North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

The Bills were never coming to Toronto anyway

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I try to run a positive blog here; there’s a lot of negativity around Toronto sports sometimes. But it’s not always feasible. This is one of those times.

Last Friday, the Buffalo Bills reached an agreement with the state of New York and Erie County to remain at Ralph Wilson Stadium until 2020. A lot of money changes hands in this deal. Some $130 million is earmarked for Ralph Wilson. It’ll be nice to renovate the stadium, long considered one of the NFL’s worst. And it gives an idea of stability for the Bills, whose post-Ralph Wilson future looks sometimes shaky; once he’s gone, what happens to the team?

But it’s a slap in the face to Toronto, where a group has long coveted the team coming across the border and is just winding down a five-year agreement where the Bills played a game at the Rogers Centre. It’s hard not to get the feeling Toronto was used to leverage a better deal from the state and county governments. After all, it showed the NFL would allow games on the other side of the border. Honestly, it’s hard not to be a little miffed at the way this all went down.

After their final appearance in Toronto, Bills center Eric Woods called the game a joke. First thought: he was describing his team’s defence, which was blown up by Seattle in a 50-17 loss. Second thought: way to kick Toronto on the way out, knowing you’ll probably never have to face those people again. Third thought: he’s right. The Toronto Series was a joke. The crowds were never there, the stadium was dull and lifeless and the team stank every season. As I recall, they won exactly one game in Toronto. And it cost more to see one of these games than it would to see the Bills at Ralph Wilson, too: tickets this year started at $48; they’re 500-level seats, natch. Tickets can be had for this Sunday’s game for $30. Lower bowl seats, too.

Maybe the comparative failure of this series is why his comments haven’t dominated sports media in this town. A quick scan of the Fan’s headlines from the past week shows his comments coming up exactly once. I don’t remember it ever coming up once when I listened. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Toronto doesn’t seem exactly torn up over the Bills extension.

I’ve long held the opinion that the NFL is never coming full-time to Toronto. There’s a bunch of reasons why: Toronto ratings don’t mean jack to American networks and by extension would damage national TV deals; the Rogers Centre is too small by the NFL’s standards (and it a bad football stadium, to boot); the impact it’d have on the CFL, more than occasionally useful for developing NFL prospects; the logistical problems of building a new, NFL-sized stadium in the GTA (Where’s it going to go? Who’s going to pay for it? Who is going to use it the rest of the time?). An extension to the Toronto series is possibly forthcoming – a recent Toronto Star story says it could come “early next year” – but with Rogers heavy focus on the Blue Jays, I can’t say I’d be surprised if this one languishes away.

So what then to make of the Bills decision to double down on Buffalo? It makes sense from a practical standpoint – Ralph Wilson, for all it’s flaws is probably a better football stadium than the Rogers Centre – and it makes sense from the TV deal side, too: I’m sure CBS would rather have a team playing home games in a city where they have a station. But I can’t shake the “Toronto was used” feeling. The games here weren’t a success and I can’t help but feel they weren’t supposed to be. Did the Bills ever want to leave Buffalo? To Toronto, where there’s no ready stadium, no ready ownership group and a fanbase that never filled the Rogers Centre?

I said it before, I’ll say it again. I don’t buy the Bills in Toronto. They were never going to come here. The difference is, it’s now in writing.

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Written by M.

December 25, 2012 at 11:20 pm

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