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Bills should discontinue Toronto series
If you watched the Buffalo Bills suffer that devastating loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, you probably thought afterward: What if this game was played in Ralph Wilson Stadium? Not because the team was at a disadvantage by playing in Atlanta; it was at a disadvantage by playing in Toronto - what is considered a "home game."
When the Bills began the Toronto series in 2007, they entered a risky project. When they extended the contract in 2012, they turned the risky into precarious. The initial deal was to play one home game each season at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The team made a contract with Rogers Communication in an attempt to expand the Bills fan base beyond Western New York.
There was a hubbub of controversy surrounding the move - will this be an effective attempt to build up the team's following, or is it an indicator of the beginning of the end? Is this an attempt to see if an NFL team could flourish in Toronto? And when Ralph Wilson dies, would this be a profitable place to move a team that is undeniably in a smaller market?
Those who watched Sunday's game probably noticed the plethora of empty seats in the stadium. There were 38,969 fans in the arena on Sunday (the Roger Centre's capacity is 54,000 for American football games). Games in Orchard Park usually sell out (that stadium's capacity is 73,079).
Even worse than the lack of filled seats in the stadium is the fact that the fan makeup was neutral. There are reports that there were as many Falcons fans present as there were Bills fans. There were also fans wearing jerseys of players for the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, etc. By no means of the imagination did this feel like a home game for the Bills.
Not to mention the game was played in a dome - the type of stadium the Falcons are accustomed to playing in. "Obviously, I'm not going to hide the fact we are a dome team," Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez told the press after the game. "And it feels a little bit better when you're inside."
Most teams would prefer to play inside than in Orchard Park in December - regardless of if they are used to playing in a dome. The benefit of difficult weather conditions - brutal coldness, gusting winds - is part of Buffalo's home field advantage; the Bills are used to playing in those conditions, other teams, not as much.
And what else was missing? The "12th man" - the Bills fans. Imagine if the impassioned and fervent fans were there providing the team with the extra stimulus. It might have facilitated a playing environment more suited for a Bills win.
What is ludicrous about the Bills organization's arrangement for a Toronto series is it essentially makes the Bills the only team in the NFL to have seven homes games each season.
Falcons cornerback Robert McLain said it felt like a home game for his team. "I seen a lot of Matt Ryan jerseys and even a couple Mike Vick jerseys," he said.
Beyond the team's arrangement putting the team at a disadvantage (in a game that's loss essentially eliminated the team from playoff contention), it puts the Buffalo area at a disadvantage.
The Bills provide an economic stimulus to the region. It isn't just the franchise that brings in revenue for the season - local venders do, too. All the Orchard Park venders who profit from having the games there lose out when what is supposed to be a home game is taken elsewhere.
Considering the role of money is important in this matter - it is all about money. Rogers Communication pays the Bills organization for playing a game each season in the Rogers Centre. So, the empty seats you saw Sunday doesn't necessarily mean the Bills are losing money.
But if you think in terms of profit - nothing tangible attracts more revenue than winning. If the Bills want to sustain Western New York presence and want to make money while doing it, the most substantial strategy would be to dedicate the lion's share of its efforts toward developing a winning team.
The Bills are 1-5 in the six games they have played in Toronto since the deal took effect. One thing that is evident is that playing these games in Toronto isn't accruing more fans and it certainly isn't helping the team win.
If anything, playing a game each year in Toronto makes the prospect of the Bills one day leaving Buffalo seem more ominous.
If Russ Brandon and the Bills organization's biggest priorities are winning and keeping the team in Buffalo, they should reconsider playing a game each year in Toronto, when doing so isn't helping achieve either objective.
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