The Buffalo Bills will play one regular season game in Toronto for five more years, and while many Western New Yorkers aren't keen on the idea of giving up the home games, the Bills brass says the series has been good for the team's long term viability in Buffalo.
TORONTO — "We've had population decline; we've had corporate decline," said Russ Brandon.
While most NFL markets have grown, Buffalo has gotten smaller, from the 20th largest to 56th since 1959.
"My responsibility is to make sure this team stays on solid footing."
For Bills President and CEO Russ Brandon, that meant moving Training Camp east to Rochester and in 2008, playing one home game in Toronto each year.
"And that's how we've survived long term is to regionalize our product and our brand."
It's a model designed to build the Bills' Canadian fanbase, and Brandon says it's worked.
"We've seen double digit increases in fans coming from Southern Ontario."
Since the Bills in Toronto series was launched, Brandon says the number of fans coming to the Ralph from Southern Ontario has risen from 11 percent to more than 20 percent; numbers Keith Pelley, the President of Rogers Media, says aren't surprising.
"There is no question that the appetite here in Toronto for the National Football League is very, very, large," said Pelley.
Bills fans in Western New York have been critical of the loss of a home and they're not the only ones. After this year's loss to Seattle, Bills Center Eric Wood called the series "a joke," saying the team was giving up its home field advantage. Those are comments the team's new coach downplayed.
"Wherever we play, you know it's our responsibility to win, and it's our responsibility to put a good product on that field," said Doug Marrone.
After five years, Brandon is convinced Toronto represents an opportunity for growth, one he's determined to fully tap into.
"We've got a strong base of NFL fans here and our goal is to turn them into Bills fans and the only way to do that is to win games and to play better," said Brandon.
Watch the press conference in this Online Extra:
Businesses near Ralph Wilson Stadium say they have taken a financial hit in the past five years as a result of the Bills Toronto Series.
After Tuesday's announcement, these businesses fear they will lose out on thousands of dollars of revenue that they come to expect during home games.
Management of O'Neill's Bar and Restaurant thinks the thousands of dollars' worth of lost business could give the bar a boost during the slow winter season.
"That game, you think about it's only one day a year, but it actually takes a lot saleswise out, losing some of our biggest selling and sales days of the year," said Charles Stack.
Stack said business during the season and during the offseason is like night and day.