ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills President Russ Brandon expressed concern over whether his team loses a competitive edge by playing annual home games in Toronto.
During his weekly show on Buffalo's WGR-AM on Wednesday, Brandon said while the "Bills In Toronto" series helps boost the team's revenue, it hasn't paid off in wins. The Bills are 1-5 in Toronto.
"Nothing comes above winning," Brandon said. "When I took over the reins on Jan. 1, I said that was the number one focus, and that will be the number one focus. That's one of the reasons that this will be reviewed in a grand manner."
Brandon stopped short of saying whether the Bills would consider canceling the series or can opt out of the four remaining years of the deal renewed in January with Toronto-based communications giant Rogers Communications.
"I'm going to look at everything. I'll just leave it at that," Brandon said, before being asked a second time whether the Bills can opt out. "My focus in this organization is simple, to put ourselves in the position to win championships and sustain success. Period. Nothing comes above that."
Brandon's comments came after Buffalo's 34-31 overtime loss Sunday to Atlanta in Toronto. By playing indoors at the domed Rogers Centre, the warm-weather Falcons avoid having to play in the wintry conditions — and traditionally more raucous environment — at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.
The loss put a big dent in the Bills' chances of realistically staying in the AFC playoff race. At 4-8, Buffalo closes its season playing three of its final four on the road, beginning with a trip to Tampa Bay (3-9) on Sunday.
Buffalo is in jeopardy of extending the NFL's longest active postseason drought to 14 seasons. And the Bills will go a ninth straight year without a winning record.
The Bills are 0-4 in games they've played in Toronto during December. Their lone win came on Oct. 30, 2011, when they defeated Washington 23-0.
The Bills made the decision to play games in Toronto, about a 2-hour drive from Buffalo, in a bid to expand their base and generate additional revenue from Canada's largest city and financial capital. A lack of home-team support and poor attendance remain issues in Toronto since the series started in 2008.
The announced crowd of 38,969 was by far the smallest of the series, and well short of the stadium's NFL capacity of 46,470, not including suites. Rogers did announce the first four regular season games at Toronto had been sellouts, before later acknowledging the totals included thousands of free tickets it had distributed.
The games also attract a mixed crowd of fans, including a larger-than-usual contingent of visiting-team supporters.
Several Atlanta players were pleasantly surprised to see a notable number of fans wearing Falcons jerseys in the stands on Sunday.
"The crazy part is we had a lot of support here," said Falcons safety William Moore, noting he saw someone wearing his No. 25 jersey. "It didn't feel like we were in Canada."
The series has delivered in generating revenue and luring more southern Ontario fans back to Buffalo. The Bills estimate Canadians now make up about 15 percent of their season-ticket base. That rivals the number of season-ticket holders the Bills usually get from nearby Rochester.
As part of the initial five-year deal, Rogers agreed to pay $78 million for the right to essentially lease eight Bills home games — five regular season and three preseason. The final preseason game was eventually dropped because of scheduling difficulties.
In exchange, the Bills earned more than double of what they usually generated from hosting games in Buffalo. The value of the most recent deal has not been revealed.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org