The Buffalo Bills usually travel to Canada to play one of their “home” games at the Rogers Centre every season, an arrangement known as the “Toronto Series,” but that will not be the case in 2014.
According to the team’s official website, the franchise will be taking a year off from its annual trip to Toronto and returning that home game to Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Bills President and CEO Russ Brandon made a joint announcement with Keith Pelley, President of Rogers Media, Wednesday morning, explaining why the decision came about, via the Bills website:
The Buffalo Bills and Rogers are committed to delivering a first-class NFL experience to Canadians. As such, we have postponed for one year the scheduled 2014 regular season game at Rogers Centre in Toronto, and that game will return to Ralph Wilson Stadium. We will use this time to collectively evaluate opportunities and build on the foundation to enhance future games.
Brandon and Pelley noted that this does not mark the end of the franchise’s partnership with Rogers Media and there is still a strong push to bring the NFL to Canada.
While the team won’t be making a physical appearance in Toronto, there will be sponsorships, merchandising, tailgating and more for Bills games north of the border, per the team's website:
We are committed to continuing our partnership and have secured a robust sponsorship agreement for the 2014 season that will bring Canadian NFL fans visibility and access to the Bills. The sponsorship includes ticketing, merchandising, media exposure, and a newly created Canada House, near Ralph Wilson Stadium, that will serve as the official pre-game Canadian tailgate zone for all Bills home games.
The NFL remains very popular in Canada and we are dedicated to enriching the experience for the fans.
Buffalo had been playing a home game in Toronto every year since the inaugural contest back in 2008. The team and stadium recently extended the arrangement after completing the terms of the original five-year deal, which included six regular-season games at the Rogers Centre.
However, the fan response in Canada hasn't exactly been strong. According to Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News, last year’s overtime loss against the Atlanta Falcons drew a crowd of 38,969—"at least 12,000 short of a sellout."
The team hasn't performed particularly well in Toronto either. The Bills have gone just 1-5 during meaningful contests played in Canada, and players have not seemed too thrilled about the arrangement.
Adam Benigni of NBC Buffalo approves of the decision to postpone the Toronto Series, stating that Buffalo had no home-field advantage and it was especially apparent last season:
Eric Wood, the franchise’s center, called the Toronto Series a “joke” and went on to say the Bills had little support away from their usual home during an appearance on Norton in the Morning on 97 Rock back in December of 2012, according to Tim Graham of 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.
There are currently no concrete plans to re-boot the series after a year off, so this could spell the end of the Bills’ agreement with Rogers Media to play home games in Canada.
Buffalo is currently preparing for free agency, as the franchise has numerous holes to fill in order to field a roster that can get this team into the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The team also holds the No. 9 pick in the draft and could target a linebacker, offensive tackle or wide receiver in Round 1.
With another true home game under their belt, the tall task of getting back to the postseason just became a tad easier for the Bills.