Archive for the ‘Bills Toronto Series’ Category

I know, I’m scared too. We’re having a legitimate discussion about a matter related to the Buffalo Bills, and it’s Super Bowl Media Day. Hold me.

Reports circulated early this morning that, as expected, the Bills will extend the Bills Toronto Series for five more years, which isn’t good for anyone. Well, it’s good for Ralph Wilson, and the weight of his pockets.

How much Wilson’s pockets will drag because of this new agreement remains to be determined, and we’ll update this post when/if that information is leaked later today (holding your breath on that will be unhealthy). The Toronto Sun’s John Kryk — who originally reported the extension back in May, and then again confirmed it this morning — expects the new deal to be worth “significantly” less than the $78 million Rogers paid during the first largely failed run of Bills football in Toronto. He also reported that there will be five regular-season games, and only one exhibition game throughout the length of the new contract, which will officially be announced today during a midday press conference.

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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.

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That’s right kids, you’ll likely be able to step right up to see your favorite Canadian NFL team at a new bargain price for the next five years. If you’re not sewing bright red maple leafs into Bills jerseys by the year 2017 before dousing them in maple syrup, then there’s no hope for the NFL in Toronto. Or so we’re told.

Here’s what we know definitively right now: the league’s international committee has approved a renewal of the Bills’ contract with the Rogers Centre in Toronto, meaning five more regular-season games will be played in Ontario’s capital beyond this year, when the original and ludicrously obese five-year deal between the Bills and Rogers Communications is set to expire. We know this because NFL Network’s Albert Breer says it’s true.

Even with that schedule approved and settled, what we still don’t know yet is exactly how lucrative the new lucrative deal between the Bills and Rogers will be. But if we’re to believe the “people in the know” that Canoe.ca’s John Kryk knows, it’ll be a lot less lucrative. That means you, the faithful but often broke fan, won’t be paying quite as much, we think/hope.

Go ahead, feed our hope, John:

The source said the extension will be “significantly” less lucrative for the Bills. As a result, NFL fans in Ontario and Western New York can expect ticket prices to be “significantly” lower. Rogers has received immense criticism for the high prices of tickets to Bills-in-Toronto games.

After their offseason success during the draft and free agency, optimism is high for the Bills. Still, getting those same feelings to hover around the Bills Toronto Series depends on whether or not the average face-fainted hooligan in Toronto can attend an NFL game.

The primary goal of the series has always been to grow and feed a Bills fan base in Canada’s largest city and around southeastern Ontario that already exists. Although prices were lowered this past year when the Bills defeated Washington to finally win a game in Toronto, the series has been plagued by obscene ticket prices, making it difficult to realize that fan base growth, and by extension achieve the desire profit desperately needed for a team fighting off local blackouts. Buffalo’s had six home games blacked out on local TV over the past two seasons, a fate that even Tim Tebow couldn’t save the Bills from late in 2011.

While the optimist believes that cheaper prices could get a few more fans in Ontario to join Bills Nation and then convince them make a late-season trek to Buffalo where they can freeze their rear region to plastic seats for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, the realist knows there’s only one tonic for that ailment.

Wins.

Buried in a press release sent out by the team this morning (so much so that I completely missed it before seeing an item elsewhere this afternoon) was an odd note that the Bills will not be playing a preseason game in Toronto this summer, despite the fact that was called for under the terms of the original five-year, eight-game pact between Rogers Communications and the franchise.

The game (opponent still to be determined) was moved back across the border “due to scheduling conflicts at the Toronto venue.”

Seems strange, because there are open dates with the Blue Jays on the road during both Week 1 and Week 3 of the preseason, including two Thursday nights (which is when both previous Toronto preseason games were played). The Argonauts, who released their schedule last week, aren’t a factor either.

The events schedule on the Rogers Centre website doesn’t reach August but it’s not as though a lot of concerts are held at the venue nowadays.

I don’t doubt there’s a legit conflict here, but I also get the feeling that if Rogers really cared about the game, it’d make room for it.

If this indicates anything, it’s that the deal between Rogers and the Bills will indeed be extended in the near future, because Rogers paid nearly $10 million for each of these games. Were the preseason games running profits? Not likely, but I’m sure they wouldn’t just scrap a game without leaving room to balance the loss and/or gain in future years.

“We are currently working with Rogers Communications to extend our agreement to play Bills games at Rogers Centre,” said Bills CEO Russ Brandon. “Our core goal is to continue to regionalize our franchise and continue our series in Toronto which has served us so well. We will provide more information once terms are finalized.”

INDIANAPOLIS — A five-year agreement between the Buffalo Bills and Toronto media giant Rogers Communications expires in 2012, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seems confident that the two parties will reach a new pact to extend the Bills Toronto Series into 2013 and beyond.

Goodell noted at his annual state of the league press conference here in Indy that there are ongoing discussions between Rogers and the Bills and that he’s been in contact with both sides.

“I believe there’s a willingness and an interest to extend the agreement,” he said, “and we’ll work to help support that.”

In 2008, Rogers agreed to pay the franchise $78 million to bring five regular-season games and three preseason games to Rogers Centre. The final two games of that arrangement will be played next year, with one in the preseason and one in the regular season.

It’s an agreement that has predictably garnered negative feedback in both communities. Torontonians haven’t exactly accepted the Bills with open arms, with inflated ticket prices and a lack of on-field success dampening the enthusiasm. And while the majority of Bills fans seem to grasp that the money from the accord has been key to their team’s survival, they don’t like losing a home game each year.

But the commissioner spoke specifically about the positive impact the series has had on the Bills.

“As a guy from Western New York, we know how important the Bills are for Western New York — how important they continue to be to that community,” he said. “One of the things they’ve done very effectively is regionalize that team to broaden its exposure.”

“The series has been very helpful to the Bills, building that fan base. We’ve seen the kind of response and what it’s done for season-ticket sales down in Buffalo, and to try to help that franchise broaden their appeal.”

While Goodell didn’t touch on possible expansion to Toronto, the likely extension of the Bills deal would take Southern Ontario out of the running for its own team. And frankly, Goodell’s in Buffalo’s corner — which sort of means he’s not in Toronto’s. So long as Ralph Wilson owns the team and Goodell reigns over the league, the Bills will remain in Buffalo and Toronto will remain NFL-free for approximately 363 days a year.

Goodell said expansion isn’t something the league is even thinking about right now.

“It’s not something that’s on our agenda,” he said. “It’s not something we’ve focused on with our membership, and I don’t see that in the foreseeable future. We want to keep our teams where they are, we believe that’s healthier for the league in the long term.”

But more teams means more money, and one of the commissioner’s primary objectives is to generate — and increase — profits for the league’s 32 owners. Eventually, you’d have to think that expansion will jump onto the agenda, especially if teams in St. Louis, Minnesota, Oakland and San Diego benefit from a bounce back in the economy and/or a stadium fund included in the new collective bargaining agreement.

And when that day comes, the commish says the league will add two teams, not one — something that should be music to the ears of those hoping for Toronto to land its own team at some point down the line.

Or those who want Los Angeles to land a pair of franchises, which — unbelievably — isn’t a far-fetched notion.

The Bills played in Toronto today for the sixth time in four years, but this might have been the first game north of the border that the Bills can look back on fondly.

Not only did Buffalo rebound from a tough loss to the Giants by becoming the first team to shut out a Mike Shanahan-led offense, but the Bills were finally able to feel at home on foreign soil.

The Rogers Centre crowds were close to bipartisan in the previous installments of this series, but that wasn’t the case at all on Sunday. The crowd was almost unanimously behind the Bills, and the team rewarded those 51,579 fans with their first-ever regular-season victory in the city of Toronto.

It was hard to find a flaw. Ryan Fitzpatrick had just six incomplete passes, Fred Jackson rushed for 120 yards, the defense smothered John Beck, recording two picks, and Washington had a grand total of 26 rushing yards. A team that had just four sacks all season took Beck down nine times.

The final score: 23-0. And now the Bills are back in first place in the AFC East.

That, of course, leads to the question: Is the team’s recent run of surprising success the reason they’re receiving better support in Toronto? As superficial as that is, it’s definitely a factor. It also helps that they didn’t play the Dolphins, Jets or Bears, all of whom arguably have more fan support in Southern Ontario than the Redskins do.

That said, I think time has played an important role. The Bills claim their Ontario-based season ticket numbers have increased markedly in recent seasons, which leads me to believe that the fan base has grown in Toronto. There was a lot of animosity from football fans in both markets when this series began in 2008, mainly because savvy people seemed to be vexed by insanely high ticket prices and the stale, corporate feel surrounding the pact between the Bills and Rogers Communications.

But it now seems some of that tension has faded. It doesn’t hurt that tickets have become significantly cheaper (especially on the secondary market) and that the team is actually decent. Either way, Toronto finally appears to be embracing the Bills as a home team.

It’s no secret that Bills games at Rogers Centre in Toronto don’t offer the same home-field advantage that the Bills benefit from at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park.

Bills safety George Wilson was the latest player to say so publicly:

“The fan support in Toronto is a night-and-day difference from what we have in Buffalo. For the most part, it’s a show. You see just as many jerseys for the opposing teams as you do the Bills. They cheer for any big play regardless of whichever team makes it.

“It’s definitely not the same hostile environment that teams have to deal with coming into the Ralph out here,” he said. “This is no knock on the citizens of Toronto. We know a large percentage of our fan base comes from Canada, and we’re appreciative of their support. But at the same time, the environment is just not the same. That’s just facts.”

As MJD of Yahoo! Sports points out, home teams have won 60 percent of NFL games this season. And if the Bills don’t feel at home in Toronto — they certainly haven’t been greeted that way during the first three regular-season installments of this series — then they won’t reap the benefits from playing at home.

Against a Redskins team they’re only slightly better than, that could factor in hugely on Sunday.

Was this a factor when the Bills lost to the Dolphins, Jets and Bears north of the border in previous seasons? Sure, but nobody cared much because Buffalo wasn’t a playoff contender anyway. This year, they are.

Come to think of it, neutral-site games could affect the playoff races in both conferences. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost a “home” game to the Chicago Bears last week in London, England. Might the Bucs have won that game back in Florida? We’ll never know, but there’s a chance that result will play a role in December.

It’s good to see the game expand by way of international endeavors and efforts to “regionalize” teams like the Bills. Unfortunately, though, this is a trade-off.