The Buffalo Bills are attempting to regionalize themselves in hopes of being able to stay in New York. As part of that effort, they have scheduled a series of pre- and regular season games to be played in Toronto. The first — a preseason game between the Bills and Steelers in 2008 — drew 48,434 fans. That same year, Buffalo played Miami in the regular season in front of 52,134. Last season, the Bills played the Jets in Toronto and again were able to draw over 50,000 fans (51,567).
On Thursday night, the Bills faced the Colts in Toronto and while the announced attendance was 39,583, the Toronto Star is reporting that roughly 20,000 fans showed up for the game. That would be bad news for the Buffalo Bills. The stadium’s capacity is 53,000, meaning the NFL managed to almost sell it out for the first three games in Toronto. The idea is for the Bills to gain popularity, so the fact that attendance numbers were cut in half when one of the NFL’s best in Peyton Manning came to town has to be discouraging.
In order for the Bills to survive in Buffalo, they need to prove that they can play some of their games in front of a packed house in Toronto and gain significant popularity in their region. As PFT points out, the Bills need the Toronto series to be a success. Otherwise, they could be looking at a move to Los Angeles.
UPDATE: An LBS reader has called to my attention the fact that the Bills attendance numbers are not that bad. Initially, I had said they aren’t drawing enough fans. However, they were 10th in the NFL in attendance last season, so filling the seats probably isn’t at the root of their financial issues. Thanks to the reader who drew our attention to it.
Report: Only 20,000 at Colts-Bills game in Toronto [ProFootballTalk]