Bye-bye BillsRogers says no thanks to more Buffalo exhibition games in Toronto. Trouble is, does anyone care?
By BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency
|Kids in the crowd enjoy the game between the Bills and the Redskins at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., Oct. 30, 2011. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - The biggest freebie in Toronto sports is history.
The Bills In Toronto exhibition game at Rogers Centre is being moved back to Buffalo. The official press release claims a “potential scheduling conflict”.
Unofficially, there will be speculation and suggestions that dumping the August game from the Rogers Centre schedule is due to a “potential lack of interest”. Or at least a lack of interest in spending a week’s grocery money to watch a bunch of guys who are mere weeks from playing in the Indoor Football League.
Reality lies somewhere between the two.
Let’s just say that Rogers Media, which bought the eight-game series in 2008, isn’t sorry to say good-bye to the biggest mistake since Enron — or the Edsel.
First the official word: Rogers Media president Keith Pelley said Tuesday the Blue Jays take up two August weekends with a homestand. A third weekend event, currently wrapped in secrecy, takes up another weekend. But it’s a safe bet that event will make money for Rogers — unlike the Bills’ exhibition. “That left Aug. 26 and the NFL couldn’t guarantee that date,” said Pelley, “so we agreed to move the game back (to Ralph Wilson Stadium).”
And everybody in the Rogers’ boardroom said, “Hallelujah!”
Fans who bought tickets will be reimbursed — not that there are a lot of those. And having paid up to $275 a pop to spend the last four years sitting next to folks on freebies, many of those are likely saying “hallelujah,” too.
Only about 15,000 ticket packages (five regular season and three preseason games) were sold.
Toronto sports fans didn’t buy into Roger Clemens. They never bought into Doug Flutie and if Dion Phaneuf wasn’t wearing a Leafs’ jersey, they wouldn’t be sure about him, either. Toronto fans will not pay $275 for a lower bowl seat to watch an exhibition game with guys they’ve hardly heard of, playing for a team with which they have no emotional attachment.
The current series started overhyped and absurdly expensive — and it has never lost that perceptipon even though tickets could be bought last year for as little as $33.
True, the 2011 regular season game sold out. The “sold,” even then, remains a euphemism. It wasn’t difficult to find someone who thought the best thing about the game was the beer, and the fact they got their tickets for their mother’s brother’s uncle’s dog’s best friend. Or something.
Companies couldn’t give them away quick enough. So, now, Rogers Media just gave the whole game away. Perhaps in the process they have also provided a hint into the future of the NFL in this city. The six games in this series created little buzz and there was never a sense that this was a special happening.
The Series hasn’t fulfilled anyone’s vision. Rogers paid too much when they invested $78 million. The Bills, hoping to spread their fan base, failed to accomplish that. They drew just 39,583 fans for a 2010 preseason game against the Colts. As for that underlying hope that this might be Toronto’s entry into the NFL, just weeks ago, at the Super Bowl, commissioner Roger Goodell said the league had zero intention of expanding. Zero intention of moving.
And Toronto had zero interest in this exhibition game.
“Overall, fans won’t look at this as a negative thing,” said Pelley.
Rogers Media doesn’t make many mistakes, but what was envisioned as a corporate boon has been a massive boondoggle. And this latest give-back is simply an unspoken admission. And unwilling admission, perhaps, but one where actions speak more than press releases.
If Rogers really wanted this game, they’d find a way to work around the Jays. Monster trucks, preachers and rockers come along every weekend. It’s the NFL! You make time for the biggest, most succesful pro league in North America. Unless you don’t care.
And this is one game nobody cared about. Not the fans. Not the NFL. And, mostly, not Rogers.
There is every sign that they were losing their shirts, pants and jockstraps. Now they get to keep the jockstraps.
It’s less embarrassing that way. “Our commitment to the Bills,” said Pelley, “is very strong ... as we continue to negotiate extending our deal.”
Meantime, another press release from the Bills Tuesday announced: “Bills Season Ticket Prices To Remain Flat” — a description that pretty much sums up the team’s performances, too. So while it’s unclear what Rogers’ new deal will include, bet on one thing: Cheaper tickets. As puppies go, it’s the only way this one actually sells.