It took about 4 years and 364 days for the Bills executives to catch up with the feelings of the Buffalo fan base with regard to the Toronto series. Publicly, at least.
With Russ Brandon noting that there appears to be a distinct competitive disadvantage to the Bills playing a late-season home game in the domed Rogers Centre each season, perhaps a change is coming for the recently renewed series. While fans are hoping for the best, I doubt the Bills are willing to turn away from the massive check that Rogers has cut them in order to get those regular season games.
There’s probably a good chance that there is a massive penalty that would need to be paid by either party if they decided to walk away, so I’d quell any thoughts of the remaining games being cancelled at this point.
But that doesn’t mean the Bills won’t be working to find a better working relationship with what has become little more than a joke of a cash grab for the organization. There are a few different ways that the Bills and Rogers could work to adjust and fix what has quickly deteriorated into a poorly attended, non-partisan yearly event that typically serves as the cherry on top of Buffalo’s annual playoff elimination.
The most preferable option would be to come to an amicable split, allow Rogers to take back any remaining funds that would be attached to the games that were still set to be played and allow the Bills to take their home games back. This is obviously a long shot as the legal eagles on both sides of the table most certainly wrote in some sort of cancellation clause which would prevent either side from terminating the deal.
Obviously this would allow the Bills to come back to the cozy confines of the Ralph as opposed to the climate controlled Rogers Centre dome. And if warm weather or indoor teams are going to continue to be scheduled for these dates, then it will be even better to be playing in the frigid, swirling winds of Orchard Park.
Even with the plummeting attendance numbers, the growth in Ontario-based fans – regardless if that growth is directly related to this series – shouldn’t be ignored due to the boost in the box office. So the benefits for keeping a relationship with Ontario and the city of Toronto is important.
Working on the assumption that a straight-up cancellation is completely out of the question, consider a few alternatives. One being that the Rogers Centre roof will be opened for each game. While the majority of opponents have been teams who can handle cold weather, I’d love to know how the Dolphins and Falcons would’ve fared in a trip to Orchard Park in their two appearances in Toronto.
Allowing for the roof to be opened would likely irk some of the handful of fans who still choose to show up for these games, but it would at least bring some sort of direct element into a series of games that had previously been played in a vacuum. Concerns over the fan atmosphere wouldn’t be nearly as concerning for me as how the playing surface may be affected by snow or other condensation.
That point actually brings up another massive shortfall with this series, the point that the field isn’t up to the standard of what a typical NFL field is.
What I think may be the best option for the Bills would be to develop a rotation for training camp that would bring the team to Toronto and Rochester on an every other year basis. It would allow the Bills to hit on both areas they’re attempting to regionalize to. Their current site at St John Fisher could remain while they could move to a school like McMaster University – which happens to have a stunning athletics complex – in Hamilton as their Canadian base for training camp every other year.
McMaster makes sense to me for a few reasons. They have two full football fields (lined for Canadian football) and another pair of soccer fields on their very impressive campus which is actually a larger version of St. John Fisher in many ways. The school is in Hamilton and is a hop and a skip from metro Toronto and well within driving distance from Buffalo. I also happen to have been to McMaster’s stadium before and it’s pretty much the only school I’m aware of in Ontario that would fit the bill for an NFL training camp.
One way to capitalize on such a move would be to reintroduce mixed practices or a controlled scrimmage to the training camp regimen. So long as it was done properly, the Bills could host a nationally relevant team each year for either mixed practices or a live scrimmage which would hopefully draw the interest of football fans in the area. Considering the fact that so many fans at each Bills game have been decidedly not Bills fans, I can’t imagine this would be a bad step to take.
Obviously getting the Patriots or Broncos to make the trip is pretty much out of the question. And the Browns are about as relevant as the Bills, or the gum on the bottom of your shoe. However, the Lions have a quarterback and receiver who a ton of people are interested in. And they already play the Bills in the preseason every year. Why not run through a week of controlled scrimmages or mixed practices leading up to the annual preseason game. Play it in Toronto for all I care, it’s just preseason. The key would be getting Matt Stafford and Megatron out in front of the football fans in Toronto for a few days while they play against the team which happens to play 90 minutes away.
Perhaps there’s no perfect solution to what is quickly growing into a big problem for the Bills. The fans hate the Toronto series. The players hate the Toronto series and now it seems as if many executives are starting to sour on it as well.
If they’re not going to cancel it, they might as well try to improve it. No matter how difficult that seems to be.