(From the Buffalo News)
Today's NFL column comes from the Prepare for Reality Department regarding Bills games in Toronto.
Expect there to be more of them in the regular season.
It's not official, and I don't see any deal being announced this month. But a finalized deal eventually will be announced by November or December, at the latest. The extension already was approved by the NFL in May. And all signs that I can see point to more than five regular season games over five years.
The Bills, of course, see Southern Ontario as only growing in importance to the viability of their franchise. Southern Ontario has crept past Rochester in the Bills' regionalization effort, accounting for a bit more than 15 percent of the fans at games in Orchard Park. The Bills struck a windfall deal - $78 million over five years - that ends after this season. The total value of the deal got reduced a bit last year when Toronto gave back an exhibition game to the Bills. But it was still a windfall.
The Bills no doubt want as lucrative a deal as they can get over the next five years from Rogers Communications, the media giant that is their Canadian partner. The Bills want to strengthen their footprint there. Toronto doesn't want any exhibition games. The way to pump up the deal for the next five years is to give Rogers more regular season games.
Eight regular-season games over five years? A 2-1-2-1-2 scenario? Don't be surprised if it ends up something like that, give or take a game.
A subplot to the Toronto partnership is the Bills' season-ticket sales total for this year. The Bills announced their total of 43,267 as a 16 percent increase over last year (up by 5,912).
However, the 2011 total was depressed by the lockout. And the 2012 total came after the Bills had arguably the best spending offseason in their history, given the deals for Mario Williams, Stevie Johnson, Mark Anderson and Fred Jackson. Add the popular promotion of Dave Wannstedt to defensive coordinator, it's hard to imagine the Bills making a bigger splash.
Yet their total still is below the 2010 figure of 44,084. It ranks seventh over the last 10 years.
The quote from Bills Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon announcing the ticket total was: "Season ticket holders continue to be the building blocks of our franchise. A strong season ticket base is the ultimate home-field advantage."
Excuse me for reading between the lines, but that doesn't sound like Brandon doing back flips. The Bills no doubt were hoping for better.
Do they deserve better? No, not after 12 years of losing and after selling out more games in the '00s than in the 1990s. But I doubt that's the way the Bills see it, in a league where two-thirds of the teams sell out without even trying. In the offices of One Bills Drive, they aren't saying, "Maybe we should have had a different ad campaign," or "Maybe Chan should have gone to the Kiwanis Club." They're saying the market is what it is.
The Bills do a lot of market research. I suspect they're having serious doubts about whether the team realistically can hit the 50,000 mark year after year. It only has happened twice since 1993 (in 2008 and 2009) and five times since 1974.
There are about 20,000 tickets left for each of the three December games in Orchard Park. Extra games in Toronto in December loom as an attractive business model.
I don't think Bills fans will be doing back flips.