Buffalo Bills Monday: Bills in Toronto series an embarrassment for team, NFL

2013-12-02T10:47:00Z 2013-12-02T10:54:09Z Buffalo Bills Monday: Bills in Toronto series an embarrassment for team, NFLRobert Harding | robert.harding@lee.net Auburn Citizen
December 02, 2013 10:47 am  • 

Sunday's Atlanta Falcons-Buffalo Bills game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto drew 38,969 fans. If that doesn't sound like a typical National Football League crowd, you would be right. 

Consider this: the Bills in Toronto series only drew 38,969 fans Sunday, yet the game was televised in the local (central and western New York) markets.

Meanwhile, the San Diego Chargers packed more than 61,000 people into their stadium, but because they failed to sell all of their tickets, the team's game was blacked out — the first blackout in the NFL this season. 

The NFL's lame blackout rules aside, this is about the Bills in Toronto series, which is in its sixth season. The series has featured six regular season games and two preseason contests all played at the aforementioned Rogers Centre. The Bills have won both preseason games, but have lost five of the six regular season matchups, including Sunday's game. 

Home-field advantage? Not so much. 

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said on Twitter Sunday that the check the Bills receive for the Toronto game is equal to the money made at two Bills games in Orchard Park. And that's what this Bills in Toronto debacle is all about. 

If it was about building a new market for the Bills, you probably wouldn't hear so many cheers for the Atlanta Falcons six years into this experiment. You probably wouldn't see so many jerseys of other teams, including some of the Bills' AFC East rivals, at a game against an NFC opponent. And you probably would see more butts in the seats.  

There's other points to make about attendance. The Bills drew more than 38,000 fans Sunday, which was about 1,000 more than the attendance at the Boston College-Syracuse game Saturday at the Carrier Dome. That's right. The Syracuse football game had almost the same turnout as the Bills game in Toronto. That only adds to the embarrassment. 

The attendance at Bills in Toronto games has decreased since the series started six seasons ago. In 2008, when the Bills played the first game in Toronto against the Miami Dolphins, a crowd of 52,134 watched the game. In fact, crowds of 50,000 or more watched the first four games of the series. 

But attendance took a nosedive last year when Seattle played Buffalo in Toronto. The Bills-Seahawks game, which the Seahawks won 50-17, only drew 40,770 fans. So it wasn't necessarily a surprise to see Sunday's game draw only 38,000-plus. 

But let's forget about the business side of things for a moment and the attendance. Let's talk football.

The Bills have won one game in Toronto. That victory came in 2011 against the Washington Redskins -- the Bills' first win in four regular season games in Toronto. While it is officially a home game for Buffalo and it's listed on every stat sheet as a home game, it is anything but a home game for the Bills.

Each year the Bills play in Toronto, there are a decent amount of fans rooting for their opponent (or some other NFL team). If you compare the atmosphere at a Bills game in Orchard Park and the annual Toronto game, it's like day and night. The Orchard Park crowd is firmly behind the Bills. The Toronto crowd? Their biggest cheers of the game -- a game the Bills were leading early and lost in overtime -- came for an idiot who ran onto the field. Heck, boos rained down when calls went against the Falcons!

The Bills in Toronto game isn't a home game for Buffalo. At best, it's a game at a neutral site with both teams equally represented in the stands. What made Sunday's game worse than past Toronto contests? The Bills played in a dome, in December, against a dome team. And we wonder why the Bills have criticized the NFL's scheduling. 

The financial reward of this venture in Toronto is what the Bills are looking for. They see it as a small price to pay -- losing a home game -- for a big check. I get it. 

But there's a better solution here that's a win-win for everyone involved — the fans and the Buffalo Bills organization. The solution? Build a playoff team! Winning teams can be moneymakers and the more games at the Ralph, the more money you will probably make. 

I know. It's a crazy idea after years of losing. But it's an idea that just might work. 

It's time to end this sorry, embarrassing exercise that is the Bills in Toronto series. Start winning games and making money in western New York. That's where the Bills should play all eight, not seven, of their home games. 

Bills fans deserve better and the players deserve to play in front of a home crowd, not a neutral one. 

Copyright 2015 Auburn Citizen. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. JetsGrrrrl
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    JetsGrrrrl - December 07, 2013 12:14 am
    THE BUFFALO BILLS need to stay in BUFFALO NY. Average game attendance is ranked 22 in the NFL with 63,000 plus. Considering the population of the area it is very, very good. Let Bon Jovi buy the team!!!
  2. jjd
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    jjd - December 02, 2013 6:06 pm
    If you had a game scheduled earlier than December won't the CFL complain?
    One thing I find puzzling - I know the Bills make money on this - but with the empty seats how do the Rodgers Centre ( and whoever else is behind this series ) make money.
    You are correct Robert - the Toronto games should end or put a winning team up there.
  3. Robert Harding Staff
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    Robert Harding - December 02, 2013 2:47 pm
    @TJR013 - I wouldn't say zero support. There are some fans in Toronto and southern Ontario. But is it enough? No. It reminds me of the London games. If the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings are playing, attendees will show up wearing other teams' uniforms (Packers, Raiders, Patriots, etc.).

    When you think of NFL home games, you think of a capacity crowd, with 99 percent of the fans in attendance supporting the home team. That's not what you get with the Toronto games. You're lucky to get half the crowd backing the Bills at Toronto games.
  4. Robert Harding Staff
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    Robert Harding - December 02, 2013 2:42 pm
    @BillsStrong - I wish the Bills could count it as a "road" game, but they would have to separate themselves from the series. I don't think they could get away with calling it the "Bills in Toronto series" and then consider it a road game. Not sure the NFL would let that fly.
  5. Robert Harding Staff
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    Robert Harding - December 02, 2013 2:32 pm
    @BillsToronto - I'm sure there are a lot of arguments one could make about this series. Are ticket prices a factor? Sure. But it's just one factor. You mention the 4-7 and 2-9 records. That's a fair point. If they continue this series, perhaps it would help to have the games earlier in the season. Two seasons ago, the Bills played the Redskins in Toronto on Oct. 30. If you must have one game in Toronto each season, at least have it earlier in the season. Waiting until December is risky, especially with attendance.
  6. TJR013
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    TJR013 - December 02, 2013 2:17 pm
    The BIlls should NEVER play another "Home" game in Toronto EVER! If they are forced to play north of the border it should be considered an away game for both teams. The Toronto fan base shows ZERO support for the Bills.
  7. BillsStrong
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    BillsStrong - December 02, 2013 2:07 pm
    Not so fast BT. The Bills are 20 million under the cap so while holding up- er I mean charging - our Canadian friends for millions by no means do we need this series to afford anything. It's a naked money grab that has gone wrong. The only sport proven to bring in T'ronto crowds is hockey, even when the Leafs suck. NFL teams come in all varieties of competitiveness, and TO has proven to be passion- free in terms of supporting an up and coming team this year, regardless of who the competition may be. So thanks for the cash- remember the NFL commissioner is from Western New York.
  8. BillsToronto
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    BillsToronto - December 02, 2013 12:48 pm
    Silly article... Considering the pricing is more expenseive than many teams ie they highlight the fact that half of the tickets are now less than 100 dollars plus you are watching a 4-7 vs 2-9 team both not involved in the playoff hunt... and you wonder why not a larger crowd...

    Please... it took the Bills owner to buy tickets at the last two home games to avoid blackouts where the prices are among the lowest in the NFL.... The series generates enough per game each year for the bills to afford super mario.
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