What started with innumerable shouting matches about the NFL's inevitable annexation of Toronto has ended with a whimper. As John Wawrow of The Associated Press writes, the Buffalo Bills announced Wednesday that they'd reached a deal with Rogers to end the Bills-in-Toronto series of games north of the border. Although this comes shortly after the series was extended for five more years in January 2013, the move isn't that surprising considering the struggles of the Toronto games and the change in Bills' ownership and focus. What does this mean for the CFL and the Toronto Argonauts? Well, the series may have started as a threat, but by the 2013 extension, it actually carried some positives for the Argos, specifically in preventing more substantial NFL incursions. However, the way this ended and the reasons why it ended provide even better news for the CFL; further NFL moves on Toronto are a negligible threat for the moment, and the lessening of the Bills' presence in the city should lower their competition with the Argos for tickets and sponsorships. That's good news for a team that could definitely use it.
Why did the Bills reverse course on the Toronto series so abruptly from 2013 to 2014? Part of that can be eplained by the death of owner Ralph Wilson in March 2014 and the Bills' subsequent sale to Terry and Kim Pegula in September. The Pegulas won out over a group led by Jon Bon Jovi with backing from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment that was heavily rumoured to be planning to move the team to Toronto full-time, something that sparked CD-burning (literally) protests on both sides of the border. The Pegulas also own the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, and their bid was very much focused on keeping the team in Buffalo, so cancelling the remainder of this series is good optics for them on that front. However, there are additional reasons the series ended this way, and those bode even better for the NFL's (lack of) future in Toronto.
Wilson played a substantial role in the Toronto initiative, but even before his passing, things weren't looking good for the series. Even before he passed away, the Bills decided to "postpone" their scheduled 2014 game in Toronto, the second under the new five-year deal. Part of that was likely thanks to the ongoing criticism of moving home games to what was essentially a neutral site that erupted from Bills' players (centre Eric Wood called the Toronto games "a joke" in 2012, and he was far from alone) and fans. Part of it was thanks to the team's poor north-of-the-border record; in six regular-season games in Toronto from 2008 to 2013, the Bills went 1-5, with that lack of home-field advantage likely a factor. Another element may have been the ticket-sales issues in Toronto; Rogers said the first four games were sellouts, but that was with a lot of tickets given away, and last year's game against the Atlanta Falcons drew an announced crowd of just 38,969. Regardless of what specifically motivated the postponement, the Toronto series was already trending down before the Pegulas bought the Bills.
While the Bills-in-Toronto series was coexisting fine with the CFL by 2010 and serving as a useful deterrent by 2013, it ending in this manner is likely helpful for the Argonauts. One regular-season game a year (plus some preseason games initially) was never going to be a death blow to the CFL or the Argos in and of itself, of course, and most of the concerns around this series were about it looking like a precursor to further NFL encroachment north of the border, but even those limited incursions did compete with the CFL for football fans' money, and perhaps even more importantly, for corporate sponsors' money. Not all of that money is going to go to the Argos, of course, as there are many NFL-only fans in Toronto (and there's also a substantial percentage of the Ontario market that wants to go see Bills' games in Buffalo; Wawrow writes that the team estimated last year that 18 per cent of its season-ticket holders came from Southern Ontario), but having one less competitor in the city's crowded sports and entertainment marketplace will benefit them at least a bit.
What's potentially even more important here is that the way this series petered out likely puts the kibosh on Toronto as a NFL destination for at least the next little while. The Bills-in-Toronto series proved that the city wasn't just going to flock to anything NFL and spend unlimited money on it, and it ending this way means Toronto likely drops even further as a potential NFL expansion destination (regardless of what pieces based on Internet search trends may say). That's to say nothing of the potential legal and political complications involved, or the lack of an NFL-calibre stadium (and lack of popular willingness to build one), which meant that Toronto was always a challenging destination for the NFL; however, the lack of success for the Bills-in-Toronto series may matter even more, as it means the assumed rewards for going through all those complications may not even be there. That wouldn't necessarily have changed if the Toronto series had become more popular in future years, but more popularity would have at least intensified conversations about the NFL north of the border. With this series fading away, those fires have died down for the moment.
Having the Bills retreat to Buffalo doesn't mean Toronto opens up for other teams, either. In fact, those numbers about their fanbase likely mean they'll want to keep their hold on Southern Ontario just as tight as they can. Thus, the end of this series removes some local competition for the Argos without exposing them to more of a NFL threat. From this corner, that looks very positive, and that's good considering how many other challenges the Argos have to deal with.