Rogers amps up Bills interest

STEVE SIMMONS,SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:52 AM ET

It is indeed baffling that in the worst economic conditions in recent history that Rogers Communications has become even more aggressive in its pursuit of the Buffalo Bills.

How else to interpret the Rogers' questionnaire, clearly attempting to increase the eight-game Bills series in Toronto to 11 National Football League games between now and 2012? It becomes even more confounding when you consider that the $87 million US deal for five regular season and three exhibition games was a bad one from the beginning for Rogers -- we're told they lost $7 million on the first NFL games in Toronto -- and that's without considering the difference in the U.S. dollar from deal signing to now, which increases Rogers' costs to more than $100 million Canadian for just the eight games.

How does 11 games -- adding three with supposedly lower ticket prices -- make any sense economically now?

And why, in a world that is downsizing at every turn, is Rogers throwing good money after bad? (Not that we should care because it's not our money.)

But otherwise, what's the game plan here?

Maybe it all goes back -- as it did from the beginning -- to the age of owner Ralph Wilson and the vulnerability of the Bills franchise. NFL league meetings are going on right now in Dana Point, Calif., but without Wilson, the soon-to-be Hall of Fame member. Wilson, who will be 91 by the time the Bills' play their second regular-season game in Toronto, fell at his Detroit home, injuring his shoulder. The assumption, upon signing the deal with the Bills, was that somehow Ted Rogers would outlive Ralph Wilson and eventually wind up as the owner of the Bills.

The opposite occurred, however. Rogers passed away just days prior to the first regular-season game in Toronto and Wilson, at 90, is still around, if not necessarily kicking.

And the unanswered question then was: What will Rogers Communications' interest in pursuing the Bills or even maintaining the Blue Jays be after the death of the company patriarch? In the case of the Bills, it is clear that Rogers hopes to position itself well enough that upon Wilson's inevitable passing, they will be in a position to bid for the franchise.

And if somehow there are two games a year contracted to play in Toronto -- something that would need the approval of Wilson, the NFL and various levels of local government -- it complicates the possibility of a sale to someone who would be playing 25% of its home schedule outside the country.

There are, of course, problems with this theory, beginning with one obvious one: A corporation cannot own an NFL team. An individual must own at least 30% of a team's shares. With Ted Rogers alive, they have that individual. Sources said yesterday, there are still those willing to stand up and be the 30% owner of a Toronto franchise, but it isn't specifically known who that someone would be.

The second problem with the theory is the Rogers Centre itself. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has told people that Rogers Centre is acceptable as a temporary home for a franchise but not a permanent one. Without a new stadium plan, Toronto likely would not be deemed acceptable by the NFL.

And then there is the issue between Rogers and the NFL, which is internal. The first attempts at games in Toronto did not work out to the NFL's liking.

One high-placed league employee said "the NFL does not like being embarrassed" and referred to the Toronto games of last season as a "marketing disaster."

The Rogers people have to make up some ground with Goodell and friends. There will be a different approach in Year 2 of the Series. According to Adrian Montgomery, general manager of the Bills in Toronto series, there will be more focus on the game itself and less focus on everything that goes on around the game. One report indicated the Indianapolis Colts would be the Bills opponent in Toronto this year but another has indicated that the Colts, Tampa Bay, New Orleans and a fourth team are on the short-list to play in Toronto.

When asked if his group is pushing for more games in Toronto, Montgomery answered: "At this stage, that's a hypothetical question. It's not our first piece of research. It's all with an eye of making this better."

STEVE.SIMMONS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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