Thursday, June 23, 2011
Bills planting a cleat firmly in Canada
By Tim Graham
The Buffalo Bills are living in the moment.
Los Angeles developers are stalking an NFL team for relocation, their owner is 92 years old and reports about the latest labor negotiations indicate small-market teams could have a tougher time competing in the new NFL economy.
Bills chief executive officer Russ Brandon claimed they can't afford to worry about the long-term future of the franchise. He said Thursday afternoon "we focus on the here and now."
But it's rather evident by his words the Bills are simultaneously concerned with here and there, straddling the U.S.-Canadian border.
"Regionalization works," Brandon said, "and it will be a linchpin to everything that we do from a business standpoint moving forward."
A news conference to discuss Friday night's unveiling of the Bills new uniform inevitably turned toward this week's lockout talks and how the club could be impacted by the next collective bargaining agreement.
ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton has reported the latest proposal framework includes mechanisms that require teams to spend almost all the way to the salary cap in current player payroll. That would make it tougher for the Bills to maintain the profitability it's used to.
Under the previous CBA, teams could spend just under 90 percent to the ceiling in cap figures, which could include dead money being paid to players no longer on the roster.
"I think the response is we just focus here and we focus now on everything that we can control, and that's keeping this building full, keeping all of our business platforms full," Brandon said. "We're a volume business. We're a very affordable business, as you know here with our ticket prices, and that's what we focus on.
"My job and everyone's job in this organization is to focus on this organization and our fans and that’s really what we do on a day-in and day-out basis."
Brandon declined to discuss specifics of the latest CBA proposal, but it wasn't difficult to gather the Bills' viability depends on Canadian interests.
The Bills have been forced to get creative over the past dozen years or so. Brandon said their attempts to regionalize the club have paid off. They moved training camp to St. John Fisher College in the Rochester area in 2000.
The Bills sold off five regular-season and three preseason games to Toronto for $78 million, the annual series running from 2008 through 2012.
Both agreements are likely to continue. Brandon said the Bills' season-ticket base from Southern Ontario has grown 44 percent since they began playing games in Toronto.
"When you look at it from our standpoint we're always looking to do everything in our power to keep this team viable," Brandon said Thursday, "and as you've heard many times from me: regionalization, regionalization and regionalization.
"When you look at our region of totality it's a very large market, and we're looking to bring fans back to Ralph Wilson Stadium. It's been a very successful venture for us and we're going to continue that process moving forward."
Brandon's comments concurred with sentiments expressed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a conference call with Bills season-ticket holders last month.
"We certainly hope the Buffalo Bills continue to be in Western New York," said Goodell, a native of nearby Jamestown, N.Y. "As a Western New York guy, I know how important it is to that region and how passionate our fans are there.
"The effort we've been going through with the Buffalo Bills and I would call the business leaders in the surrounding areas is to regionalize the team and to draw from a broader area, including Southern Ontario and the Toronto area. I believe that'll be good for the Bills to be successful in Buffalo."
Bills fans ought to get used to sharing. It would be better than waving.