40,000 expected for freebies-free Bills-in-Toronto game

Rogers

Expect another crowd of about 40,000 for Bills-in-Toronto VI.

And for the second consecutive year, that’s a real number. Freebies-free.

The Buffalo Bills (4-7) play host to the Atlanta Falcons (2-9) on Sunday at 4 p.m. EST, under the winter-shielding roof of the Rogers Centre (Sportsnet, Citytv).

As so many Torontonians suspected, the Rogers Centre was papered up to its retractable roof for the first four games in the annual series, to make up for sales shortfalls owing to ridiculously priced tickets.

But starting last year, Rogers Media Inc. — which pays the Bills for the right to relocate one home game per year to Toronto’s downtown domed stadium — not only further slashed ticket prices, but stopped giving away tickets just to put bums in empty blue seats.

A crowd of 40,770 last December watched the streaking Seattle Seahawks obliterate Chan Gailey’s last bad Bills team, 50-17. That attendance figure is exactly 90% of the Rogers Centre’s 45,300 capacity for NFL football, and 93% of non-suite “in the bowl” capacity.

“Last year we started a no-comps policy, and we’re continuing that trend this year,” said Bills-in-Toronto executive director Greg Albrecht.

“It doesn’t help anybody when you start giving away tickets to any sort of event. Some people will say that there’s a real fine line between selling tickets and giving away tickets to fill a building and create atmosphere. But we think you create atmosphere by creating value in the ticket, so that’s what we’re continuing to do.”

Albrecht said they’ve sold about 82% of the tickets for Sunday’s game.

“That’s tracking almost equal to last year,” he said in a telephone interview.

It’s no secret that the vast majority of Bills fans in Western New York, some 90 minutes to four hours away by car, refuse to come to the Toronto games.

They cite various reasons … The tickets are too costly. Or it’s too far a drive. Or they can’t properly tailgate (as there are no huge parking lots in downtown Toronto, and drinking alcohol outside of licensed establishments is illegal in Ontario).

But they eschew mainly because, in their view, it’s tantamount to subsidizing their beloved team’s future relocation to T.O. — which is every Western New York Bills fan’s worst nightmare.

But without providing specific numbers, Albrecht said ticket sales from Western New Yorkers this year are up slightly.

“It’s going to be about a 5% lift for people coming from Buffalo,” Albrecht said. “It’s definitely getting better.

“I think from this year on, there will be an appreciable increase in Buffalo fans coming here, because we have a lot of things to do here other than just the game. And I think our moniker of ‘This is the NFL, Toronto style’ is starting to bear a little bit of fruit, in terms of having those folks come up here on that weekend and enjoy the rest of what Toronto has to offer.”

Another reason for the slight bump in interest across the Niagara River is that the Bills aren’t entirely of the playoff hunt. They’re only one game out of the second AFC wildcard playoff berth, although eight other teams are in that fight.

BILLSThere’s also real hope for the future, thanks to new team president (Russ Brandon), new GM (Doug Whaley), new head coach (Doug Marrone) and new quarterback (first-round draft pick EJ Manuel, my photo, left).

Last year, it was a shock to hear so many fans rooting for the Seahawks. Hundreds wore Seahawks gear.

The Falcons are unlikely to repeat it. They were expected to be among the top teams in the NFL, after finishing 10 yards from reaching last year’s Super Bowl. But a rash of key injuries dissolved those hopes.

The Falcons haven’t won since Oct. 20 and have scored more than 13 points only once since then. The team’s motto is “Rise Up” but few Falcons fans are expected to fly up for this game.

So it might actually even sound something like a Bills home game.

We’ll say it again: once the Bills start winning, all those fans of the team in the Greater Toronto Area that crammed that convoy of buses to Orchard Park in the early ’90s will be back on the team’s bandwagon. And they’ll make Bills-in-Toronto games a coveted ticket in this city — and create nearly as much a homefield advantage for the Bills as Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Until then, this will have to do.

 

Good vibrations have to be quick

BEACHBarbara Ann, wouldn’t it be nice if they all could be California Sloop John B. Surfin’ Safaris?

The Beach Boys are performing a medley of their hits at halftime of Sunday’s Bills-in-Toronto VI. Hopefully they won’t have to wedge their classics together as drastically as that.

NFL halftimes are but 12 minutes long during the regular season.

Setup, performance, takedown, kicker warmups — all in that time.

“We don’t get a time extension, unfortunately,” said Bills-in-Toronto executive director Greg Albrecht.

“We can apply for a very short extension, but a team can only do that once a season, and the Bills have already done that. So we are in a 12-minute window.”

The roadies won’t bother wheeling out an elaborate stage to midfield. Time is of the essence.

“The Beach Boys obviously have a number of hits throughout the years and they’ll be performing a medley,” Albrecht said. “I’m sure everybody will know one or two or three, or maybe all of them.”

Just don’t sneeze or you might miss all those good vibrations.

 

Rogers Centre debuts softer turf

Eat your heart out, Toronto Argos.

The Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons on Sunday will play on a softer artificial surface at the Rogers Centre than the CFL’s Argos ever have.

For the first time in the domed stadium’s 24-year history, a soft underpad will separate the concrete floor from the artificial playing surface.

“This is a debut for the Rogers Centre,” said Bills-in-Toronto executive director Greg Albrecht.

“Obviously in our stadium the field is removable. It’s a multi-use facility. When we’re not in baseball or football mode and we’re in concert mode, it’s a bare concrete floor.

“For this game we’ve added a very dense rubber underpadding, beneath the normal turf.”

Albrecht said reps from the stadium, the Bills and the NFL met to “look at ways to make it a little bit more ‘home-fieldy,’ and this certainly will hit that mark.

“I know that we tested it a couple of times with the NFL present, as well as with the Falcons and the Bills. When we did our compression test and we did our field test, everybody was very excited to be playing on that, and appreciative of the extra effort we’re going through.”

Maybe the Bills and Falcons will donate their unused ointments and bandages to the Argos.

 

Going to the game? Beware bag policy

If you’re going to Bills-in-Toronto VI, you need to be aware of the NFL’s new, strict policy on what you can bring into the stadium.

Only small, clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bags that do not exceed 12 inches by six inches by 12 inches can be brought in. Such bags will be sold outside the Rogers Centre.

Also allowed are one-gallon clear plastic freezer bags.

As for purses, only small clutch bags the approximate size of a hand (with or without a strap or handle) are permitted.

The only exceptions are for medically necessary items, which must be approved after gate inspection.

Prohibited items include traditional-sized purses, shoulder bags, hand bags, backpacks, briefcases, fanny packs, cinch bags, coolers, luggage of any kind, computer bags and camera bags.

“Come with your coats and leave it at that,” said Bills-in-Toronto executive director Greg Albrecht.

For more information, click here.

 

Street festival still includes the Jills!

BUFFALOThe Bills in Toronto Pregame Festival has expanded this year.

Located again at Front & John Streets, the street party goes on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

It again will be licensed for alcohol consumption and feature live music, food, a beer tent, big-screen TVs on which to watch early games, vendor booths and other NFL-related tents.

The Buffalo Jills cheerleaders also will make an appearance, as will a couple of former Bills players.

“Based on police reports, we had about 25,000 people go through last year’s first festival, or stay for a while,” said Bills-in-Toronto executive director Greg Albrecht. “And it was raining sideways.

“We had a packed beer garden, and the entire street area was licensed (for alcohol consumption) with our Ontario festival licence. We’re doing the same thing this year.”

A new second festival takes place at Yonge-Dundas Square on Saturday and again on Sunday before gametime. Called Football 101, it’s intended to introduce the unfamiliar to the NFL version of the game.

“One other thing we’ve added this year, and we’ve received a lot of interest in it, is something we call the Cross-Border Huddle,” Albrecht said.

“It’s all about cross-border trade, international finance, labour mobility, customs and brokerage — they’re all the things you can learn about, and participate in, during the business symposium. Every registration gets you a ticket to the game, hosted in a suite, and all those registrants go to Real Sports the next day for this half-day symposium.”

For more information, click here.

 

 

One thought on “40,000 expected for freebies-free Bills-in-Toronto game

  1. ted

    don’t make me laugh…there is no way they actually “sold” nearly 40,000….last year they only sold 16,000 real tickets the rest were give away’s. NEVER let the NFL come to Canada…screw them and keep them in the states….The fans of real football..CFL will stop this at all costs..screw u Rogers.

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