Bills owner: Team open to renewing Toronto series

By John Wawrow

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 22 2011 4:45 p.m. MST

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills have held talks to continue playing annual games in Toronto. And quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't going anywhere, but needs more talent around him.

Those were among the messages Bills owner Ralph Wilson delivered during a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Thursday.

Speaking from his home in suburban Detroit, Wilson said the Bills and Rogers Communications have held talks to renew the team's series north of the border, and is optimistic an extension will be reached before the current five-year deal expires after next season.

"Oh yeah, we want to renew it. We were talking to them recently, and they want to renew it," Wilson said. "I think that Buffalo can have a very successful franchise embracing Rochester, Buffalo and Toronto as we move forward."

Without going into specifics on the terms of a potential new deal, Wilson said one of Rogers' key conditions for renewing the agreement is lowering ticket prices. He said the Toronto-based communications giant acknowledged ticket prices had been too high, averaging around $180 per seat.

The ticket prices led to series organizers having difficulty selling out games at the 54,000-seat Rogers Centre.

Reducing ticket revenue also has the potential of lowering the price tag of a new deal after Rogers paid $78 million to have the Bills play eight games — including five annual regular-season games — in Canada's largest city.

The current deal expires after the Bills play a preseason and regular-season game in Toronto next year.

A Rogers spokeswoman said the company had nothing to announce at this time. Rogers has previously expressed interest in renewing the deal, and was especially interested in adding an additional regular-season game if the NFL expanded its schedule.

Wilson touched on several other topics, including the state of his team which, at 5-9, is in the midst of a seven-game slide and will miss the playoffs for a 12th straight season.

Wilson said his only message to fans was "patience" because he projects it's going to take several more years to build a contender after the team essentially started from scratch two years ago under new general manager Buddy Nix and new coach Chan Gailey.

As for Fitzpatrick, Wilson gave full support to his slumping quarterback while saying the criticism directed at him was unfair. Wilson blamed Fitzpatrick's struggles on a rash of injuries that have hampered the offense, and the lack of a supporting cast.

"We've got to get receivers. If he hasn't gotten anybody to throw to, he's not going to win many games," Wilson said.

"Listen, we're not giving money away," referring to the six-year $59 million contract extension Fitzpatrick signed in late October. "We think he's a good quarterback, and we're going to stick with him and get him some better players, get him some runners, some tight ends that don't get injured and some wide receivers and we'll be OK."

Fitzpatrick has been the target of criticism in going 1-7 since signing his new contract. After throwing 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions in helping the team to a 5-2 start, Fitzpatrick has thrown eight TDs and 12 interceptions during the seven-game skid.

The Bills traded Lee Evans, their most experienced receiving threat, to Baltimore in August. And it's unclear whether Stevie Johnson fits into the team's plans. The Bills leading receiver is eligible to become a free agent this offseason after talks broke down between earlier this month.

Injuries have played a key role in the slide.

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