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.