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Lease has no cap on out-of-town Bills 'home' games

The Buffalo Bills have county and state permission to play a preseason and a regular season game in Toronto each year.

But did you know their lease would let them play even more home games outside of Ralph Wilson Stadium?

The Bills initially agreed in 1998 to play their homes games at the stadium taxpayers provided -- unless the county and state give "prior written consent to the playing of specified games at a different location or locations," the lease says.

The agreement, as approved nearly 10 years ago, does not cap the number of games the Bills can play elsewhere. It just expects that any request must be approved by the county, meaning the county executive, and the Erie County Stadium Corp., which is represented by the Empire State Development Corp.

County Executive Joel A. Giambra and the development corporation recently approved the Bills' request to play a couple of times a year in Toronto's Rogers Center, to draw more Canadian fans and and make the franchise more viable.

The county and state let the Bills play a preseason and a regular season game in Canada's largest city from 2008 through 2012, the final season addressed in the current lease. The Bills plan is now before the National Football League owners. It will be up to the next county executive to field any new requests for home games elsewhere, assuming the Bills ever make a request.

Both of the county executive candidates, Democrat James P. Keane and Republican Christopher C. Collins, see the Bills as important to the region's vitality. But how much is too much?

"We need to see how the current approval works with one game in Toronto," Keane said. "But they are the Buffalo Bills."

He said it's not something he would negotiate in public.

"I will not let the Bills become a political football, and I think this kind of public exchange has the potential to do just that," he said.

Collins was guarded, too. He's OK with the current plan to play a preseason and a regular season game in Toronto. "I agree with the Bills' argument about regionalizing their fan base into Ontario," he said.

And the future?

"It is impractical to enter into hypotheticals about how many home games would be appropriate to play outside Ralph Wilson Stadium when this rather limited proposal has yet to be approved by the NFL," he said.

"I recognize the importance of the Buffalo Bills to this community, and area residents can be assured," Collins said, "that as county executive I will do everything to make sure that this crown jewel remains in our area."


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