Until last year, there was a trend in the Bills Toronto Series: losses by the home team that isn’t really a home team.
That ended with a win over the Redskins, which was the last moment of happiness Bills fans experienced during the 2011 season prior to seven straight losses, and the usual return to ineptitude and bitter disappointment.
But there’s another trend that continues: empty seats, and a few thousand of them.
It’s varied, but each of the four regular season Bills games so far in Toronto have featured at least 2,400 empty seats. Last year’s game drew 51,579 (a high for the series), and while that’s encouraging, it’s still well below the max capacity for Rogers Centre of 54,000.
There are many potential reasons for the slumping sales, among them being the belief that while Toronto is a fine NFL city, it’s being miscast as a Bills city, and there’s a massive difference. There’s definitely a strong Bills fan base in the city and in the southeastern Ontario region, but part of the joy of being a Canadian NFL fan is being free from the obligation to be loyal to a team due to geography. Unlike our neighbors to the south, us hosers can choose to support any team we want and feel guilt free, which is why Toronto fans perhaps haven’t enjoyed having a crappy team shoved down their throats.
But before this spirals further into a bad sports sociology lecture, if such a thing exists, there’s a far more simple reason for the slumping sales, and it’s also connected to that whole crappy team thing. Prices have been absurd, as Rogers has continually gouged Canadian NFL fans and Bills fans traveling north. Now that’s changing, and although the change is long overdue, the timing is a little odd.
When a report surfaced in May that the series would be extended for five years, it was expected that ticket prices would be reduced, but the extent of that reduction wasn’t known. Now we know that prices will fall by an average of 35 percent, and they’ll be slashed by more than half in some areas. The result is 58 percent of tickets available for less than $100 for this year’s game on Dec. 16 against the Seattle Seahawks, and 88 percent will be sold for less than $150.
For Torontonians who regularly pay the high end of that spectrum to sit in the upper bowl at a Leafs game, taking in an NFL game is quickly sounding like a pretty sweet deal. So both Rogers and the Bills deserve some rare applause here for finally welcoming common sense into their lives. However, even if this was an expected announcement, the timing is still a little interesting.
The Bills are finishing an offseason in which they’ve widely been declared resounding winners after signing Mario Williams and Mark Anderson during free agency, and locking up veterans Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson. There’s a level of schoolgirl giddiness around this team that hasn’t existed in a long, long time, which would likely mean that if by some otherworldly miracle the Bills could remain remotely in contention through mid-December, selling tickets will be much easier, regardless of the price.
That may be true, but we’ll never know. And that’s good, because tempting fate and crushing the little bit of momentum built up last year with another greedy cash grab would be an exercise in bad business for two organizations that have made very few good decisions throughout the life of this series.