TORONTO — It never was a good idea ... except financially, of course.
When the Bills signed that 5-year, $78 million, 8-game deal with the Rogers family back in 2008, it was a financial windfall for the Buffalo franchise ... that got even better.
Those five regular-season games and three exhibitions were to return $9.75 million per, or more than twice what the Bills earn for a sold-out game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
But it got better.
One pre-season game was scrubbed due to a conflict with the Blue Jays’ schedule.
Thus, for the first seven games, the Bills received just over $11 million for each.
And, reportedly, the franchise also has experienced a 10 percent increase in season ticket sales from Southern Ontario.
That financial windfall caused the Bills and Rogers family to extend the agreement for five more seasons, starting today with a visit by the Falcons, and continuing through 2017, with a regular-season game each year and an exhibition in 2015.
BUT THE COST to the Bills competitively can hardly be attributed to the rule of unintended consequences.
When an NFL team has only eight home games, giving up one — no matter the profit margin — is extremely punitive.
And this isn’t like the Packers playing three games a year in Milwaukee back in the day.
The Rogers Centre represents a complete loss of competetive advantage for the Bills.
Over the first five games of the deal, Buffalo is a dismal 1-4 at that stadium ... a neutral field in every way.
There’s absolutely no buzz on game day and over the Bills’ five appearances, it could be argued that a third of the always-inflated attendance figure rooted for Buffalo, a third was pulling for the opposition and a third just didn’t care.
The Rogers Centre is a terrible venue for football with a substandard playing surface, tricky lighting, an overly loud sound system and an ill-considered seating plan with several rows of seats in the lowest areas along the first- and third-base lines covered up for non-baseball events due to visibility problems.
BILLS’ COACHES and players don’t like games there though, with the notable exception of center Eric Wood’s rant last season, most take the diplomatic high road.
It’s nothing against Toronto, but rather giving up a home game at a time of year when the the Orchard Park elements could have factored strongly against a struggling dome team like Atlanta.
And there is an element of inconvenvience.
Riding 90 miles to play a “home” game and going a day early to practice at an unfamiliar venue doesn’t exactly duplicate the routine of a game at “The Ralph.”
On Wednesday, when asked if he would rather play with temperatures in the upper-30 and possible snow in the forecast or 72 degrees and no wind at Toronto, Bills’ first-year coach Doug Marrone allowed, “I really haven’t put a lot of thought into it.
“For our team, we have to be ready to play no matter what the conditions are. I’m not going to backtrack from what my vision is, to be able to play games late in the year with the weather like it is outside and for our players to go out there and it not be an issue. Whether it be wind, rain or snow, that’s what you try to do.”
He added, “I envision building a team that can go out in (winter) weather and win games.”
So have the Bills’ forfeited an environmental advantage today against a Falcons team that will end up playing 11 of its 16 games under a roof?
“Each dome is different,” Marrone maintained. “For the quarterbacks waking up and knowing what the elements are it’s good, you’re both playing on the same field. But I want to build this team so when we get ready to make a run in these playoffs, wherever it may be, whatever year, we’re playing a home game in January and the weather is like this outside, that advantage is to us. So, yes, I’m trying to create an advantage by that weather.”
TODAY, though, it’s the Bills who have to get used to a different field situation ... their only previous indoor start this year came at the Superdome in New Orleans late in October.
Thus, Marrone, who made a promotional visit to Toronto last summer, decided to bring his team to the Rogers Centre a day early.
“I’ve heard a lot of things, I’ve heard (problems with the) lighting, I’ve heard (issues with) the field,” he said. “The one common thing that I’ve heard is that they’re trying to do everything to benefit our football team and that’s important ... I appreciate that. I just haven’t been there (for a game) so that’s why we’ll go up early and practice.”
But there is one certainty as fas as Marrone is concerned, “We have not performed well up there. I went back and did a little research and we were minus nine in turnovers (the first five games), we’ve only had the lead at halftime in one of the games (a 23-0 win over Washington in 2011). There are a lot of poor things we as a football team have done.
“I try to make sure when I (speak) to the team is to avoid whatever people want to say. Whether it be the field, playing indoors, whether it’s an away game there. That’s not who we are, that’s not what our core is. Our core is to go up there and win games. I tried to address that early and kind of get that out of our minds.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)