Sunday marks the fifth regular season game since 2008 that the Buffalo Bills will play in Toronto’s Rogers Centre, when they face the Seattle Seahawks. The annual NFL Bills game in Toronto has not exactly been an overwhelming success, with all four previous meetings failing to sell out the 54,000 seat stadium. Three preseason games have also been played that drew even fewer fans.
There are several reasons why this series has failed to generate the fan interest that was initially hoped for. The average ticket price for the Bills’ first game in Toronto against the Miami Dolphins in 2008 was an exorbitant $160 due to basic greed and unrealistically high expectations. As a result of lukewarm interest in previous games, the average price for this year’s game has been dropped to $99. To put this into perspective, this is at a time when local fans have no Toronto Maple Leafs games to spend their money on due to the NHL lockout.
The NFL’s experiment north of the border got off to a very poor start and left a very bad taste in many people’s mouth when the sky high Sky Dome ticket prices for the inaugural game were announced. Rogers Communications paid the Bills $78 million for the right to market and sell tickets for eight games (three pre-season and five regular season) in Canada. While Rogers was looking to take advantage of fans and clean up on this deal, they are the ones who have had their clock cleaned.
Another reason why the Canadian initiative has been a failure is because nobody in Toronto is terribly interested in the Bills, an organization which has not had a decent team since QB Jim Kelly retired two decades ago. Toronto fans already have one perennial loser to support in the Maple Leafs and are obviously not interested in adopting another one.
The series has also drawn the ire of Buffalo fans, since they have lost several home division rival games, which they cherish most. In addition, Bills faithful are obviously not too thrilled in having to make the two hour drive in December to a city that is not exactly known as a hopping town. Now, if the game was played in a Canadian city with some pizzazz, like Montreal, it would be a different story.
In order to attempt to draw more fans for Sunday’s game, South Korean rapper Psy has been brought in to perform at halftime. Yeah, that will do the trick, since football fans go to games to watch lip syncing pop stars. At least Gangnam Style will add some style to a game that has lacked luster and importance over the past several years.
Regardless of past failures due to fan apathy for a game that has been seen as a cash grab, Rogers is exploring renewing the series after the current agreement expires after Sunday’s eighth and final game. It remains to be seen if frigid Torontonians will shell out some bills and warm up to a team that has been frozen in the cellar for far too long.
If the Bills do eventually make a permanent move north of the border, at least the Maple Leafs will finally have some company. However, in this case, does misery really need company?