Toronto’s latest dalliance with the National Football League is underway—and while yesterday’s Buffalo Bills/Pittsburgh Steelers game was a predictably tepid affair, we’re guessing the organizers will be reasonably happy with the way things played out.
First, the game. Preseason NFL games are frequently dire, and yesterday’s wasn’t much of an exception. Buffalo rookie Leodis McKelvin briefly brought the Rogers Centre to life with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, but for the most part the bipartisan crowd of 48,434 was surprisingly restrained (especially by the Bills’ usual standards: Buffalo is notorious, even amongst NFL teams, for its rowdy home crowds). Still, rumours of “thousands” of unsold tickets seemed unsubstantiated from our vantage point. Rogers Centre wasn’t packed—but we’re guessing there will be a bigger (and much more vocal) crowd on hand when the Bills come back in December to do it for real.
Judging whether the “Toronto Bills Series” will be a success based on a single preseason game would be pointless, and is best left to people whose job descriptions require such undertakings. Still, we’re going to assume Ted Rogers is feeling good about the experiment so far. His eponymous stadium was full-ish. The two teams’ marquee players, the Ben Roethlisbergers and the Marshawn Lynches, made decent (if truncated) showings. And the Rogers/NFL marketing machine, which shifted into high gear with Wednesday’s tailgate party in Dundas Square, did a good job of making a meaningless preseason game seem important. In fact, we’re guessing the biggest malcontents will be scalpers. They would’ve struggled to give away tickets to yesterday’s game—which is pretty standard for any preseason contest in any professional sports league.
Thus, Toronto’s most recent NFL experiment has to be considered a qualified success so far. Some of yesterday’s shortcomings (notably wonky stadium production) should be corrected when the Bills come back in December. The seats should be fuller; the scalpers should be happier. And the NFL will be able to gauge whether Toronto is a viable market for a permanent franchise. Based on current evidence, that no longer seems like an outlandish sentiment.
Photo from the official Buffalo Bills website.