Brandon: Bills to review benefits of Toronto games
Bills center Eric Wood was not at all surprised hearing team
president Russ Brandon raise concerns whether Buffalo loses a
competitive edge playing annual home games in Toronto.
Brandon first questioned the benefits of the ”Bills In
Toronto” series during a meeting with Wood and fellow team
captains about a month ago.
”He knew that a lot of players have expressed some harsh
feelings toward Toronto,” Wood said Wednesday. ”And he basically
told us as captains that he was going to do whatever it takes
around here to win. And that’s something he wanted to
Brandon went public with his concerns during his weekly show on
Buffalo’s WGR-AM earlier in the day. While noting the Bills’ games
north of the border have boosted the small-market franchise’s
revenues, Brandon added that they haven’t paid off in wins.
Following a 34-31 overtime loss to Atlanta on Sunday, Buffalo
dropped to 1-5 in Toronto since the series was established in
”It has been a challenged market there, and certainly has not
translated into enough wins for us there,” Brandon said. ”Nothing
comes above winning. When I took over the reins on Jan. 1, I said
that was the No. 1 focus, and that will be the No. 1 focus. That’s
one of the reasons that this will be reviewed in a grand
Brandon stopped short of saying the Bills would consider or be
allowed to opt out of the four remaining years of the deal, which
they renewed in January with Toronto-based Rogers
”I’m going to look at everything. I’ll just leave it at that,”
Brandon said, before being asked a second time whether the Bills
can opt out. ”My focus in this organization is simple, to put
ourselves in the position to win championships and sustain success.
Period. Nothing comes above that.”
Wood has been among several players who have criticized the
series. He called the games in Toronto ”a joke” last year
following a 50-17 loss to Seattle.
Last week, receiver Stevie Johnson questioned whether the
warm-weather Falcons ”fixed” the schedule in getting to play
indoors at the domed Rogers Centre, and avoid the wintry conditions
– and traditionally more raucous environment – at Ralph Wilson
Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
The loss put a big dent in the Bills’ chances of staying in the
AFC playoff race. At 4-8, Buffalo plays three of its final four on
the road, beginning with a trip to Tampa Bay (3-9) on Sunday.
Buffalo is in jeopardy of extending the NFL’s longest active
postseason drought to 14 seasons. And the Bills will go a ninth
straight year without a winning record.
The Bills are 0-4 at Toronto during December. Their lone win
came on Oct. 30, 2011, when they defeated Washington 23-0.
Rogers officials declined to comment on Brandon’s statements. So
did NFL vice president Christopher Parsons, who heads the league’s
The Bills made the decision to play games in Toronto, about a
2-hour drive from Buffalo, in a bid to expand their fan base and
generate additional revenue from Canada’s largest city and
financial capital. A lack of home-team support and poor attendance
remain issues since the series started.
The announced crowd of 38,969 on Sunday was by far the smallest
of the series, and well short of the stadium’s NFL capacity of
46,470, not including suites. Rogers did announce the first four
regular-season games had been sellouts before later acknowledging
the totals included thousands of free tickets.
The games also attract a larger than usual contingent of
visiting team supporters.
Several Atlanta players were pleasantly surprised to see a
notable number of fans wearing Falcons jerseys in the stands on
”The crazy part is we had a lot of support here,” Falcons
safety William Moore said. ”It didn’t feel like we were in
The series has generated revenue and lured more southern Ontario
fans back to Buffalo. The Bills estimate Canadians now make up
about 15 percent of their season ticket base. That rivals the
number of season ticket holders the Bills get from nearby
As part of the initial five-year deal, Rogers agreed to pay $78
million to essentially lease eight Bills home games: five regular
season and three preseason. The final preseason game was eventually
dropped because of scheduling difficulties.
In exchange, the Bills earned more than double what they usually
generated from hosting games in Buffalo. The value of the most
recent deal has not been revealed.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org