Lagging Attendance, Neutral Atmosphere Lead To Bills Postponing Toronto Series
The Bills-in-Toronto series as of now "is scheduled to resume in 2015," as "four regular-season games and one preseason are still contracted to be played, per the five-year series extension signed in January 2013," according to a source cited by John Kryk of QMI AGENCY. But "further talks between the Bills and Rogers are planned to address the future of the series." The source said that the NFL "will be included in those discussions." Kryk noted it "is possible the series won't ever resume, if that's what the parties eventually decide." Neither side "can unilaterally pull out of the arrangement." A source said that no money "is exchanging hands in the mutually agreed-upon postponement" (QMI AGENCY, 3/5). In Rochester, Sal Maiorana notes the original five-year deal between the two sides covered '08-12, and the Bills "walked away with" $78M in revenue. A new five-year contract -- for "a lesser but unknown amount of money -- was signed" in '13. Playing in Toronto "has always been about money for the Bills" (ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE, 3/6).
THE FINAL STRAW: In Buffalo, Mark Gaughan notes the "tipping point in the six-year experiment" came last Dec. 1, when the Bills lost in OT to the Falcons "before an announced crowd of 38,969." The crowd was "at least 12,000 short of a sellout, the atmosphere in the Rogers Centre was dreary, and there were at least as many fans rooting for the Falcons as for the Bills." Bills President & CEO Russ Brandon "acknowledged that the atmosphere for the Falcons game prompted the team to re-evaluate the partnership." He said, "We’re trying to build a fan base north of the border, and this year I would say it was a neutral crowd." Gaughan writes it "would be a surprise if the Bills go back to Toronto for a regular-season game." Veteran Bills players "voiced their displeasure with the game to team officials late last season," and the Bills’ coaches also "don’t like it." The Bills yesterday announced they had "struck a separate sponsorship agreement with Rogers" for the '14 season in Orchard Park. It will "give Rogers ticketing, marketing and media exposure opportunities with the team." The Bills also will "create a Rogers-sponsored 'Canada House' at The Ralph, which will be a hospitality facility for Canadian fans." It will be "modeled after a venture the NFL uses at the Super Bowl for corporate sponsors and business partners" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/6).
BEGINNING OF THE END? In Toronto, Cathal Kelly writes the "flacks can call it a postponement or a hiatus or whatever else they like," but what it really is "is a temporary stay of execution." In the "real world, you don't take a one-year pass on something that has any chance of being salvaged." This is the "measure of how badly the Bills in Toronto Series failed -- they can't even kill it in public" (TORONTO STAR, 3/6). In Rochester, Leo Roth writes under the header, "Bills Should Sack Toronto Series" (ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE, 3/6). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said of the postponement, "Play in Buffalo. These fans are loyal, they come out there in all kinds of conditions to root for bad teams. Stay in Buffalo and play your games" ("PTI," ESPN, 3/5).
ESTABLISHING A REGIONAL BRAND: In Buffalo, Dan Miner wrote the Bills are a franchise that needs to "continue to solidify its presence in both Southern Ontario and Rochester to ensure its future financial viability." The percentage of Southern Ontario fans at Bills games in Orchard Park "has grown" from about 10% to about 17% over the past six years. Brandon said that that increase is "a direct result" of the Bills-in-Toronto series. Brandon prior to the official postponement announcement said that the Bills have "established the basic equation: deep market saturation in Buffalo, Rochester and Southern Ontario and the franchise’s long-term financial picture will hinge on how much fan, sponsor and corporate support can be generated across the region." The franchise has experienced "similar growth in Rochester in recent years, having moved its training camp to St. John Fisher College." An average of approximately 15% of fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium "come from the Rochester region." Brandon said that Rochester has "also become a strong contributor in terms of sponsorships and corporate support" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 3/5).