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If You Build, Will They Come?
Is a new NFL-centric sports stadium in Toronto's future?

Photo: Flickr, Synapticism

As the end of another football season comes around and the playoffs begin, I am once again left cheering for my favorite team, the New England Patriots, from abroad. As an East Coaster, the Pats are a viable favourite team, but having lived in Toronto for close to 10 years, there’s still something missing when I cheer on Brady and Co. I miss that hometown camaraderie, one that over the years of cheering for the Raps and the Leafs, I have grown to love.

I know Toronto gets two games a year to watch the Buffalo Bills plod their way to another sub .500 record, but I wish, as do a lot of other Canadian NFL fans, that we had a team of our own. Also, being a longtime Pats fan, cheering for an AFC East rival seems ridiculous without having that hometown mentality. No, like many others, I would love to see the NFL expand, or have a team relocate for that matter, to the big city of T.O. But will it ever happen?

The biggest obstacle facing the NFL’s move to Toronto is the Rogers Centre. With a capacity of only 54,000, the Rogers Centre would be the smallest stadium in the league; as a comparison, the Buffalo Bills’ Orchard Park has a capacity of just over 73,000. In order to justify a team moving to a new market, the NFL has to be assured that it is going to be able to make money. With Toronto having the 5th largest population in North America, there is no doubt that fans will attend games, but in a league based on revenue sharing, how many fans will attend is a big concern.

What the NFL looks for when it comes to expansion or relocation is how much the new market will contribute to the communal pot. In a league that made revenue of between 8 and 9 billion last year, they’re not just about to start handing out money to teams unable to give back. A team like Green Bay that resides in the smallest market in the league is able to succeed because of shared revenue from sources such as television deals. Because the Packers are publicly owned, they release a financial statement each year. The Packers received $95.8 million from television deals and $45.8 million from licensing, merchandise, and other split revenue last year. There are many cities that would love to have a piece of a pie this big, but will Toronto be one of them?

With Buffalo less than 200 clicks away, Toronto will not get a team while the Bills still reside in upstate New York. There are basically two ways we could get an NFL team in this fair city: 1) the Buffalo team relocates to Toronto or 2) the Bills move to another city (for example Los Angeles who is currently seeking a team) and the NFL expands into Toronto. Either way we need a new stadium. As much as I would love to see an NFL team come to Canada, I really don’t see it happening any time soon; I do however have a little dream. As Marcus Gee reported in The Globe and Mail last week, the coming year will involve a lot of talk about what to do with the Port Lands. It may be far fetched but consider this: a beautiful large outdoor stadium, capable of housing an NFL team, surrounded by park and green space. Imagine being able to head down to the waterfront on game day with the family and enjoy the time outdoors in the open-air stadium with a view of the Toronto skyline. It would be nice to have something in the city to contrast the concrete starkness of the Rogers Centre (where a day at the ball game with a closed dome means sweating $10 beers out through your tee on stuffy summer nights).

I know this won’t happen, but in my opinion it’s as good a suggestion as any I’ve heard. The money invested in building the stadium is a bit of a stretch, which is why it’s a dream and not a reality. I have a hard time believing the majority of taxpayers in Toronto would be happy with my plan. But having a football team Torontonians could really get behind and cheer for would be an incredible feeling. Jobs would be created and revenue brought into the city from fans visiting from all over Canada to back their nation’s team. It could happen, I just doubt that it will.

In Other News:

The Raptors, after winning their first game of the season, proceeded to lose three straight before beating the Knicks in New York on Monday night. Toronto managed to beat New York in an ugly sort of game in which the Knicks shot under 36% from the field. With the condensed schedule this year the Raptors will play three more games this week, five in seven days. They will face Cleveland and New Jersey at the ACC on Wednesday and Friday before taking off to Philadelphia on the weekend.

The Leafs have done it. After losing three straight, going 3-5-2 in their last 10, they have fallen out of a playoff spot. There’s still a lot of season left to play and they’re sitting in 10th in the Eastern Conference, but nonetheless I can’t help but shake my head. They face Tampa Bay Tuesday night before playing Winnipeg for the second time in six days on Thursday. The Jets have been playing extremely well as of late, going 10-4 in December.

The Jays have been relatively quiet since losing the bidding for Yu Darvish to the Texas Rangers. They have made a few adjustments to the bullpen, acquiring Jason Frasor back from the White Sox only 5 months after trading him. The move that intrigues me however is the signing of veteran reliever Darren Oliver to a one-year deal. Could signing the 41 year old pitcher mean the Jays are ready to make a push this year? It’s an interesting thought.

Nick McIsaac is Toronto Standard’s sports writer. He twitters at @nickclass.

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