Thursday, May 5, 2011

Who Dat Going to Toronto, Eh?

The Saints maintain that the news out of Canada was much ado “aboot” nothing.

The story/non-story was born when Toronto councilor (councilman) Doug Ford predicted to a sports writer that the NFL would act to move teams to Los Angeles (the second largest media market in the US) and then Toronto, which has a population of over 2.5 million people.

When speculating the two likely teams to move, Ford, whose brother Rob is Toronto’s mayor, postulated that Jacksonville’s franchise would be the first then the Saints.

Vice-president of communications for the Saints Greg Bensel panned the councilor’s speculation in a statement sent to the media that “Reports about the Saints as a potential team moving to Toronto are completely false. The New Orleans Saints are committed to the city of New Orleans.”

News that the franchise was even in consideration came as quite of surprise to the Black and Gold faithful, when considering the massive and expensive renovations taking place at the Louisiana Superdome, the team’s strong post-Katrina support by area fans and the lengthy waiting to list for season tickets.

The idea of the Saints relocating to the Great White North seemed even more far-fetched as Canada’s largest city already “borrows” the Buffalo Bills for a regular season game. And though it requires a trip through passport control, Buffalo is only a two-hour drive from Toronto.

In fact there’s an image of the a Bills player plastered on the side of the Rogers Centre (the former Toronto Sky Dome) and Canadians already comprise a significant share of the Bills’ fan base. I would bet on the Bills trading out of their small market and old stadium (The Ralph) and heading one hundred miles northwest before any other team would make the jump over the border.

That said, the Saints have certainly been part of the franchise relocation discussion in the past.

Talk of moves to Los Angeles, Mississippi, San Antonio and even Albuquerque, New Mexico were not uncommon prior to the 2006 season.

In 2001 when the Saints faced the Minnesota Vikings in a preseason game in San Antonio, locals joked that one of the visiting franchises would likely end up being the home team. Ten years removed, the Vikings’ future in Minnesota is not firm.

Minnesota’s stadium issue received greater prominence after the collapse of a portion of the Metrodome’s roof that forced the Vikings to play a night game against the Chicago Bears in the University of Minnesota’s open air football stadium in late December.

Team owner Tom Benson did his part to stoke anxiety about the franchise’s future in the Crescent City, which has been well-documented in Times Picayune Saints beat writer Jeff Duncan’s book From Bags to Riches.

And then after Katrina, San Antonio made an aggressive move to retain the Saints after the team played three “home” games in the Alamodome after the Superdome suffered major damage.

While the team’s agreement with the state, Superdome renovations and the Super Bowl-capped post-Katrina success of the franchise have mostly buried the prospect of a team move, I do find it peculiar that the Saints were mentioned when there are more likely candidates (some with cause) to abandon their current digs to go to greener if not colder pastures in Canada.

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