The Buffalo Bills and Rogers Media announced the team will not play a regular-season game in Toronto in 2014.
The Bills are 1-5 in regular-season games played at the Rogers Centre, and 2-0 in preseason games, but the series has struggled to fill seats despite both sides claiming strong NFL interest in Canada.
Attendance for the series, which began in 2008 and was extended in 2012, has been poor recently. In a 34-31 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons last season, the announced attendance was 38,969. Ralph Wilson Stadium has a 73,960-seat capacity.
The games in Toronto have also lacked a home environment for the Bills, with ticketholders not having the same strong allegiance that the Bills enjoy in Buffalo.
"Obviously we're trying to build a fan base north of the border and this year I would say it was a neutral crowd," Bills President/CEO Russ Brandon said. "Some of that had to do with how we played over the last six years has really not been conducive to building a lot of fans that were NFL fans, but we're trying to make them Bills fans.
"We're going to continue to try to do that through a variety of initiatives that we will be working with Rogers over the next year in a very robust sponsorship and partnership that we will have that will cater to fans above the border.
Brandon does believe there has been a reciprocal affect, estimating 18 percent of fans at games at Ralph Wilson Stadium travel from Southern Ontario. However, while deeming Wednesday's announcement as a "postponement" of the series, he did not commit to the Bill returning to Toronto for a regular-season game in 2015.
"We have not played well up there. We have to take responsibility for that," Brandon said. "We're 1-5 up there and as Coach (Doug) Marrone says all the time, it doesn't matter where we play. I think I referenced Coyne Field earlier and that's a practice field in Syracuse. It doesn't matter if we play there, when you line up you play to win. We're not using this as an excuse."
The Bills and Rogers Media also announced a sponsorship agreement for the 2014 season targeted at bringing more exposure to the team to fans in Canada.
"The sponsorship includes ticketing, merchandising, media exposure, and a newly created Canada House, near Ralph Wilson Stadium, that will serve as the official pre-game Canadian tailgate zone for all Bills home games," Brandon and Keith Pelley, President of Rogers Media, said in a joint statement. "The NFL remains very popular in Canada and we are dedicated to enriching the experience for the fans."
The task for the Bills now becomes trying to sell out eight regular-season home games and two preseason games in 2014.
"Obviously last year we had to really work for our sellouts, understandably so," said Brandon. "That's something that we're willing to take on, that challenge. We have very passionate fans and tremendous fans, but we have to really work to sell tickets here as we've discussed in the past. We're not satisfied until every seat in this building is sold. That's always the number one initiative and really the foundation of how we run our business.
By The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: March 5, 2014 09:47:32 AM
No Canada: Bills postpone 2014 game in Toronto
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