Bills tickets in Toronto now more affordable

With an agreement nearly in place to have the Buffalo Bills

continue playing an annual home game in Toronto beyond this season,

Rogers Communications executives are confident this

north-of-the-border experiment can succeed.

Just not at any ticket price.

After having difficulty selling out the first six games –

including two during the preseason – organizers have drastically

reduced ticket prices.

The average price for a ticket for Buffalo’s ”home” game

against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 16 in Toronto will be $99.

That’s down from about $160 in 2008, when the series began.

”I really think the thing that impacted this thing negatively

in the past is price-point on tickets,” Greg Albrecht, the series’

newly appointed executive director, said Monday. ”In all of our

marketing, that’s what we hammered home was ticket-pricing has been

reduced, not because the product on the field is any worse or

better, it’s because we were not aligned with the rest of the NFL

teams.”

Albrecht said the Toronto series average ticket is still about

$17 above the NFL average, which he believes is acceptable because

the game is a once-a-year event. It’s still a marked drop from the

first year, when prices ranged from $99-$275. This year, they range

from $48-$225.

The reduction comes at a time when the series is set to expire.

The game against the Seahawks is the finale of the five-year deal

reached between the Bills and Rogers, the Toronto-based

communications company giant.

Albrecht said negotiations to renew the series are nearly

complete.

”I think we still have to dot a few I’s and cross a few T’s. I

think it’s more administrative at this point,” he said. ”But

we’re obviously confident that we’d like to move this thing

forward.”

The Bills are in favor of extending the series, because it

provides them a foothold in Canada’s largest city and financial

capital. With Toronto only about a two-hour drive from Buffalo, the

Bills have also been able to lure Toronto-area fans to attend games

at Orchard Park.

The team estimates that 15 percent of its season-ticket base is

from southern Ontario.

The formal announcement of a series extension is not expected

until early next year. One holdup is the Bills are in negotiations

with state and county officials to renew their lease at Ralph

Wilson Stadium, which expires in July.

Progress has been made in lease negotiations since stalling in

late summer. But talks are temporarily on hold because New York

officials have spent the past month directing much of their

attention on the lasting effects of Superstorm Sandy.

Rogers agreed to pay the Bills $78 million to play eight games

(including three preseason) at the downtown domed 54,000-seat

Rogers Centre. It’s unknown whether the entire amount was paid

after a scheduling conflict in August led to Rogers having the

Bills take back a preseason game that was set to be played in

Toronto.

An extension of the series is expected to be similar to the

previous deal, with Buffalo playing one annual regular-season game

in Toronto, though it’s unclear how many – if any preseason games –

will be included this time.

Despite enduring numerous growing pains, Rogers remains

committed to making the series work.

”I think it would be silly for us to say, `We’re not going to

entertain moving this thing forward,’ after quite honestly some of

the pain that we’ve faced in the past years of learning,” Albrecht

said. ”We have our learning now, and I think this game will prove

we’re on the right path.”

Albrecht, who took over the series in August, has stopped the

previous practice of giving away tickets in order to draw larger

crowds. He’s also worked on turning the game into more of an

entertainment event.

He’s already scored a coup by signing South Korean rap sensation

PSY to perform during half time. PSY’s ”Gangnam Style” has become

YouTube’s most-viewed video, generating more than 840 million

views.

”I think just being topical and being fun: That’s what this

whole thing is all about,” Albrecht said. ”We’re opening it to

not just die-hard football fans, but opening it up to people who

might be on the fence right now, or folks who want to spend an

afternoon wanting to have a good time.”

Albrecht has a broad background in overseeing sports and

entertainment projects, including the 2010 Vancouver Games and two

Canadian Football League Grey Cup championships.

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