The League

Les Carpenter
Staff Writer

Les Carpenter

Yahoo! Sports reporter and former NFL writer for The Washington Post.

NFL Gold in Canada?


Buffalo's experiment with Canada will be watched closely around the NFL. The league is desperate to find new markets to expand into and Canada remains an untapped gold mine. Football is popular in Canada and Canadian fans not only watch the NFL on television they travel across the border from cities like Toronto and Vancouver to watch games in Buffalo and Seattle. Still, there remains a divide. Canada has its football league, while the U.S. has the NFL.

By entering the mega metropolis of Toronto for a handful of games, the Bills not only can hold onto their local fans in upstate New York but they can begin to make serious inroads in Canada's biggest city. It also opens Canada as a potential market for the NFL which must find a way to expand its reach outside the United States or risk someday falling behind sports like baseball and basketball which have a huge global reach. As the NFL's efforts to build itself in Europe and Asia slowly chug along, Canada remains the best place for the league's initial growth.

It remains to be seen whether Canada would support a fulltime team. Obviously moving the Bills permanently to Toronto is an appealing idea given the immense size of the Toronto market. Perhaps a better solution might be to have a Buffalo-Toronto franchise that plays half of its games in Buffalo and half in Toronto. The biggest problem with this is the same problem that has confounded other Canadian franchises in other sports -- the value of the dollar. For many years, Canada's dollar significantly trailed the US's. It meant Canadian teams were selling tickets and advertising in Canadian currency and yet paying players in American money. That, among other things, drove the NBA from Vancouver, baseball from Montreal and hockey from cities like Quebec City and Winnipeg.

The NFL could probably not survive in Montreal or even Vancouver despite the great size of those cities. But it would have a chance in Toronto, especially if that franchise was marketed as the nation's team.

And the NFL, which has seriously considered putting a team in England, has no choice but to try.

By Les Carpenter  |  December 2, 2009; 11:43 AM ET  | Category:  Buffalo Bills Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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This idea would be taking a big chance. Most of Canada's Corporate headquarters are in Toronto but the ticket prices and the different football culture would be a problem. Furthermore if this failed , the CFL could still suffer major damage. The CFL has huge tv ratings(bigger than NFL) and is big in the rest of Canada.

Posted by: g_mcphee | December 2, 2009 2:08 PM

First of all, I agree with most of what you write about. However, the Canadian dollar is now strong and has been for a few years now. Today it is trading at $0.95 U.S.....not a big difference....there is no doubt an NFL franchise would work in is the fourth largest market in North America...however, these ridiculous Bulls' home games is not the means to that end. I don't want Buffalo playing in Toronto! I want my own team that I can have a rooting interest in. Having one neutral site game a year in Toronto isn't an adequate barometer....would Washington fans care if the Clippers and Nets were playing in Washington?
The NFL is long overdue. Canadians may follow the CFL closely, but that interest is primarily in the western part of the country. In Toronto, it is the NFL or nothing. And right now, even with the Bills and Jets playing tomorrow night, we still have nothing.

Posted by: mathers64 | December 2, 2009 3:19 PM

My own feeling is that the CFL as a league should buy the Buffalo Bills and move the franchise to Toronto. This could create a win/win situation for both leagues.

Mathers64 is wrong about interest in Canadian football in Ontario. There is considerable interest and the league is in decent shape in the east. Ottawa has committed to rebuilding its stadium and Hamilton and Montreal continue to draw good crowds. Toronto's team has been pretty weak the past couple of years but there is still a very solid core of fans.

Posted by: markrutledge | December 3, 2009 8:53 AM

"especially if that franchise was marketed as the nation's team."

But you have to realize that there is Toronto and the ROC - "Rest of Canada" - and despite some ads for the Raptors on TSN touting it as a "National Team" Vancouverites are more likely to be interested West Coast teams, and Quebec, the Maritimes and the Prairies regard TO teams (and TO in general) with a feeling "colder than a Bay Street Banker's heart" - save the Jays in when they are in World Series contention.

Posted by: kiosk | December 3, 2009 10:08 AM

You mean Canada isn't one giant market?!? What's next, people in Cleveland hating the Steelers?

Posted by: huguenotklj | December 3, 2009 11:47 AM

I think the number of Bills fans you'd lose in Buffalo has been totally underestimated.

Posted by: reiflame1 | December 3, 2009 12:47 PM

Read the dead tree national edition of the Globe and Mail at lunch, and the front page of the sports section is about soccer. This game gets a mention at the bottom of page 2 in a sidebar box of "other interesting items", so hard to imagine that there is much chomping at the bit.

Further on one big market, if the Bills come to TO and kill the Argos, then all the other markets with CFL teams will never support them as "a national team" - Regina may find a new place to offload it's truckloads of - well look up what they do in Saskatchewan when the football displeasure strikes.

Posted by: kiosk | December 3, 2009 2:42 PM

It would be as stupid for the Bills to play half their games in Toronto as it would be for the Yankees to play a month in Hackensack. Toronto deserves it's own team, that would be Canada's team (except for Quebec -- when I get rich, I'm buying a team and moving it to Montreal!).

Posted by: gbooksdc | December 3, 2009 2:50 PM

The arrogance of the NFL never fails to amaze me. They always thuink their product is better than any other sport and the world is their oyster if only the rest of the world will just wise up and pay to see them play.
I have news for the NFL, the rest of the world speaks "football" with a round black spotted ball and Rugby is a game much loved throughout english speaking parts of the world. NFL dosen't have a chance.

Posted by: tniederberger | December 3, 2009 7:55 PM

I have an idea. Let's move your favorite team to another city and see how you like it. The people of Buffalo don't deserve this and that is one reason.

Posted by: passdoc2005 | December 4, 2009 7:38 PM

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