The Buffalo Bills announced will not play a game in Toronto the upcoming 2014 season, meaning all 8 home games will be played at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park. The Bills have played a game at the Rogers Centre for the past six seasons, the most recent this past December when the Bills fell to the Atlanta Falcons 34-31.
Bills CEO and President Russ Brandon told WGR that the series is now under review.
"There is nothing like the experience at Ralph Wilson Stadium," Brandon said.
There has not been an answer on what this means for the future of the Bills playing games in Toronto, only that this is just a "one-year hiatus." The Bills are 1-5 in games at the Rogers Centre and have yet it make the Rogers Centre feel like a home-field environment. The Bills do not want to lose its fans from the Southern Ontario area. The Bills offices have said that they attract more fans from the Ontario area than from Rochester area.
"This year was a setback," Brandon said. "We made some strides...we just felt we have to look at this in greater detail. It was more of a neutral site type game this year and that's something we don't want."
The Bills started a five year partnership with the Rogers Centre in 2008, and in 2013 they extended the deal until the 2017 season. There has been no say on what will happen with the upcoming seasons.
Brandon spoke with the media at One Bills Drive. Here is the complete transcript below:
Q: How big of a disappointment is this for both sides to have it be postponed?
A: There have been a lot of positives that have come with the series. Most notably has been the influx of fans that have come from the Southern Ontario marketplace back to Ralph Wilson Stadium. Southern Ontario and the Toronto market and the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) are now the top secondary market of the Buffalo Bills, inching past Rochester. That was far different from when we started this series six years ago. There have been a lot of positives. We have not played well up there. We have to take responsibility for that. We’re 1-5 up there and as Coach 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. I can’t say enough about the partnership that we have with Rogers, which is obviously continuing in a different facet for this year. The incredible leadership of Ed Rogers, Phil Lind, Keith Pelley. Everyone within that organization is first class and top notch. Quite frankly that’s why I’m standing here today and we were able to work through a very complex set of discussions.
Q: Was the atmosphere at the Atlanta game such that the organization felt the need to take a step back?
A: I think that’s a fair comment. Obviously we’re trying to build a fan base north of the border and this year I would say it was a neutral crowd. 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.
Q: Is there any concern that the postponement might be more permanent and that the future of the entire series is in question?
A: We’re going to go through a detailed full analysis. Most of our analysis that we’ve been through over the past few months has been more top line. We’re going to look at every aspect that if we do come back we have a more robust fan experience and try to create more of a home field advantage for us. Right now that was not the situation. That was one of the reasons we want to get in to a lot of detail with our partners up there and see if that is viable moving forward.
Q: You said if we come back, so does that open the door for the possibility that you may not?
A: What I said is that we’re going through a full evaluation process and we’ll work with our partners.
Q: What message would you like to send to the fans with this announcement?
A: My only message is the same thing I told you on January 1st of 2013. Everything is about winning. The only thing I care about is winning and this organization is set up in that capacity. Obviously we have Doug Whaley and Coach Marrone have every resource available to them. Starting with Doug with the full complement of the salary cap and the full composite of the roster to put the best product out on the field he possibly can and what he feels is best. There is nothing else that matters to anyone in this organization than winning and I feel we’re on the right path. When you speak to the marketing aspect and you speak to the business aspect, we are in a business. We would be remiss if we did not actively try to further regionalize this franchise. We’re in a challenged market, we all know that, that is on its way back. With the leadership and what people are doing in Buffalo, it’s never been more exciting times in this community. Regionalization is a key lever for us moving forward and Toronto and Southern Ontario marketplace will continue to be that. Just like Rochester is for us. That will always be a part of the business plan because at the end of the day, my responsibility is the long-term viability of this franchise and the Toronto marketplace and Southern Ontario are a key part of that.
Q: How would you characterize the first six years of this series?
A: I think it’s been a roller-coaster from the standpoint of just the losses. That’s on us. We take full responsibility for that. We’ve made strides in a lot of different ways, especially the game experience has improved. Some of the initiatives that Rogers has worked through on their end have improved, but obviously this past year was disappointing with that neutral crowd that we had there, to say the least. I think there have been positives. As I mentioned earlier, the biggest positive has been the influx of fans back here at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Q: What would you say is the average percentage of fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium from Southern Ontario?
A: Probably about 18 percent. On any given Sunday, about 18 percent from Southern Ontario and about 16 percent from the Rochester marketplace. Obviously regionalization has worked for us and it will continue to be an important variable of our business planning moving forward.
Q: There has been talk that they plan to put in a grass field at Rogers Centre. Are you aware of that and might that be a factor in the series as well?
A: I’ve heard rumors of that as well. I don’t have confirmation of that. The one thing I do know about the folks up there is they’re very progressive and always looking to enhance the situation that they have at the Rogers Centre so I can honestly tell you I don’t have confirmation. I probably heard the same rumor you have.
Q: This sponsorship agreement, is that a new agreement?
A: Yeah we have a platform that really speaks to the fans in Southern Ontario up to the GTA that will be activated across a variety of platforms by Rogers that will really speak to our Canadian fans. We’re excited about that as well. We’ve been working in parallel on that agreement and we’ll have more information on that in the very near future.
Q: So that is separate from the five-year agreement?
A: Yes it’s been enhanced, that is correct.
Q: Will there be a Toronto game in the 2015 season?
A: As I mentioned, there is nothing to clear up. We’re going through a full evaluation in this upcoming 2014 year.
Q: So it is still up in the air?
A: As I mentioned, we’re going through full evaluation.
Q: Is there a timeline for when stuff might be going out to the season ticket holders?
A: They should expect to see information from us in the next few days.
Q: Do you think you can sell out eight home games?
A: That will be what we will see. Obviously last year we had to really work for our sellouts, understandably so. 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.
Q: How much input did Coach Marrone and the players have in this decision?
A: None. Obviously from the standpoint of collaboration, I keep Coach Marrone updated on everything relative to our business and to this organization. When we hired Coach Marrone, we talked about this. He’s old school, I’ll fight you in the parking lot and play you in the parking lot type of guy. It really doesn’t affect him, but there is nothing in this organization that we don’t discuss in totality and I obviously deliver that news to him as well.
Q: What was the tipping point?
A: The tipping point for us was we’re always looking as I mentioned when I took over, everything was under evaluation. It didn’t matter what it was. As I mentioned it drew a lot of eyebrows when I mentioned training camp. Every single aspect of this football operation that has to do with winning is going to be evaluated. This was one of the variables and one of the platforms that was evaluated. As I mentioned, the winning and losing is not an excuse. That’s on our organization and we need to change that in a variety of ways. We need to change it right here at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Q: The deal was renewed after you took over as president. Was it just a matter of negotiations were so far along?
A: We were far down the road on that at that point.