Oct 12, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula on the field before a game against the New England Patriots at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
When new Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula said that he got a “hell of a deal” on Friday, in front of the media, he may not have known that the Toronto Blue Jays should have been nodding their heads in agreement.
Pegula and his wife released a letter addressed to all Bills fans, after purchasing the team for $1.4 billion U.S. dollars, confirming that they plan to keep the franchise in Western New York. “Our singular goal is to win a Super Bowl for our fans. We are one team; one community; one family; one Buffalo” (BuffaloBills.com). Pegula, who already owned the Buffalo Sabres, was introduced with his family as the new owner on Sunday in Orchard Park, “and raucous fans gave them an ovation before the Bills took the field” against the New England Patriots (USA Today). The Buffalo News spotted Pegula walking around the parking lot, visiting tailgaters, while sporting a Bills jersey and blue Nike running shoes.
Pegula wasn’t just number one on his jersey; he was number one in the fans’ hearts, which has a radius that stretches past north of the Canadian border.
When Ralph Wilson originally bought the team for $25, 000 USD in 1959, he could not have foreseen the impact that decision would have on both Western New York and Southern Ontario (Forbes.com). For years, the man demonstrated much of the values that many Canadians believe escape the modern American. He heavily helped the community, instead of simply advertising ticket sales and team merchandise. He helped his competitors and the American Football League stay afloat long enough before they joined to form the National Football League. These actions propelled the league into the public like no other in the United States. American football is not just a sport; it can be considered a form of religion, especially on Sundays.
This love of the game is well on par with Canada’s obsession with hockey. For some Canadians, instead of waking up at 5 A.M. to get their morning fix of Tim Horton’s famous coffee brew and take the ice, they prefer to hit the gym or their couch to prepare for the next football game. There is no bigger evidence of that dilemma found than in the Niagara Region.
From Grimsby to Niagara Falls, many of these people consider themselves closer to their American brothers and sisters than the rest of the country, including Toronto. They prefer to do their shopping, get their groceries, get their gas, and spend their free time in Buffalo and the rest of WNY. And everywhere they go, they see posters, jerseys, flags, billboards, commercials, and other signs left by the Bills on the community. They see how much the Bills are loved and want to be a part of that atmosphere.
So what if the Bills have never even been to the Super Bowl since the 1990s? The Toronto Maple Leafs have been frustrating Ontario hockey fans since 1967. So much so that many Niagara hockey lovers cheer on the Buffalo Sabres, nicknaming Toronto’s franchise as the ‘Maple Laughs’. Now, we have athletes like Jeff Finley from St. Catharines, Ontario choosing football over hockey, which resulted in him playing for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League, this season.
This dilemma only favours the Blue Jays’ organization in multiple ways.
The country, especially in Southern Ontario, now sees sports diversity as a positive thing. This new generation is not so completely obsessed with hockey that they refuse to validate any other sport to watch or play. Young athletes have more in common on both sides of the border, helping each side to learn more from each other. There are Canadian parents who take the time to cross the bridges, overlooking the Niagara River, to the U.S. and enroll their children into American baseball instructional camps and leagues. There is more discussion now between countries than at any point in history, in terms of baseball and other sports.
The new ownership’s commitment to keep the Bills in Buffalo furthers that reach. Buffalo was once a powerful industrial city in the U.S., but fell on hard times for decades. Unemployment has been hard-felt by the community, who only recently saw an increase in economic growth in the medical and tourism fields. The NFL franchise has a great deal to do with how the community still continues to function. If the Bills were removed from the equation, the financial hit would be taken by everyone, likely destroying other businesses and motivating new families to move away.
The NFL’s presence in WNY keeps the other businesses running. As much as the National Hockey League is improving financially, the Sabres’ supporters would not be enough to keep the city in the limelight. The Buffalo Bisons, the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate baseball club, would definitely feel the pinch. The Bisons rely on young American families, especially ones with lots of children, to come to Coca-Cola Field and spend their hard-earned dollars on tickets, food, and merchandise. Instead, little Jimmy will have to be inspired by players in Rochester or Las Vegas or whatever town they end up inhabiting. It would also hinder young Canadian families from spending time looking around Buffalo’s tourist attractions, shopping areas, and local restaurants, while waiting for a Bisons game to begin. The Blue Jays would have to move their Triple-A rights to another location, which eliminates the advantage of calling up players at any point who are just down the Queen Elisabeth Way.
As far as bringing the Bills to Toronto, it would have been a disaster for the Blue Jays.
The Bills brings the community together like no other franchise in Buffalo. In Toronto, the city is so full of sports teams and other cultural interests that it is on overload. The city cannot even fill the Air Canada Centre, Rogers Centre, or BMO Field with the franchises that they already have. While discussing the 1-5 result of the experiment to have the team play on the same field as the Blue Jays, CBC.ca reported that Buffalo “has played to a less than full building, regardless of the opponent, or if the game time was scheduled for Sunday afternoon or Thursday night. The average ticket price was $120, for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 14 seasons.” It was also reported that “the partnership [between Rogers and the Bills organizations] has increased the team’s Canadian fanbase, with 18 per cent attending Bills games from Ontario.” However, those fans come mainly from the Niagara Region and not necessarily from Toronto. Have you seen Leafs home games? The seats for Toronto’s oldest and most historic franchise are often empty or filled with businessmen on their cell phones, ignoring the game after receiving tickets they likely obtained for free from their company’s sponsorship of the team. They thought a new football team would do any better?
What a new football team would do from August to October for the city of Toronto is one thing: become a distraction to the Blue Jays. People would be discussing the training camp of a team who will not be playing their first game until the Blue Jays started playing meaningful baseball in a division race or even the playoffs. Celebrities and football fanatics would be buzzing around the city, visiting their team at a time when the Blue Jays players and brass would be trying to focus on working out of a slump or building momentum for a long postseason. And, with the Bisons likely moved, Toronto would not be able to call anyone up to help the situation in any fashion considered timely. With the media frenzy, as only the NFL can create, the Blue Jays and their fans would struggle to keep their attentions on the baseball diamond and would find themselves on the outside, looking into the playoff race.
Canadians may boost the NFL market and help Buffalo, but the Bills do not help the Blue Jays by coming up north for a visit, short-term or extended. The Bills help both the football and baseball markets by keeping the economy going in Buffalo. The financial reach extends from WNY to past the Greater Toronto Area. For the Bills to move away, whether to Toronto or far away, into the abyss of the United States, it would mean ruin for an American region and possibly permanent struggles for a Canadian baseball franchise seemingly to be on its feet for the first time in a few decades.