With the border seemingly staying closed, air travel’s an option
If the NFL really can proceed with a football season this fall, will the several thousand Canadians who possess season tickets be able to attend?
The way things are going, perhaps not by ground. But — you might not be aware — such devout fans could cross the border by air, however logistically challenging and more costly that might prove.
Not many Canadians realize that although Canada has banned Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic from flying to Canada for non-essential reasons, that edict has not been reciprocated by the United States.
Canadians are free to fly anywhere in the U.S. for leisure exploits, such as attending sports events, and nearly all places without having to quarantine upon arrival; they just must self-quarantine for 14 days upon return to Canada.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, land border crossings between Canada and the United States have been closed since March 21, except for essential purposes such as commerce or, since late May, for visiting immediate-family members. Such bridge, tunnel and highway crossings from coast to coast are scheduled to remain shut at least until July 21, following three one-month extensions.
The way leaders of two of Canada’s three most populous provinces — Ontario and British Columbia — were talking this week, no one should expect the international border to be open come July 22, or any time soon thereafter.
How many Canadian NFL fans would that impact? Maybe more than you realize.
A Postmedia survey this month of NFL teams situated closest to the border reveals that Canadians, in aggregate, have purchased more than 13,000 season tickets from the following teams: Buffalo Bills (about 8,000 tickets), Seattle Seahawks (3,100 tickets by 1,100 buyers), Detroit Lions (1,314 by 411 buyers), Cleveland Browns (330 by 80 buyers), Pittsburgh Steelers (172 by 50 buyers), Indianapolis Colts (probably 2-4 dozen by 10 buyers) and Chicago Bears (“a few” buyers).
The Bills did not provide a number of season-ticket accounts from across the Niagara River. But because Canadians bought season tickets from the other teams, above, at a rate of 2.75 to 4.1 per purchaser, we can probably safely infer that 2,000-3,000 Canadians own Bills season tickets for 2020. If you throw in the NFL’s other 25 teams, some 4,000 to 5,000 Canadians in all own season tickets for the four-down league.
To their credit, the Bills are the first known NFL team to begin informing its Canadian ticket buyers that, should international bridge crossings remain closed for any games this season, they’ll refund their money accordingly.
All of the above ticket numbers exclude single-game ticket purchases by Canadians. Border-hugging NFL teams in Buffalo, Detroit and Seattle sell plenty of those as well to their neighbours to the north (well, in Detroit’s case, to the south — look it up).
For instance, the Lions last season sold to a further 1,692 Canadian accounts precisely 5,446 single-game tickets — 247 from Windsor, 170 from London and another 170 from Toronto, all three of which ranked among the Top 30 markets for Lions single-game tickets. (And Windsor’s 156 accounts ranks 14 th among all the Lions’ North American season-ticket markets.)
For years the Bills have relied on massive single-game ticket sales in Ontario. In March 2015, Bills co-owner Terry Pegula told me, “Yeah, 12% of our season-ticket holders and 22% of our receipts are from Ontario.” A year later, then Bills president Russ Brandon told reporters that Rochester, N.Y., and Ontario each accounted for some 18-20% of the crowd at every Bills home game. Meaning Buffalo-area residents constituted no more than 60-64% of home ticket sales.
The Seahawks say that last season they sold single-game tickets to an additional 300 Canadians per home game, surely most from the Vancouver area.
The prospect of a blocked border is becoming more of an issue for NFL clubs and their Canadian fans by the day.
NFL preseason games are scheduled to take place from Aug. 13 to Sept. 3, with the regular season kicking off Thursday, Sept. 10. The 17-week season is scheduled to conclude Jan. 3, with one month of playoff games climaxing Feb. 7 with Super Bowl LV in Tampa.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Thursday all but insisted that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau extend international border closures at least into late August, if not into the fall, when a second wave of mass coronavirus infections and deaths is feared.
Ontario connects to COVID-clobbered Michigan by bridge or tunnel at three points (from Windsor, Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie), via six bridges to New York state (over the Niagara and St. Lawrence Rivers) and by land to Minnesota.
“I just don’t think we are ready right now,” Ford said Thursday of reopening the border. “You see what’s happening down in the States. You look at Florida, you look at Texas, Arizona, California. I don’t want to be those states. I want to protect the people here in Ontario.
“I just don’t think we’re ready for people (from) south of the border. Believe me, I love Americans, make no mistake about it. But not when their COVID cases are just spiking right now. I’m just not in favour.”
On Friday, Ford lauded Ontarians for “being cautious, and everyone following the protocols — which they have, and I’m so proud of the people of Ontario — versus the reckless approach in my opinion south of the border, (where) everyone just goes hog-wild and don’t worry about anything. Well, that’s come back to bite ’em.”
On Wednesday, British Columbia Premier John Horgan vowed to lobby the Canadian government to keep its numerous highway border crossings to Washington, Idaho and Montana states closed, except for essential travel.
“When I look south I see chaos, I see exponential increases in case load in states that are on the West Coast as well as those inland,” Horgan said. “I’m confident that British Columbians are prepared and ready to act responsibly.”
Speaking of acting responsibly, let’s presume that land, bridge and tunnel crossings to the United States remain closed to sports-fan pursuits into the fall. Even if Canadian NFL fans are still permitted to take flights to the U.S., should they?
Officially, the Canadian government frowns on it. On its website it “continues to advise all Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside Canada … until further notice.”
Furthermore, the feds advise that “making the choice to stay at home and not travel outside of Canada is the best way to protect yourself, your family and the most vulnerable groups in our communities from COVID-19.”
But, “if you choose to travel despite these advisories, be aware that commercial airspace closures and movement restrictions can occur without warning and could prevent your return to Canada.”
Also, the Canadian government warns departing travelers to know the coronavirus risks “for your destination,” and to be sure to have “sufficient finances and necessities, including medication, in case your travels are disrupted — because “your one-week trip may become much longer. You may also have reduced access to quality health care.”
If you thought this column had got too serious, well, the late, great George Carlin was correct when he said you can find wry humour in just about anything.
To wit, the Canadian government furthermore warns Canadians traveling abroad to “avoid large crowds or crowded areas.”
Unless your NFL destination is a Cincinnati Bengals home game in December, that’s yet another thing for ticket-holding Canadian NFL fans to consider this year.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020