We should find out by next week if Bills-in-Toronto survives or dies

BILLS

If the Buffalo Bills are pulling the plug this year on their annual Toronto series, we’ll find out by next week.

That’s when the NFL club finally intends to mail out season-ticket renewal forms, a team spokesman said in an e-mail on Wednesday.

Bills season-ticket holders, of course, need to know whether there will be seven or eight home games this fall at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Since 2008 the Bills have relocated one regular-season home game, and two pre-season games, to the Rogers Centre in Toronto. (One more preseason game by 2017 is contracted.) Only the club’s 14-year playoff drought sears the souls of Western New York Bills fans more than this series.

The team is weeks overdue in mailing out these renewal forms, at least based on recent history. Usually the club does so shortly after the Super Bowl, in early February, according to three season ticket holders.

The Bills already have informed season-ticket holders, via e-mail, to be prepared to pay the first instalment on their renewals “in early March.” March, of course, begins on Saturday.

A Feb. 18 email received by at least one Bills season-ticket holder promised that the club would mail out renewal forms this week. Apparently that is not happening now.

How do we know the Bills are even negotiating with Rogers Media Inc. — the Canadian multi-media conglomerate that stages and co-manages the Toronto game — to prematurely end the cross-border series?

We don’t. No one from either organization has said as much.

But if the two sides are not engaged in serious talks either to alter the remaining four years of the renewed deal, or scotch it entirely, then there would be no reason the Bills could not have announced as much weeks ago.

Really, if that were the case, why not just come out and say, “Of course the series will continue, as contracted.” Otherwise why string your most loyal fans along?

Speaking of whom, Bills fans have been not-so quietly hoping — many praying, no doubt — that Buffalo’s disastrous 34-31 overtime loss to Atlanta on Dec. 1 will stand as the last game the Bills will ever play at Toronto’s downtown displeasure dome.

The Bills themselves are to blame for all this speculation.

Only 11 months after the team and Rogers announced a five-year extension to the original five-year deal in January 2013, team president and CEO Russ Brandon told Buffalo radio station WGR 550-AM on Dec. 4 — three days after the Bills’ crushing loss to the Falcons in Toronto — that the team would assess the future of the series after the season.

“One of the things I said (upon rising to team president) was I was going to review every phase of this operation, and this series comes within that framework,” Brandon told WGR.

“There is a full evaluation that will take place on all of our business (including) what this series means, and I’m going to look at it very closely.”

More specifically regarding the Toronto series, Brandon said, “It has been a challenged market there and certainly has not translated into enough wins for us there.”

The Bills have lost five of six regular-season games at the Rogers Centre. In just about every other way the games have been similarly disastrous. Torontonians could hardly care less about these games.

Bills fans in Central Ontario are even boycotting the games, because most prefer to watch their team play at the Ralph rather than at the atmosphere-disintegrator also known as the Rogers Centre.

Worst of all, freebies were given out again this past season, despite firm assurances from both Rogers and the Bills that that pathetic practice had been discontinued in 2012. And yet more than 6,000 seats sat empty for the Bills-Falcons game.

A few days later, I wrote a column outlining why the series is unfixable, why it’s a losing proposition for every stakeholder involved —  the Bills, Rogers, the Rogers Centre, NFL fans in Toronto, Bills fans in Western New York and the NFL itself — and why it needs to end.

The shocking comments from Brandon on Dec. 4 had been the first time anyone from the Bills — outside of players, of course — had publicly questioned the validity of the Toronto series.

If Brandon had no thought of perhaps pulling the plug, he didn’t need to say all that. What’s more, he could have backtracked any time in the 84 days since, but he has chosen not to.

In fact, at the Bills’ season-ending news conference on Dec. 30 Brandon, if anything, splashed more fuel on the fire.

“We’re still in that evaluation mode,” Brandon said that day. “Nothing has changed since the last time I spoke on (the Toronto series).

“We’re going to have a thorough organizational meeting on anything and everything that touches the football operation. And we’re going to do everything in our power (to) empower (head coach Doug Marrone and GM Doug Whaley) in their roles.”

Can the Bills pull out of the agreement with Rogers? Not unilaterally. I reported exclusively in December that both sides would have to agree to do so, otherwise the contract is ironclad.

On Jan. 4 I reported that the Bills and Rogers planned to meet in the second week of January, based on information passed along by a reliable source in the know.

The Bills denied the report, and the meeting did not take place.

But I’ve learned that at least one Rogers representative was in New York City on Super Bowl weekend. So was Mary Owen, the Bills’ executive vice-president of strategic planning and the club’s point person on Bills-in-Toronto negotiations.

Talks might have taken place there.

Brandon declined all interview requests at the scouting combine last week, and was not made available to comment on this story.

Similarly, a request for a statement from Rogers as to the status of the Bills-in-Toronto series was not answered on Wednesday.

A lot of the time in the journalism business, and in life in general, people say a lot more by what they don’t say, or don’t do.

We’ll find out next week if this was one of those times.

 

One thought on “We should find out by next week if Bills-in-Toronto survives or dies

  1. RW

    Considering how paranoid Bills fans are about this Toronto series of games John, it would seem you know something that no one else knows. Since the Russ Brandon December comments, there has not been a peep out of any of the Buffalo media and you would think if something was up they would be the first to know. Apparently not.

    Allow me to speculate. I submit nothing will change in the current contract, however, after that all bets are off. In a recent interview with President Paul Beeston, he confirmed the Jays have targeted 2018 as the season they will commence having natural grass at the dome where since the seats will no longer be able to be moved and it will remain as a baseball only facility, football, the Bills AND Argos will probably be history.

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