Bon Jovi group comes up short in chase for Bills, which reduces the NFL-in-Toronto threat

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line
Jon Bon Jovi's group missing out on the Bills dramatically reduces the chances of an NFL team in Toronto in the near future. 
Jon Bon Jovi's group missing out on the Bills dramatically reduces the chances of an NFL team in Toronto in the near future. 

Jon Bon Jovi and his Toronto-backed group look to have lost out to Terry and Kim Pegula in their attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills, and that could have significant implications for the CFL and the Toronto Argonauts. It makes the idea of an NFL team in Toronto much less likely any time in the near future, and that's a positive for the future of the Argos and the CFL. However, it doesn't completely remove that threat.

First, the good news; there likely won't be any need for further CD-burning parties or bar and radio boycotts to keep Bon Jovi from putting a NFL team in Toronto. The Bon Jovi/MLSE/Rogers dance with the Bills has gone on for years, with the Bills' series of games in Toronto in particular creating hope in some quarters that the team would eventually move north of the border permanently. When Bills' owner Ralph Wilson passed away in March, that put the team up for grabs, and the partnership of Bon Jovi, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum, and Rogers' controlling shareholder Edward Rogers III looked like a strong contender to land them. That group was reportedly outbid, though, with Tim Graham of The Buffalo News reporting that they offered $1,050,000,000, but the Pegulas (who also own the Buffalo Sabres) came through with $1.1 billion.

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$50 million isn't a huge difference here, and the Bon Jovi group may have been able to up their bid, but they were still unlikely to land the team in the end given how the negotiations played out. Bon Jovi and his group were viewed as outsiders trying to take the team to Toronto, and that led to plenty of protests from Buffalo fans and strong support for the Pegula group from powerful New York politicians such as Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Charles E. Schumer. Bon Jovi tried to correct that image with a letter to fans and the exploration of stadium sites in New York, but even that letter didn't commit him to not moving the team, furthering distrust from Bills' fans. If a comparable bid was found from people with deeper ties to Buffalo and New York, it seemed almost sure that it would be picked over the Bon Jovi group. That the Pegulas' bid wound up being even higher was just icing on the cake.

Does this mean that the threat of a NFL team being based in Toronto's completely over? No, but it is diminished. It seems unlikely that the Pegulas would move the team out of the Buffalo area at all. Even if they did, it would appear probable that they'd pick another Western New York site (perhaps even Niagara Falls) over Toronto. The Pegula-run Bills will likely still try to reach out to the Toronto/Southern Ontario market in some fashion, given how many Ontario fans regularly go to Bills games and how much corporate money there is there, but just how they'll do so is uncertain right now. They may not even maintain the one-game-per-year in Toronto deal; that was extended for five years in 2013, but the game this season was postponed, and the Pegulas may not be as interested in putting games in Toronto as Wilson was, especially given how many Buffalo fans hated the idea. There are ways to draw in dollars from Toronto without actual games there, and the new owners may focus on that. At the very least, it seems highly unlikely this group would ever consider completely moving the team to Toronto unless the financial situation in Buffalo got apocalyptic.

That doesn't mean all's well for the Argos, and Toronto could still be a target for NFL relocation or expansion, though. The NFL has been heavily focused on trying to expand its international efforts lately, and Canada is an important part of that. Moreover, the Toronto area is one of the wealthiest markets without an NFL team. It may be more difficult on some levels to relocate a non-Bills team there, as the Bills would view it as an infringement on their territory, but there are other NFL teams that may be able to move without anywhere near as much fan and political opposition, and enough of a monetary contribution could potentially see the Bills let that pass.

However, Toronto probably isn't high on the expansion/relocation list any more. Los Angeles and London in particular are likely both higher priorities for the NFL, and each have significant enough issues in the way that they won't be done any time soon, plus other cities like San Antonio have come up. There also would be strong popular and political opposition to an NFL team in Canada, and a NFL stadium solution in the city would be very difficult and expensive. Thus, while the NFL in Toronto effort may not be completely stopped quite yet, it's definitely lost a couple of tires. That should make the CFL and the Argonauts breathe a little easier, at least for the time being.

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