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Buffalo Bills fans enter the Rogers centre before their game with the Seattle Seahawks at the Rogers Centre (J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. MOCZULSKI)
Buffalo Bills fans enter the Rogers centre before their game with the Seattle Seahawks at the Rogers Centre (J.P. MOCZULSKI/J.P. MOCZULSKI)

DAILY GRIND

Dowbiggin: You can’t rent sports loyalty Add to ...

A crowd of 40,770 turned up at the Rogers Centre to see the Buffalo Bills get punked by the Seattle Seahawks 50-17 on Sunday. Note that we didn’t say “paid” to see the Buffalo Bills get punked by the Seattle Seahawks. This one had more papered seats than the Chinese Politburo.

The total was only 3,000 more souls than watched the Vanier Cup game in the same stadium in November. At much, much higher prices.

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For those who did show up, the Bills were hardly overwhelming hometown heroes nor were the Seahawks the hated opponents of Canadian fans (B.C. and Alberta are fertile Seahawk territory). The Bills fielding something other than a punching dummy might have helped the artistic quality of game. In fact, the greatest success for one of the NFL’s Toronto top-ups came for a Pittsburgh Steeler exhibition game with the Bills nowhere in sight.

Does this mean that the Bills Most Excellent Canadian Vacation is a failure? If you’re judging by any increase in loyalty to the Bills, yes. Financially it’s also been a nose bleed for the Rogers folks to explain to shareholders.

For Rogers, the games have been a small pebble in the shoe of the CFL and its benefactor, TSN, the bitter rival of Rogers. A modest goal achieved.

The bottom line is you can’t rent sports loyalty. It’s borne of decades of the team merging with the resident culture in pain and sadness and, occasionally, happiness. The Bills have supplied none of the above to Toronto (which already has more than enough pain to go around from its own squads). The Bills’ pain and angst rightly belong in Orchard Park till the team’s future is decided.

YOU (DON’T) LIKE ME

It’s never a good sign when the TV promos from your host broadcaster TSN say, “the Raptors will be in tough against hometown hero Tristan Thompson and the Cleveland Cavaliers”. When 5-20 Cleveland is considered a bridge too far, what happens when the Raps play Miami?

Despite winning their past two games, the 6-19 Raptors seem destined for a season of epic futility. This, after missing the playoffs for the four previous years under president / GM Bryan Colangelo. Things aren’t moving in the right direction anytime soon, either.

This has prompted debate about whether Colangelo should be fired. The discussion has been framed in terms of whether Colangelo’s draft picks have worked out or the number of times his clubs have missed the playoffs. These are relevant issues.

But the real reason Colangelo’s run in Toronto is done is because he failed in the most crucial issue facing a Toronto NBA GM. Toronto is not a destination for the NBA’s top players. Far from it. For reasons ranging from culture to climate, Colangelo’s Raptors are still shunned by veteran players and prospects alike – just as they’ve been since they began in 1995.

In the minds of NBA players, Toronto is just another anodyne airport city (with funny money) to be avoided.

Since Chris Bosh made his decision to take his talent to South Beach in 2011, that shunning is more pronounced than any time since Colangelo took over the Raps. The club has compensated by drafting Europeans, but they’ve done precious little to strengthen the franchise.

For this team to win it must emulate the Blue Jays’ success in the 1990s, when the best baseball players in the world were lured north into a foreign land by the Jays’ ownership and management. Colangelo has singularly failed to do this. To win consistently, it’s time for MLSE to find someone who can entice the NBA’s best players to Toronto.

BEYOND SAVING

The NHL lockout has reached its Max Bialystock phase where it’s apparently more profitable for a hockey league to not play hockey than to play. How else to explain hockey players who usually have trouble negotiating a sidewalk by themselves now threatening to dump their representation.

Owners, meanwhile, are taking the players to court to make sure that Don Fehr, the man they wanted out of the room last week, gets back in the room this week. Unless the NHL and NHLPA suddenly embrace reason, everything will be on the table.

The absurdity of padlocking the NHL to make sure the Glendale mall stays open next to the Phoenix Coyotes‘ arena hasn’t altered Gary Bettman’s business strategy since 2004. If he and the owners take the building down to to the studs, however, we could be looking at the disappearance of the half dozen anemic franchises for which the NHL keeps shutting down its successful teams.

The NHL might reconstitute itself into a 24-team league in stronger markets. It might also disabuse itself of its adversarial labour policy which has brought it only misery. It might finally get up to nine Canadian franchises. It could friendly up its long-suffering U.S. broadcast partners. Sensible stuff, in other words.

For the players, a revised business might result in a scenario they won’t like as much, with the top players rewarded lavishly while the other players scramble for what’s left over in an open market. It’s called a free market, not a salary cap.

No one expects the outcome of this labour war to really improve the fate of the anemic franchises or the mall in Glendale. While hockey fans may devoutly wish a settlement – any settlement – to get their game back, the business plan of the NHL is beyond saving. The owners won’t recognize it, so perhaps 18 months of a player lockout would get it where it needs to be.

dowbboy@shaw.ca / @dowbboy

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