Bills to cross border only once per season: CEO

A general view of the Rogers Centre during the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins NFL football...

A general view of the Rogers Centre during the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins NFL football game in Toronto last October. (REUTERS)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:46 PM ET

Buffalo Bills CEO Russ Brandon on Wednesday denied a story suggesting the NFL team might play more than one home game a year in Toronto in the future.

That jibes with QMI Agency's report in May, in which a source said Toronto would continue to stage just one regular-season Bills home game a year through 2017.

"The one thing I wanted to be very clear about is we will not be playing multiple games up north," Brandon told Buffalo sports radio station WGR 550-AM.

The Buffalo News on Sunday reported the team might relocate more than one regular-season home game a year to the domed Rogers Centre, as part of the Bills-in-Toronto series renewal.

"We are continuing those negotiations and we are close to an agreement, but the one thing that I will say is that the report in the Buffalo News was not accurate," Brandon said. "We will not be playing more regular-season games in Toronto."

No playoff games ever would be held in Toronto either, he said.

This season, the Bills play the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 16 at the Rogers Centre, in the final regular-season game of the original five-year deal, which saw Rogers pay the Bills $78 million.

Only one pre-season game likely will be part of the renewal, QMI Agency's source said -- not one per year, as in the original arrangement.

The source said the series extension would be less lucrative for the Bills. As a result, ticket prices would be "significantly reduced." Rogers Media was sharply criticized for the high prices of tickets of Bills-in-Toronto games.

It was no surprise, then, when Rogers Media in July slashed ticket prices by an average of 35% for this year's Bills-Seahawks game. Nearly 60% of tickets now cost under $100, and 88% are under $150.

By comparison, tickets for the first Bills-in-Toronto game in 2008 averaged $183, when tickets to games that year at Ralph Wilson Stadium averaged $51.

Rogers slashed ticket prices by 17% in Year 2, offering 11,000 tickets for under $100. But the communications/media giant still had to paper the place.

Buffalo has won only one of the four regular-season Toronto-series games -- a 23-0 pounding of the Washington Redskins last October.

Brandon told WGR the cross-border series has renewed interest in the Bills in Ontario.

"When we stood up and talked about this (five years ago), we talked about bringing our fans from southern Ontario and the (Greater Toronto Area) back to Ralph Wilson Stadium," Brandon said. "And that has been the biggest positive of this agreement.

"Five years ago roughly 11% of our fans came from southern Ontario. (Now) literally 20% of the fans each and every Sunday are here from that location. It has definitely worked. And, again, it comes back to keeping the team viable here in western New York, and that is a huge part of it."

The crowd at last Sunday's home opener at the Ralph was 69,402. Brandon's accounting suggests about 14,000 came from across the Niagara River.

Brandon said he is aware that Bills fans in the Buffalo area are unhappy about the Toronto series.

"I understand where fans are just never going to wrap their arms around the Toronto initiative, but I think we look at it in a different fashion," he said. "That is a market of close to five million people, and I think people should be upset if we were not trying to market up in that region."

john.kryk@sunmedia.ca

@JohnKryk

blogs.canoe.ca/krykslants/


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