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Building on the Sabres’ Canadian exploration

September 9, 2012

The Sabres have officially begun their Canadian Bacon mission of an invasion of Ontario. The goal isn’t to litter, but to establish a greater footprint for the organization in the golden horseshoe.

Ted Black, Danny Gare, Jay McKee and Ville Leino all took a trip through Ft. Erie and St. Catharines  that included visits to schools, hockey clinics and, naturally, Tim Hortons. Good on the Sabres for seeing the comedy in having Leino serve up donuts much like he did last season (see what I did there). Social Media Sam deserves some credit for her Ricky Bobby “I’d love to sign your baby” Instagram caption as well.

All kidding aside, the Sabres have taken a wise approach here. Obviously there are a ton of fans in Ontario that are ticket holders. While most of them either sell their tickets to fans of other teams or simply root for the Leafs, the Sabres have a significant portion of their patrons in Ontario. The same goes for the Bills, the Galleria and Buffalo Niagara Airport and most of Western New York.

Pulling from Ontario would occur even if the Sabres (and Bills) didn’t bother marketing themselves. It is just how sports fans will operate. For fans in Fort Erie and St. Catharines who don’t have a pro team in their city, having the Bills and Sabres a hop and a skip down the Q is beyond convenient. While Toronto is the obvious first choice for many of these fans, Buffalo provides a natural fit for sports fans looking to affiliate with an NHL or NFL franchise.

From a business standpoint, cultivating this fanbase and maybe even building upon it is an easy approach for the Sabres. What has changed is the proactive approach the team has begun to show. This type of physical outreach shows that the Sabres don’t just respect the contingent of fans they have from Ontario, they want to grow that fanbase.

This relationship could potentially have a positive effect on the rest of the Western New York sports scene as well.

Tim O’Shei’s recent Business First post talks about creating a Buffalo-Toronto sports corridor. Considering the proximity and relationship between both cities, it makes plenty of sense. Hell, if the thought of a join Olympic bid is on the table there should be no problem bringing the sports community in both cities closer.

The benefits of such a relationship would benefit Buffalo far more than Toronto. Between MLSE, the Blue Jays, Leafs TV and the sheer size of Toronto, there wouldn’t be much change. However, for Western New York, there seems as if there could be more gained.

I don’t necessarily think that Buffalo and Toronto need to be directly connected as full sports communities, rather there should be a give and take in terms of benefits between the two. This should start with the Bisons and Blue Jays and end with the creation of a new regional sports network.

Yes, the network that was a hot topic during last year’s MSG outage is something that could potentially come from linking Buffalo and Toronto. However, some big changes would need to come about.

First, the assumed affiliation between the Blue Jays and Bisions would need to come to fruition. Then the MLB would need to amend their idiotic blackout policy to allow Buffalo to view, at the least, the closest geographic team to the city. It would be wise to also fit Pittsburgh and Cleveland into Buffalo’s viewing area, but that would probably make too much sense.

By opening Jays games to Buffalo TV sets, along with the Bisons affiliation, would lay the foundation for a regional station. As Ted Black said in January, without baseball there isn’t enough revenue and rating generated to justify a regional sports station.

Built on the mold of any of the FSN or ROOT stations (even Empire), this could provide Western New York a primary station to air Sabres, Blue Jays and Bisons games, Bills coverage along with coverage of high school and collegiate sports. For a sports media community that horribly undervalues their D1 football team, WNY and UB football could benefit greatly from such a channel.

Ted Black stated that he hopes to have Sabres games on the air in Southern Ontario. What better way than with a regional network? One thing that a few Sabres blogs have pointed out is that the Sabres have denied or expressed no interest in certain projects, only to turn around and follow through with all the might they have on such projects. The Amerks and development in the arena district are two perfect examples.

Now, Black didn’t necessarily deny that he, or the Sabres would be involved in any sort of regional network, but he certainly painted a bleak picture of how said network would come to be. But if Toronto, southern Ontario and the Blue Jays are in the picture, things could drastically change.

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