Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The NFL in Toronto 

When readings Skip's post on the CFL this afternoon, I noticed this article listed as being one of the most popular over at the Toronto Globe and Mail. It describes the pricing of tickets to Buffalo Bills games being played in Toronto in the next few years:

Tickets for the Buffalo Bills' eight-game series in Toronto will average $183 per seat — more than triple the cost for the team's home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium this season.

The ticket prices, ranging from $55 to $295, were released Wednesday by the Toronto-based group hosting the series, which will have the Bills play five annual regular-season and three preseason games at the 54,000-seat Rogers Centre through 2012.

The prices are in Canadian money, which is currently near par with the U.S. dollar, and do not include a large bulk of VIP sideline and hospitality suite seats, which will raise the average even higher.

Despite the hefty price, organizers anticipate the games selling out after 180,000 ticket requests were registered on a Web site last month. About 30,000 tickets per game will be distributed in two weeks by lottery to Internet registrants as well as a limited number of Bills and CFL Toronto Argonauts season-ticket holders.

Compare those prices to the prices of Toronto Argonauts games. Single game tickets are not for sale yet for the 2008 season, but choice seats in their 3-game package go for $189 total and season tickets range from $300-$700 for a 9 game home season plus a few other other goodies.

Which brings me to one of Skip's thoughts about why government subsidies have been hard to come by for CFL teams:

It is possible that the CFL makes so little money and has such a small impact that the relocation threat is not operative. There is in fact relatively little demand for football stadiums, public or privately financed.

It's anecdotal, I realize, but there seems to be high demand for NFL football in Toronto. That may simply be due to the novelty of NFL football being played in Toronto. Or perhaps it's due to the value of the NFL brand name, a value the CFL may not have in it's country.

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Why has Canada not subsidized the CFL? 

This article claims that the Canadian Football League is "could be on the verge of a construction boom."
Five CFL teams – the Montreal Alouettes, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saskatchewan Roughriders and the ownership of a conditional Ottawa franchise – are aggressively pushing plans to build new stadiums or drastically alter and refurbish old ones.

Factor in the anticipated makeover of Vancouver's B.C. Place Stadium, which could add a retractable roof to the facility, and a potential redesign of Toronto's BMO Field to accommodate the Argonauts, and the CFL could be looking at well over a half-billion dollars invested in stadium infrastructure during the next five years.

Many would suggest it's long overdue.
It's the overdue question that intrigues me. The article notes that no stadium has been built for football since the 1960s, although some teams play in venues built for another purpose. Some are dilapidated.

Why the lack of public investment? The CFL, like other prominent North American leagues, is a closed set of teams that controls entry. The incentive to obtain a stadium subsidy that derives from the league structure and the relocation threat thus exists. The view of Canadian government as fairly liberal with the checkbook would imply public-private "cooperation" on stadium ventures.

The article suggests at one point that "local and provincial governments are wary about investing in pro sports facilities of any kind," but that doesn't wash with me. Brad knows all about the current subsidy issue over a hockey arena in Alberta, for instance ;)

I can see two possibilities.

It is possible that the CFL makes so little money and has such a small impact that the relocation threat is not operative. There is in fact relatively little demand for football stadiums, public or privately financed.

Second, the political distribution of power differs in Canada from the U.S. This renders the execution of a relocation threat pointless, since (by assumption) there is not a significant source of local public revenue. [bleg: Anyone know the facts?]

I lean towards the first. But the second is testable: hockey arenas should have a greater fraction of public funding south of the U.S. border, despite the fact that hockey is Canada's national sport.

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