Thursday, September 15, 2011

Opinions on Bills season-ticket sale decline, Syracuse vs. USC and Sabres great promotion

No one should be surprised that Bills season ticket sales have dropped dramatically – from 55,000 two seasons ago to 37,000 this season.

Clearly, the economy is a huge factor – Western New York has been harder hit than most areas of the country. And the Buffalo Sabres – rejuvenated by new owner Terry Pegula and the possibility of a Stanley Cup march – also have taken some business away.

But the biggest reason for the decline has been the cumulative effects of a decade of mediocrity by the Bills. You can’t go 11 seasons without a playoff berth and have just one winning record in that span and expect people to keep coming back for more misery.

The good news is that the Bills could still have a strong season at the gate this year. The keister-whipping performance in the opener at Kansas City last Sunday has fans stoked again. This week’s home opener vs. Oakland is a sell-out and next week’s home game against AFC East kingpin New England is close to being one.

A victory against the Raiders will get Bills fans and ticket-buyers even more fired up. It’s conceivable Buffalo could be 3-1 after the game against the Bengals in Cincy. And that certainly will ensure more sellouts.

Bills CEO Russ Brandon, though, is going to have his work cut out for him in December. The NFL schedule-makers didn’t do the marketing whiz any favors by saddling Buffalo with three home games in a month that traditionally is a difficult sell for fans strapped for cash because of the holiday season.

Of course, if the Bills were still in the playoff hunt in December Brandon’s job would be a lot easier.

I think the Raiders are going to be a much more formidable opponent than the confused Chiefs were. Buffalo is going to face a more serious challenge attempting to bottle-up running back Darren McFadden, and the Bills are going to need to establish the run and control the ball the way they did in Kansas City.

Two things are working in Buffalo’s favor. The Raiders played on Monday night, meaning they have less time to heal and prepare for the Bills. And teams going coast-to-coast are historically at a distinct disadvantage, a trend borne out by the fact Oakland is just 2-7 in East coast games the past three years.

Speaking of going coast-to-coast, Syracuse is a 17-point underdog on the road this Saturday night against the University of Southern California. And that might be a conservative spread. I think we could be seeing a lot of connections between NFL-bound quarterback Matt Barkley and NFL-bound wide receiver Robert Woods.

If you are looking for silver linings, the Orange men were 5-1 on the road last season, and won in Morgantown, W.V., one of the tougher places to visit because of the fans’ hostility.

SU hasn’t won a game on the West Coast since crushing Heisman Trophy-winner Gary Beban and UCLA, 32-14. Larry Csonka ran rough-shod over the Bruins that day.

What a great idea having Pegula and his star players serve as couriers and deliver season-tickets to Sabres fans yesterday. Other NHL teams have done this in the past. I wish all sports owners and their teams would follow suit.

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