers owed the Bills $78 million for eight games when the dollar was at par, that value alone has taken the figure to $93.6 million Cdn, assuming the dollar doesn't change much over the next five years.

But the dollar, really, is the one mess Lind can't be blamed for.

By agreeing to pay the Bills $78 million, Lind was, in essence, agreeing to pay the Bills about $36 million US more than they would have earned by housing those games at Ralph Wilson Stadium. That's why NFL people will tell you the Bills are laughing all the way to the bank on this arrangement.

They sold three pre-season games to Toronto, which nobody in the NFL wants to sell, for just under $10 million a game. On average, the Bills do about $4 million a game in revenue for a home pre-season game. They've doubled their money by moving the game out of Buffalo.

Why wouldn't they want to benefit from Toronto pre-season games?

For regular-season games, the Bills do about $6 million in ticket revenue. In Toronto, they're being paid closer to $10 million.

If there was a sucker born in all of this, that sucker was named Rogers.

As two different NFL sources wondered yesterday, if the Toronto interests were going to pay this ridiculous amount of money to bring the Bills here for a game each season in the hopes of wooing the franchise or the league in the process, they should have negotiated a right of first refusal on the eventual sale of the franchise. They did not do that, either.

So the game will go on Sunday afternoon here, the struggling Bills versus the improving Dolphins and as of yesterday about 3,500 tickets, mostly in the $300-plus price range, have yet to be sold. If anything, those of us in Toronto should be congratulated for not playing the part of rubes.

Had Lind and the Rogers people negotiated a reasonable price to do these games here and not charged mortgage payments for tickets, people would have felt truly excited about the week that is coming. But instead, they overpaid and overcharged and alienated a rabid, but not insane, NFL audience in Toronto. And now they advertise anywhere and everywhere, trying to get rid of the final overly expensive seats.

The idea that Toronto was a slam-dunk for the NFL remains with one proviso: We may be naive and Leafs-centric, but we're not crazy. We still want the NFL here. But everything has a price and this price was wrong.

The only good news for anyone in this NFL promise is that the game, by NFL standards, is a sellout: That means it will be televised, here and in Buffalo. For the record, it isn't sold out but for the purposes of determining television coverage it happens to be.

Apparently, the NFL doesn't consider the high-priced tickets to count, much like box-holders' seats. So we can all sit home and watch on TV. For free.

The only bargain anyone will find with this first-ever NFL game in Toronto.


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