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Bills to be paid $78 million to play in Toronto

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills will receive $78 million -- more than double their calculated 2006 operating income -- to play eight games in Toronto over the next five years.

The payment to the Bills was disclosed for the first time in Rogers Communications' 2008 first-quarter report released Tuesday. The Toronto-based company is part of a consortium that negotiated a deal with the Bills to have them play five regular-season and three preseason games, starting this year, at the downtown Rogers Centre.

[internal-link-placeholder-0]Buffalo Bills
Club profile
First season: 1960

Home stadiums: War Memorial Stadium, 1960-1972; Ralph Wilson Stadium (known as Rich Stadium, 1973-1998), 1973-present

Division championships: 10

AFL/AFC championships: 6

Super Bowl appearances: 4

In becoming the NFL's first team to play annual games outside the United States, the Bills are scheduled to host Pittsburgh in a preseason match at Toronto on Aug. 14, followed by a regular-season game against Miami on Dec. 7.

Rogers spokeswoman Jan Innes would not comment beyond the one-paragraph statement included in the company report, except to say the $78 million figure was in Canadian currency. The Canadian dollar hovered around par to its U.S. counterpart during the first quarter this year.

Innes declined to say whether any portion of the payment has been made to the Bills.

Bills spokesman Scott Berchtold also declined comment, citing a policy that the team does not discuss financial details of its business relationships.

The deal, announced in February, was reached with a group headed by Rogers CEO and founder Ted Rogers, and Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. Rogers also owns the Blue Jays as well as the Rogers Centre.

As part of the agreement, the Toronto group is effectively leasing the home games from the Bills. Buffalo will provide the team, the NFL provides an opponent, while the Toronto organizers will be responsible for selling tickets, concessions and promoting the event.

The Toronto group is using the eight-game series to show the city can support its own NFL franchise. The Bills sought the agreement to generate additional revenues by expanding their market to Canada's largest city and financial capital, a 90-minute drive from Buffalo.

The $78 million payment eclipses what Forbes calculated the Bills made in 2006, in the magazine's annual financial breakdown of NFL franchises. Forbes calculated the Bills had an operating income of $31.2 million after bringing in $176 million in revenues that year.

Broken down, the Bills will make nearly $9.75 million per game in Toronto, something they'd be unable to make at Orchard Park, where the small-market team has perennially had the lowest ticket prices in the NFL. The Bills' average ticket price for this season is about $51 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, which has a 72,000 seating capacity.

Ticket prices for the games in Toronto have not yet been released, but are expected to average more than $100 at a facility with a 54,000 seating capacity for football.

Demand is already high after more than 100,000 single-ticket reservations were made for the eight-game series through a Web site established by the Toronto group. Tickets will be distributed via a lottery starting next month.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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