On 2nd thought ... Bills to review benefits of games in Toronto
Fans enter the Rogers Centre before the Buffalo Bills play the Atlanta Falcons in NFL football action in Toronto, Sunday Dec. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Mark Blinch)
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson (13) fumbles as he is tackled by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert McClain (27) during the second half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, in Toronto. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
A man throws a football at the tailgate party on Front Street before the Buffalo Bills play the Atlanta Falcons in NFL football action in Toronto, Sunday Dec. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Mark Blinch)
John Lee, lawyer for Qing Quentin Huang, speaks with the media outside of a courthouse in Toronto, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, after Huang's bail hearing was put off until a later date . Huang, 53, was arrested last Saturday for allegedly trying to sell classified information to the Chinese government about Canada's warship building procurement strategy. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Mark Blinch)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Bills center Eric Wood was not at all surprised hearing team president Russ Brandon raise concerns whether Buffalo loses a competitive edge playing annual home games in Toronto.
Brandon first questioned the benefits of the “Bills In Toronto” series during a meeting with Wood and fellow team captains about a month ago.
“He knew that a lot of players have expressed some harsh feelings toward Toronto,” Wood said Wednesday. “And he basically told us as captains that he was going to do whatever it takes around here to win. And that’s something he wanted to address.”
Brandon went public with his concerns during his weekly show on Buffalo’s WGR-AM earlier in the day. While noting the Bills’ games north of the border have boosted the small-market franchise’s revenues, Brandon added that they haven’t paid off in wins.
Following Sunday’s 34-31 overtime loss to Atlanta, Buffalo dropped to 1-5 in Toronto since the series was established in 2008.
“It has been a challenged market there, and certainly has not translated into enough wins for us there,” Brandon said. “Nothing comes above winning. When I took over the reins on Jan. 1, I said that was the No. 1 focus, and that will be the No. 1 focus. That’s one of the reasons that this will be reviewed in a grand manner.”
Brandon stopped short of saying the Bills would consider or be allowed to opt out of the four remaining years of the deal, which they renewed in January with Toronto-based Rogers Communications.
Wood has been among several players who have criticized the series. He called the games in Toronto “a joke” last year following a 50-17 loss to Seattle.
Last week, receiver Stevie Johnson questioned whether the warm-weather Falcons “fixed” the schedule in getting to play indoors at the domed Rogers Centre, and avoid the wintry conditions — and traditionally more raucous environment — at Ralph Wilson Stadium .
The loss put a big dent in the Bills’ chances of staying in the AFC playoff race. At 4-8, Buffalo plays three of its final four on the road, beginning with a trip to Tampa Bay (3-9) on Sunday.
Buffalo is in jeopardy of extending the NFL’s longest active postseason drought to 14 seasons. And the Bills will go a ninth straight year without a winning record.
The Bills are 0-4 at Toronto during December. Their lone win came on Oct. 30, 2011, when they defeated Washington 23-0.
Rogers officials declined to comment on Brandon’s statements. So did NFL vice president Christopher Parsons, who heads the league’s international offices.
The Bills made the decision to play games in Toronto, about a 2-hour drive from Buffalo, in a bid to expand their fan base and generate additional revenue from Canada’s largest city and financial capital. A lack of home-team support and poor attendance remain issues since the series started.
The series has generated revenue and lured more southern Ontario fans back to Buffalo. The Bills estimate Canadians now make up about 15 percent of their season ticket base. That rivals the number of season ticket holders the Bills get from nearby Rochester.
As part of the initial five-year deal, Rogers agreed to pay $78 million to essentially lease eight Bills home games: five regular season and three preseason. The final preseason game was eventually dropped because of scheduling difficulties.
In exchange, the Bills earned more than double what they usually generated from hosting games in Buffalo. The value of the most recent deal has not been revealed.