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

address.”

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

2008.

”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

manner.”

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

Communications.

”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

international offices.

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

Sunday.

”The crazy part is we had a lot of support here,” Falcons

safety William Moore said. ”It didn’t feel like we were in

Canada.”

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

Rochester.

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