Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Don't worry B-Lo. We'll have them back by 10.

Well, tomorrow is the big day. The team is in town, the alumni have gathered and the tickets have been sold or handed out to members of the Rogers politburo. All we need is a cute little Chinese girl to lipsync while Bryan Adams sings the anthem. People are giving the Chinese crap for their Vanilli-esque sleight of hand but maybe they're on to something. We Canadians have had to look at the likes of the aforementioned Adams, Luba, The Arcade Fire, The Barenaked Ladies, Rita McNeil, Randy Bachman and Geddy Lee over the years. While all fine singers they're a little hard on the eyes. To be honest I'm not sure why this hasn't become more widespread, unless it has and the guy signing "Tom Sawyer" all these years actually looks like this:


While I am undoubtedly excited about tomorrow's events there is a lingering bittersweet element to my preparations. The core of this is the empathy I'm feeling for the good people of Buffalo. There seems to be a growing sense of inevitability that tomorrow's game is the beginning of the end for the franchise in Western New York. Even with assurances from the commissioner, local politicians and Bills brass that the Toronto games are an effort to regionalize the fan base and that the team's future is secure, fans are worried. In all honesty, I don't blame them. I was a bit worried myself. As I've said countless times before, I (along with my friends and family) are Buffalo Bills fans. Sure we're thrilled for the chance to see them once or twice a year without fighting through customs but we don't want the team's identity to change. Starting with the maniacal look on Uncle Ted's face at the first press conference and continuing with the unrestrained desire to land an NFL team expressed by Godfrey, Lind and the rest of the Rogers cronies, there is clearly an image being painted that Toronto is ready to pounce once Ralph Wilson dies. I'm sure the people of Buffalo are feeling a bit like Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal. Sure, they need the money but are they ever going to get their true love back once they've handed it over to the dapper rich guy? Even after they physically return there will always be the worry that their heart is elsewhere. Will Marshawn be happy with a night out at Applebee's after he's been wined and dined at Susur? Sure he'll say he had a nice time and enjoyed his mini chicken ranchers but will he really mean it?

In reality, the end may not be nigh, in fact it may be very un-nigh. As a recent Toronto Life article aptly pointed out, Ralph Wilson appears to be the big winner in the deal here. Think of the Bills current situation versus just a year ago. They raised ticket prices and have set a record for season ticket sales. On top of that they got a nice fat cheque from Uncle Ted for $78 million for 5 regular season games and three pre-season games. The Bills get the windfall from this while at the same time they have a much easier time selling out the games at the Ralph. Fans only have to pay up for 7 regular season games and one pre-season game. Plus, seeing your team playing elsewhere is a bit of a wake-up call for Bills fans. To go back to my movie metaphor, seeing Demi Moore with Robert Redford is what finally gave Woody Harrelson the motivation to dunk the basketball and win his girl back. The impressive sales numbers coming out of One Bills Drive is a sign that Bills fans are taking the threat seriously. Given this new reality, the Bills are in the best position financially they've been in for some time, if not ever. Would they be better off with 8 home games a year in Toronto at an average ticket price of $300? Sure, but so far the indication is that this isn't going to happen. They're having enough troubling selling tickets for two games nonetheless a whole season.

What I see happening is this, Rogers struggles just to breakeven on their big five-year bet. Bills ticket prices in Buffalo will creep up each year but stay under the league average as the looming move and, hopefully, a steadying economy push demand higher. Obviously Rogers (not Ted necessarily, but those around him) would want to buy the team today but may be less enthusiastic in a couple years. Regardless of whether or not Rogers stays on, the next five years will hopefully have proven how viable the franchise can be in its current location. Even if a case can be made that the team would be worth slightly more in Toronto the league and Buffalo-era politicians will do what it takes to bridge that gap ensuring the team stays where it is. This is by no means a certainty as there is clearly an element amongst the Toronto backers that wants a team here regardless of how little sense it may make financially. Luckily, the guy actually signing the cheques is driven purely by dollars and cents not by any desire to become the next Bob Kraft or Jerry Jones. All indications are that Uncle Ted doesn't even like sports. Five years of making little return, if any, on $78 million may be enough to convince him (and Ted Jr.) to stick with the cable and cell phone bundling.

Now I feel better. With everybody's fears put to rest I can go about my gameday activities unburdened by the guilt that I'm part of some larcenous conspiracy to steal the Bills. The ribs are being rubbed, the beer is being chilled and the jersey has been laid out on the bed. Enjoy the game everyone and don't worry Buffalo. I'll be a gentleman.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gino will be told about this......remember I know where you live!