If the Buffalo Bills are going to put up their first winning record since 2002 any time in the next five years, they'll have to do it with one fewer home game than everyone else.
That is the implication of the renewed deal on the Toronto series, which slates the Bills to play one home game per year in the Rogers Centre.
The problem is, those home games do not have the same environment as a home game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"I think that Toronto series has turned into pretty much a joke," Bills center Eric Wood said on "Norton in the Morning" on 97 Rock back in December (via The Buffalo News).
"I think they started it hoping that we'd have a lot of fan support in Toronto. We have none. I mean, it's a crucial third down for them in the first quarter, and they're running just regular snap count, where I don't care if we have a half-filled Ralph Wilson Stadium, they don't do that."
It's understandable Wood would feel that way. A total of 40,770 fans came to the Rogers Centre, which seats 49,539, for this year's game, filling 82.3 percent of the seats. In 2012, the Bills average attendance at Ralph Wilson Stadium was around 87.8 percent of capacity.
Bills CEO Russ Brandon answered questions about the atmosphere at the Rogers Centre at his press conference there on Tuesday (via Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 SportsRadio):
"We're not trying to replicate the experience of Ralph Wilson Stadium. There's 55 years of great tradition there. We're trying to build a new tradition here with one game a year, and have all these fans come back and experience one, two, maybe eight games, seven games, down at Ralph Wilson Stadium. And we have seen that over the last five years. We've seen double digit increases in fans coming from southern Ontario. Southern Ontario is now our number-two sister market when it comes to fans in Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sundays."
A double-digit increase doesn't seem like anything to boast about in a stadium that seats 73,967. The fact that Southern Ontario boasts the No. 2 attendance rate at the Ralph may also have a little something to do with its proximity to Western New York (112 miles and less than two hours from the Rogers Centre to Ralph Wilson Stadium).
Consider the following: Not only are the Bills 1-4 in Toronto, they are 29-51 overall in the five years since the Toronto series began. The Bills have been outscored 107-75 in Toronto games, with 50 of those points coming in a blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Their lone win came in a 23-0 shutout over the Washington Redskins in 2011, a win which lifted the team to 5-2 on the season. We know the rest: the Bills went 1-8 down the stretch to finish the season a dismal 6-10.
If only they had played that home game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, who knows how well the season would have gone for them—probably not much better than it did, though.
The product they've put on the field in Toronto has not been good; the product they've put on the field overall has been bad, too. That points to the bigger issue with the Bills: talent.
Trying to grab fans from other areas because the local fans are becoming disenchanted is the kind of backwards thinking that leads a franchise, which has been in the dumps for over a decade, in the wrong direction.
Until that talent is found and/or maximized, the Bills will still be a below average team. Taking away one home game a year doesn't help get them any closer the goal of bucking that trend.
In signing this deal, it seems the Bills are okay with that in their forecast.
At least now with the new lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium, we know that a permanent move is not in the master plan.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.
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