ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills postponed their annual regular-season game in Toronto for at least one year, after going 1-5 since the series began in Canada.
The Bills and their Toronto partner, Rogers Communications, announced Wednesday they were putting a hold on the series for one season. The postponement will allow both sides to work on enhancing future games, the release said.
That means the Bills will be playing all eight home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium this year.
The decision comes a little more than a year after the two sides agreed to renew the series for five years through 2017, after the original five-year deal expired.
The postponement doesn’t come as a total surprise after questions were raised following the Bills’ 34-31 overtime loss to Atlanta at Toronto on Dec. 1. A few days later, Bills president Russ Brandon wondered whether his team loses a home-field advantage by playing in Toronto.
“It has been a challenged market there, and certainly has not translated into enough wins for us there,” Brandon said at the time. “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.”
The Bills decided to play 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.
Bills players voiced complaints about playing in what they essentially regarded as a neutral-site setting and giving up a game in the far more raucous atmosphere at Orchard Park. The Bills also lost out on the edge they have in playing in the wintry elements at their outdoor home. Games in Toronto are usually played in December and inside the domed Rogers Stadium.
Receiver Steve Johnson questioned whether the warm-weather Falcons “fixed” the schedule in getting to play indoors. Center Eric Wood had referred to the games in Toronto as “a joke.”
The Bills are 0-4 at Toronto during December. Their lone win came on Oct. 30, 2011, when they defeated Washington 23-0.
The announced crowd of 38,969 for the Bills game against Atlanta 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.
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 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, but the price tag was expected to be lower after Rogers officials expressed concerns over the value of the series.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org