Buffalo Bills in Toronto

Relocating the Buffalo Bills to Toronto: Can it be done?

The Buffalo Bills, an NFL franchise with a storied past and several Super Bowl appearances (with no title wins, unfortunately), is in search of a new owner, and possibly a new home. Rumors of a potential sale started appearing online in November, 2013, but the death of long-time franchise owner Ralph Wilson in March of this year, set the sales process for the team officially in motion, with Morgan Stanley handling the transaction on behalf of Wilson’s estate. An investment team including rocker Jon Bovi Jovi, Larry Tannenbaum (chairman and 25% stakeholder in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) and Edward Rogers (deputy chairman and majority stakeholder of Rogers Communications) has reportedly put together a bid to purchase the Bills, somewhere in the $900 million dollar range. According to Forbes, the team is currently valued at $870 million, but will likely sell for $1 billion, considering how rare NFL teams are put on the market.

The Toronto bid has been mired in controversy since news began to surface in late July, with debate swirling as to whether the team can, and should be relocated. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz was quoted by the Associated Press saying he has no doubts regarding the group’s long-term intentions to move the team to Toronto. New York Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy has been the most vocal opponent to the hypothetical moving plans, starting a Twitter campaign to send a warning to any prospective ownership groups, mentioning Bon Jovi specifically:

“Note to JBJ: You will lose fans/all of WNY- forever. Not worth it,” Duffy said, referring to Bon Jovi and western New York. “Note to prospective owners: BUFFALO Bills. Don’t pick this fight.”

As a requirement of the bidding process, the Bon Jovi group conducted a feasibility study, part of which involved scouting locations to determine whether space existed for the construction of a new stadium. According to an interview with an anonymous source close to the project (conducted by AP and re-published by Global News), the study identified three potential sites for the proposed stadium: two in Toronto, including one on the waterfront, and another in Mississauga.

Downsview Park
An overhead shot of Downsview Park, Toronto

Downsview Park is mentioned specifically as a potential location, a former Canadian Armed Forces Base spanning 231 acres (93 hectares), easily accessible by public transit. The park has played host to dozens of large outdoor concerts and events, making it an already familiar location for most Torontonians. The second scouted location of particular interest is referred to as the Port Lands, the area surrounding a section of the waterfront called Cherry Beach. Large outdoor events are also not uncommon in this location, with Cirque du Soleil having a semi-permanent presence there the past few years. The final location is the former site of the Lakeview Generating Station, currently owned by Ontario Power Generation, right off Lakeshore Boulevard. Another waterfront location, the site is believed to be appealing because of its proximity to the Toronto border and Port Credit GO station.

The legalities of a Bills relocation has been explored in the news in-depth. If the Toronto bid is successful, moving the team to would not be permitted until 2022, when the Bills’ lease with Ralph Wilson stadium expires. A clause in the Bills’ lease provides the state and county an opportunity to seek court action to block negotiations between the team and interested parties, should those parties have any intention of moving the team. Should the Bills get relocated before the lease expires, the state could seek $400 million in compensation.