The NFL is coming, sort of, to Toronto—and already, rumours of the CFL’s imminent demise are being greatly exaggerated.
News that the Buffalo Bills—an erstwhile powerhouse languishing in competitive irrelevance and financial uncertainty—are planning on playing a couple games a year in Toronto isn’t surprising; if anything, what’s surprising is that it hasn’t happened already. Toronto has been courting the NFL for decades, and the Bills, whose long-term survival in Buffalo is in jeopardy, are already hugely popular in the GTA. Upwards of 25% of the Bills’ home crowd comes from the Toronto area. Sticking the team inside the Rogers Centre twice a year thus makes sense, even though it has 18,000 fewer seats than Ralph Wilson Stadium. The increased exposure in an admittedly key market might very well solidify the team’s future.
One thing it won’t do, however, is ruin the CFL, which people seem to think is inevitable if the NFL touches down on Canadian soil. That assumption rests on the notion (largely misguided) that the league’s long-term survival rests in the hands of the Toronto Argonauts. But while the CFL probably needs a team in Canada’s biggest city to stake its claim to legitimacy, it doesn’t need the Argonauts to be the league’s flagship franchise—something it arguably hasn’t been since Doug Flutie left town. In Western Canada, for instance, the league’s popularity rivals that of the NHL; having an NFL team in Toronto twice a year won’t change that. Besides, CFL fans are a passionate bunch. To them, the NFL isn’t just an inferior brand of football, but a different sport altogether. These people likely won’t be swayed by a single NFL team coming to Canada twice a year.
In the meantime, Torontonians can get around-the-clock coverage of the NFL already: it is, after all, the world’s most hyperexposed sports league. A “local” team might give people a vested interest, but it won’t create much of a new audience. The Bills are coming in order to solidify an existing fanbase; as long as the Argonauts keep attracting 25,000 or so fans to its home contests, everyone should be reasonably happy. Bringing the NFL to Toronto might save the Buffalo Bills; barring unforeseen circumstances, it seems unlikely it’ll ruin the CFL.
Photo by angsty_otaku.