The Buffalo Bills finalized a deal Tuesday with Rogers Communications to export more games to Toronto over the next five years.
The five-year extension will see the Bills play one regular season game per year in the Rogers Centre between 2013 and 2017. One preseason game in 2015 will also be played in Toronto, which is about a 90-minute drive north of Buffalo.
Both on the field and in the stands, the series has been a disappointment. The Rogers Center has never sold out for a Bills game. The series drew a high attendance of 50,134 in its first season in 2008. Attendance has dropped each year, bottoming out in 2012 at 40,770.
Despite that, Rogers officials insist there's a desire for the NFL north of the border.
"The appetite for the NFL and the Buffalo Bills is here in Toronto," Said Rogers Media President Keith Pelley, who noted he's learned "a lot" since the series started, including the need to reduce ticket prices by upwards of half over the life of the first five-year agreement. "We are ambassadors of the NFL and are continually assessing the market to bring that true NFL experience to Canadians."
That NFL experience hasn't been great, at least for those who root for the Bills. Buffalo is 1-4 in games played in Toronto and failed to finish at least .500 in any season in which a game has been played in the Rogers Centre. The Bills lost the 2012 Toronto game 50-17 to Seattle.
New Bills coach Doug Marrone – who took part in international NFL games in London as a player and assistant coach – noted the experience is still a good one for the Bills, and it's now on him to give Canadians a good reason to come out:
"Putting together a winning product on the field is my responsibility."
The Bills got $78 million from the original deal. Terms of the new deal were not disclosed, but it's believed the dollar amount was much lower. Bills president Russ Brandon said the main reason to begin the series.wasn't to profit in Toronto itself, but to bring more fans from the Golden horseshoe region of souther Ontario back to Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills succeeded in doing that, he said, as the Bills now draw more than 20 percent of their season ticket fan base from the Greater Toronto Area, compared to 11 percent before the first agreement started.
"We've never considered not renewing this series," he said. "This is a monumental day for our franchise."
Consensus among fans from Western New York is the series stinks. The Rogers Centre is considered a sterile NFL environment, tailgating is banned in Ontario and Canadian fans generally don't have a rooting interest in the Bills, creating a quiet stadium that's even drawn criticism from many of the Bills players who have played there. But the bottom line is the Bills need to shore up their bottom line, so Toronto games will be a part of life as a Bills fan for the foreseeable future.
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