After a fifth failure in six trips to the Rogers Centre, Buffalo Bills brass has indicated it's ready to take another look at the Bills Toronto Series.
Bills President Russ Brandon told WGR 550 AM this week that he is not happy with the results on or off the field in Toronto.
Team officials said in renewing the series for another five-year run this past offseason that its purpose of drawing fans from southern Ontario has come to fruition. They said a double-digit percentage of their season ticket sales come from Canada.
But Brandon said he was concerned with the support the Bills get in the Rogers Centre. Only a smattering of Bills jerseys were worn there Sunday – more fans had on Atlanta Falcons jerseys – and the crowd cheered when the Falcons won the game in overtime. That lack of a home field advantage likely has played a role in Buffalo's 1-5 record in Toronto.
"Obviously, Toronto has been very positive for us down here," Brandon said. "We've had great growth in the southern Ontario marketplace the last five years. Back here at Ralph Wilson Stadium, that has been a big positive. It has been a challenged market there and certainly has not translated into enough wins for us there."
Attendance has also dipped year-to-year for five of the six games. Ticket sales have faltered from 52,134 when the series opened in 2008 to 40,770 last year and a series-low 38,969 this year. That's in part because Rogers Centre officials stopped giving away tickets to pad attendance. Ticket prices were also slashed last year.
These factors, combined with the lack of allegiance of those in attendance to any particular NFL team, has left Bills games in Toronto feeling more like a surgical room or Swiss military meeting than football game.
"Nothing comes above winning," Brandon said. "When I took over the reins on Jan. 1, I said that was the No. 1 focus, and that will be the No. 1 focus. And that's one of the reasons that this will be reviewed in a grand manner. I'm going to look at everything. I'll just leave it at that."
What he can do, though, is uncertain. The extension the team signed would likely carry a heft buy-out fee. And given owner Ralph Wilson's gushing love of the series when it was first announced in 2008, Brandon would likely catch flak even if Wilson has given him full control of team operations.
Then there's the bottom line. The Bills make a guaranteed profit from a game in Toronto that amounts to what they'd earn in two games in Ralph Wilson Stadium. No matter how much one desires winning, walking away from that kind of money is tough, especially for a small-market team that's among the lowest-valued in the NFL and that has the perpetual threat of relocation hanging over it.
Football is a business. In business, nothing is impossible if enough money is thrown at a situation. The question is whether the Bills will show Toronto enough money to make the Canadian quandary go away.
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