We have seen the Rogers Centre emptier--but that isn't really the point. What matters is that, halfway towards the end of the deal Rogers made with the Buffalo Bills, the NFL probably isn't closer to giving Toronto a team.
Announced attendance for the Bills 34-21 win over the Colts at Rogers Centre was 39,583, some 13,000 below capacity and the lowest attendance for an NFL game in Toronto since the series began three years ago. Clearly, seeing Peyton Manning ride the pine for three quarters or watching the Buffalo Bills isn't a recipe to draw fans, particularly at $155 for lower-bowl tickets, but if Torontonians want the NFL, they'll have to do better than that.
"It's not easy to screw the National Football League up," writes Bruce Arthur of the National Post. "Of course, the fact that Buffalo may be the most ruthlessly, relentlessly, comprehensively boring franchise in football might have doomed the series before it began."
One Toronto Star columnist hypothesizes that the game was only physically attended by half of the announced attendance.
That's an issue. The pictures and video from the event show plenty of footroom for somebody to stretch out and relax upon. But is it really a bad thing to sport in Canada?
If Richard Griffin from the Star is right, and only 20,000 people showed up, that's probably fewer than are likely to attend the Tiger Cats/Argonauts game tonight. An NFL team in Toronto means that the Argonauts are pretty well toast, along with many of the CFL's major sponsors who have a base in Southern Ontario: Nissan, Gibson's, Scotiabank, Wendy's. Suppose Hamilton moves to Québec and Toronto contracts to accomodate the Bills, would the sponsors still be around? Can the league get major sponsorship bucks without a team in Toronto? (The NHL says, yes)
The Bills are a terrible football team and the Rogers Centre is a terrible place to watch football. Canadians like me always notice the lack of butts in the seats before anything else when watching a hockey game in a Southern market. Canada isn't right for the NFL, and the NFL isn't right for Canada.
That's not to say that the NFL is welcome to come and stage events here, but the fans have voted with their wallets, and vote for the NFL to show them some respect. Don't bring in a preseason game and expect them to pay upwards of $100 to watch one quarter of bonafide NFL starters.