After six rather unsuccessful seasons, in which the Buffalo Bills have ventured two hours across the border to play pre-season and regular season football in Toronto, a decision between the team and Rogers Communications to scrap the game for the upcoming 2014 NFL season – and it couldn’t come soon enough.
As much as Rogers Communications and former Toronto Blue Jays’ President Paul Godfrey, who was such a big advocate for the NFL in Toronto, want Canada to embrace football, hopefully this is the beginning of the realization that no, it’s not working.
However, it has come at a weird time, not too long after the two sides recently renewed their contract in which Rogers would pay $78 million to play at the Rogers Centre through the 2018 season, for five regular season and three pre-season games.
Regardless, it is saving players and Bills fans a lot of grief. The team has played incredibly poorly in Toronto, with a 1-5 record at the Rogers Centre and losing by a combined 141 – 83. It doesn’t help that the Bills teams coming into the games have been awful, but that just furthers peoples’ disinterest and reason for them to have left a long time ago. This is the kind of product Torontonians would have to cheer for for eight games a year if the Bills ever did move to Canada’s largest city like Rogers wants.
One of the many arguments is the fact that the Bills lose out on the home field advantage that they would otherwise have at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. The crowds, declining with each season, were never packed with Bills fans and being indoors under the Rogers Centre’s dome means there was no cold or snow that the Bills can sometimes use to their advantage.
I attended the game in 2012 when the Seattle Seahawks beat down the Bills 50-17 and it was lackluster to say the least. It was the first of the six years in which there wasn’t a sellout and there definitely was a dull buzz throughout the stadium – not to mention a lack of Bills fans. Many NFL jerseys littered the stadium, almost outnumbering the “home team’s” fans.
Ultimately, Canadian football reigns supreme. Maybe not in Toronto, where people quite frankly are more apathetic toward any team except for the Leafs, but in places like Montréal and out west in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Edmonton they can’t get enough. And the Grey Cup has been Canada’s most watched sporting event in Canada. 6.1 million viewers in 2009 tuned in, 6.04 million viewers in 2010, 5.8 million in 2011 and, although ratings have gone down in the past two Grey Cups, they still have been well over four million viewers.
Canadians want players and teams they can associate with and have history in the city; not bringing a NFL team from America who hasn’t made the playoffs in 14 years – especially when it would be in Toronto which is not a football city in a stadium that hardly is appropriate to play football in. Ticket prices are too high and the quality of the team is too low, which is an obvious recipe for failure. Let’s hope both sides don’t get any bright ideas and bring the Bills back in 2015. Especially after a year off, it will be even more difficult to generate any sort of interest. Let the Bills fans have their team, because there sure isn’t their massive support north of the border. So, thank you, Rogers, for finally realizing the uselessness of the Bills Toronto Series.
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