The Buffalo Bills have announced they will not play a game in Toronto this season and have all eight of their 2014 home regular-season games in Orchard Park.
The Bills were working diligently the past week with their Toronto series partner, Rogers Media Inc., to move this season’s Toronto game back to Ralph Wilson Stadium, a source connected to the series told The News, which reported the likely move prior to Bills President and CEO Russ Brandon's official announcement this morning. Brandon was non-committal about the odds of the series starting back up in 2015.
Buffalo has played a regular-season game in Toronto’s Rogers Centre each of the past six years. The Bills began a five-year partnership with Rogers, the Canadian telecommunications giant, starting in 2008. They extended that deal for five more years starting in 2013 and running through 2017.
The Bills have yet to create a strong, home-field environment for the games in Toronto. Last year’s game drew an announced crowd of 38, 969, at least 12,000 short of a sellout. The Bills lost an overtime decision to the Atlanta Falcons, 34-31. The atmosphere arguably was the worst yet from the Buffalo perspective in the Toronto dome, with almost as many fans rooting for the Falcons as the Bills.
Brandon acknowledged today that the dismal atmosphere for the Dec. 1 game against the Falcons prompted the organization to seek a re-evaluation of the series.
"I think that's a fair statement," 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, and some of that had to do again with how we played over the last six years has really not been conducive to building a lot of fans."
"We’re going to look at every aspect that if we do come back, we have a more robust fan experience and try to create more of a home field advantage for us," Brandon said. "Right now that was not the situation, and that was one of the reasons we want to get into a lot of detail with our partners up there and see if that’s viable moving forward."
The initial five-year deal was a financial windfall for the Bills, with Rogers guaranteeing the Bills roughly double the revenue from the games in Toronto that Buffalo would gross for games in Orchard Park. The terms of the five-year extension have not been made public. But sources have told The News that the terms are not nearly as tilted in the Bills’ favor, and that the team is not grossing much more than it would take in at The Ralph.
The Southern Ontario market is important to the Buffalo franchise. The team says it attracts more fans from Southern Ontario than from the Rochester area to games in Orchard Park.
The Bills originally got approval from the NFL to take regular-season games to Toronto. The team would not have to get a change in the series approved by a league vote. However, the Bills have kept the NFL’s international committee appraised of their intentions on the series since the season ended.
Buffalo is just 1-5 in regular-season games played at the Rogers Centre since 2008.