Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bills in Toronto: An update from your Ombudsman

Trying to create a true Buffalo Bills experience in Toronto is a lot like trying to recruit people for your ultimate frisbee team with a classified ad that doesn't use the word "bi-curious". It's difficult, if not impossible. That doesn't mean, of course, that we shouldn't try. This is why I previously accepted the responsibility of being the Bills in Toronto Ombudsman.

So far there has been a mixed bag of good and bad associated with the games. In the spirit of the late Tim Russert I will try to accentuate the positive. Here's what I like so far:

The coin toss will not be done by the annoying kids from the Rogers Wireless ads:
The Rogers brass were sticklers about this one . It took a great deal of lobbying on your behalf to eliminate this egregious product placement. I'd almost prefer the Fido dogs or a drunk Norm MacDonald in a beaver costume. These kids get on my last nerve. Look at us, we're such great platonic friends handpicked to appeal to key demographic groups that enjoy good clean fun facilitated by cameraphones. To that I say "puuuuuke". These guys were irritating the 10th time I saw them. By the fourteen hundredth time I'm ready to go Anton Chigurh on them. I can't even take a subway ride now without being forced to look at them doing something extreme, dynamic or extremely dynamic. Besides, since when did two straight normal twenty-somethings go camping just the "two of them"? This isn't some deep woods canoe trek where its two men against the wild. Their car is right there at the site. There are only reasons for such a trip, getting high or getting your manlove on. Either way my guess is that they threw the phone to the bear hoping it would destroy the evidence. Meanwhile with the guys away I'm pretty sure the Indian guy is looking to make a move on the cute blonde while also setting up the mediocre brunette in case he gets shot down. In golf that would be referred to as a "good miss".

The Logo is not as bad as it could have been:
The folks in charge get marks here for restraint. There is no corporate logo included or attempts to bundle in other Rogers services. That's a big step for these people. Sure it's only being created so more merchandise can be sold but I'll forgive them for that understandable bit of greed. You wouldn't ask a chain smoker to quit cold turkey so we'll let this little relapse slip. Most importantly, the charging buffalo is prominently in the foreground, the Bills font is correct and they've utilized the existing team colour palette. That's a solid thumbs up in my books. I just used the term "colour palette". Good for me!





That leaves us with my wishlist. These are the unresolved issues that need to be addressed. In reality this is not my wishlist, rather it is our wishlist:

They'll play Our song:
Hopefully it will soon be been confirmed that the "Bills make me want to shout" will be played after every Bills scoring play (though I'm not certain as to whether or not it will be played after a safety). Presumably the Rogers types in charge will want to play some trip-hop club music in the hopes it will put the fans in the mood for another round of Cosmos. I trust less-douchey heads will prevail. For those of you who have never attended a game at the Ralph it may be difficult to comprehend the importance of this song to the crowd and the experience. This is coming from a guy who couldn't be more anti-singalong. I won't even partake in Happy Birthday but once that extra point sales through I'll be belting it out. Hay-ay-ay-ay! Don't worry about knowing the words ahead of time as you just have to repeat what you hear. Even a Toronto sports crowd will be able to follow along.

The Bills PA announcer, John Gurtler Jr., must announce the games:
Gurtler's voice over the public address system will immediately transport you a hundred and eight miles south (and a little bit east. I looked it up on Google Maps). Hopefully every play and stoppage of play will be brought to us by Cellino & Barnes, Mighty Taco and/or M&T Bank. I also expect John to start every address with "Hey Bills fans...". John can be a bit testy so if he's announcing the games please give him your undivided attention. No one wants to hear "Hey VIPs. Could you take out your bluetooth receivers so I can tell you who the Goddamn ball carrier was, you bunch of self-absorbed Assholes!"

There are two hurdles that need to be overcome for this to happen. First the Rogers brass needs to exercise enough common sense to decide to bring John north. Secondly we have to assume he is even allowed to cross the border after his recent legal issues. He, his wife and his son, John III were all arrested after a grad party at the Gurtler home got a bit out of control. First let me ask one thing: what the Hell is happening in Western New York? When did we start arresting families for serving beer to minors? I guess we've let the terrorists win, haven't we. If a man can't buy a couple beers for his son's friends or bump into a woman with his SUV what have we got left? As Thomas Jefferson once said "A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither". Amen to that Tommy. We need to stand up against this police state. I'm in the process of painting my "John Gurtler Graduates!" sign for the rally. I trust you all will be joining me.

If Donna Martin was allowed to graduate so should John Gurtler III



Music. I trust they will consult with the Bills in-game staff to ensure the right mix of Crazy Train and non-Crazy Train. It's a delicate balance. The Might Taco theme song must also be utilized at some point.

Field Design. There better be a giant charging buffalo on the 50 or heads will roll. You can stick your little series logo off to the side. If there is any mention of the opposing team on the turf the rest of your body will also roll. There are probably some physics and/or geometric challenges in getting a headless corpse to actually roll but don't underestimate what a determined group of Bills fans can do if they put their minds to it. We tore down steel goalposts with nothing but our brawn and elevated blood-alcohol levels.

Tailgating. There have been references to "tailgating" but in the Toronto context this will mean hospitality tents with cover charges, cash bars and mediocre bar skanks wearing t-shirts with vodka logos. Referring to this as a "tailgating" is like being promised you were going to a "party" only to find out you're going to a baby shower. While technically correct it's very misleading. The chances of being allowed to pull your car, truck or bus into a parking lot and crack open a can of beer are slim, Brian Moorman slim. The blame here should be placed squarely on our provincial and municipal governments for their Puritanical drinking laws. Most likely we'll be tailgating in my back laneway or Batavia Party Zone North as it will henceforth be referred to as.

Fat chicks taking their shirts off. Historically this is a staple of Bills games at the Ralph, particularly lopsided affairs (the games not the fat chicks, although now that you mention it...). This one has gone to the league offices and Immigration Canada for an official ruling. I'll let you know as soon as I hear something.

Where are all the characters? Will Elvis, the black guys in the chef hats and Mandy, the blonde who was a 7 out of 10 in 1992 that wears the Tasker jersey (no idea what her name actually is but Mandy sounds about right), make the trip north? Presumably Uncle Ted could spring for some appearance fees to get the most prominent Bills fans here.

Schlock. Regardless of what level they're being played at, most US football games have a healthy dose of heartstring tugging, flag-waving cheese to get the fans going. The formula usually includes a mix of fly-overs, soldier/player's widows, firearms, singing children, the crippled, people dressed as pilgrims, pyrotechnics and old glory. Despite our less "in your face" flavour of patriotism we should at least give Americana schlock a shot while we're hosting Buffalo's team. Right before kick-off I would recommend Kevin Everett standing on top of a humvee carrying Tim Russert's wife above his head with a bald eagle on each of her shoulders. As the Humvee moves towards the 50-yard line a whole bunch of things will explode. The Humvee will be driven by our future: the American Children.

U-S-A! U-S-A!

Stadium banners. During the Jays season the outside of the Rogers Centre is adorned with large banners showcasing the stars of the current team. While they could do the same with Bills stars for the Toronto series I have a better idea. The following picture blown up to 75 feet by 75 feet facing the Gardiner will showcase the passion shared by Bills fans of all ages. It may also serve as a bit of a heads-up for opposing team's fans or the indifferent scenesters who are attending the game simply because Toronto Life told them it was the thing to do after brunch on Sundays.

...teach them well and let them lead the way

Now, a quick note on what needs to be changed. The Bills in Toronto website is awful. Despite promises of social media modules (whatever the hell those are), celebrity bloggers and pretty much anything of interest we've been given a heaping amount of SFA. Worse still, that which we have been served up has been nothing but PR at its fluffiest. Reading the "blog" makes Rogers product introductions sound objective. The posts frequently mention NFL fans not just Bills fans which is a potentially disturbing sign as to how much of a "home field" advantage there will be. The obligatory "Go Bills" is delivered with the same awkwardness and conviction of George Bush stumbling through Arabic names.

There's still time to get this thing turned around. Please find someone who's an actual Bills fan to post on the "blog" or at the very least label it "press releases" or "desperate pleas to sell VIP tickets" as to not insult your audience. Even as a pure corporate information site it falls short. Where are the links to press conferences or other media so those of us who are trying to make sure you don't F this thing up can keep an eye on what you're plotting? You're not trying to hide anything from the Ombudsman, are you? That would not be smart. Even if you manage to sneak something by me you must know that Tim Russert is watching and he sees all.

***

We can forgive Rogers for the odd hiccup. We all make mistakes. I once downloaded a Tom Jones sings country album. Lo and behold, it was awful. That being said, I learned from that mistake. Much like Tom Jones, Rogers should stick to what it knows. In the case of Tom Jones it's belting out his cheesy classics whilst dodging knickers tossed by his aging fans. In the case of Rogers its charging as much as you possible can for every last item or service you can get people to buy from you. Concentrate on the gouging and leave the gameday operations to people who now something about football, particularly Bills Football.

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