When I first started writing here on Buffalo Rumblings I wrote a column called "Stop It! Not as Much has Changed as we would Like to Think". You can read that here: http://www.buffalorumblings.com/2013/5/17/4339886/stop-it-not-as-much-has-changed-as-we-would-like-to-think . The comments were fantastic and interesting but I was shocked at how people could not believe that I was going after the, "Newly Named President," Russ Brandon. I figured for a site with dedicated, diehard BILLS fans that follow the team as religiously as I do that my thoughts on Brandon would be equally shared. When you are done reading this I have a great feeling that you will see through the smokescreen and see Russ Brandon for what he is and that is one of professional sports worst executives.
Before we get into it, let’s give the quick bio on the "Newly Promoted President."
Grew up in suburban Syracuse, NY.
Graduate of St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, NY.
Started sports career with the Rochester Red Wings (AAA Baseball).
Worked for the Florida Marlins in their marketing and business department in the mid-1990's and worked for them when they won the World Series in 1997.
Joined the BILLS in November, 1997 as Executive Director of Business Development and Marketing.
Served as Vice President of Business Development and Marketing from January, 1999-January, 2006.
Became Executive Vice President of Business Operations from January, 2006-2008.
Promoted to Chief Operating Officer (COO) in 2008.
Became team's General Manager after the 2007 season after Marv Levy retired.
Named Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in January 2010.
Became President of the Buffalo BILLS on New Year’s Day, 2013.
All information verified from the Official 2012 Buffalo BILLS Media Guide which can be seen at http://prod.static.bills.clubs.nfl.com/assets/docs/2012BuffaloBillsMediaGuide.pdf
So there is the tale of the tape right there. In the interest of being fair I think it is important to give Russ some credit where it is due. While this article is going to be extremely persuasive against the BILLS President, there have been a couple of things he has done right. He did lead the organization to selling 55,000+ season tickets in 2008 and 2009, the only time that has ever happened in back-to-back years in franchise history. He also deserves total credit for moving training camp to St. John Fisher College in 1999. Now it is only at that specific school because he is an alumnus there and he used his connections but it should be noted whether you like the college or not it was a major victory to move training camp to the Rochester area. He could have picked any of the six college campuses in Monroe County and he would have been just as successful. He figured out how to turn training camp into a profitable venture and tourist destination for football fans. Many teams now employ this model that he came up with and he deserves all the credit in the world for that.
Alright enough of that! Time for the meat and potatoes here.
First we have to eliminate this notion that this guy was given full power six months ago. Russ Brandon has been in control of the franchise since January of 2008 when he assumed control of BOTH the business and football operations of the BILLS after Marv Levy retired as General Manager.
Ralph Wilson at that time was 89 years old. He was and still does live in the Detroit area. While he used to make appearances at the stadium, he has not been in Buffalo for three years. Ralph is now 94 years old and has suffered a broken hip which has made him wheelchair bound. Last year he was hospitalized with an "Undisclosed infection." If you think a man of this age and of the health that goes with that was capable of running an NFL franchise from over 500 miles away until January of this year then you may also believe in the existence of Unicorns.
When Brandon assumed control of both ends of 1 BILLS Drive he became in essence the, "Defacto Owner." Brandon does go to NFL Owners meetings and casts votes on Ralph Wilson's behalf as the representative of the Buffalo BILLS. In other words this idea that he now has full control is just not true. He has had it now for five years and is going onto year six. In those five years the team has been a laughingstock and doormat of the NFL.
Now after all of that we can finally go through the list of, "Brandon Blunders."
Put Brian Moorman Punting the Ball on Season Ticket Renewal Posters: In one of the goofier blunders in sports marketing history a team that had went 10 years without a playoff appearance decided to entice 2009 season ticket holders with a poster of the BILLS punter punting the ball from his own endzone against the Browns in the infamous 6-3 game that set football back 50 years. As you will see as you continue to read you will notice this pattern of a disconnect that he has with the fans. The BILLS claimed that it was their best picture with the scoreboard and fit their message but seriously, the BILLS didn't have Photoshop in 2010? Hard to believe and one of the many mistakes that Russ and his staff have made.
Firing Tom Modrak and John Guy at 11:30pm: On May 4, 2011 Vice President of College Scouting, Tom Modrak and Director of Pro Player Personnel, John Guy were fired by Brandon and General Manager Buddy Nix. They were the last two high ranking employees from the Tom Donahoe era. The mistake was not in firing these two who had mismanaged football operations to the point of oblivion. The mistake was firing them after the 11:00 news so that it could not be printed in the papers or talked about or put online until the morning after. In one of the few decisions that had made fans happy, why wait all that time to announce it? Why delay the good publicity that comes from getting rid of two guys who were terrible at their jobs? A good marketing and public relations person would recognize that and would have announced it during business hours to give it the most play possible. The fact that it came out at 11:30 made it look like the team was hiding that decision instead of just handling it like the normal personnel decisions that are made in the league everyday.
Letting Buddy Nix Hire Chan Gailey: Nobody knows for sure whether or not Brandon or Wilson personally hired Buddy Nix. Being forced to guess it looks like Brandon consulted Wilson after conducting interviews and Ralph decided to go with the elder statesmen and former employee. In one of Ralph's last public appearances he made a statement following the 2009 season and firings of Dick Jaron and interim coach Perry Fewell that he would be willing to spend up to $100 million over 10 years to hire a coach. The fans were ecstatic! With all of the big names out there, finally one of them would come and right the ship of the Buffalo Bills. Names started floating including Super Bowl Champions Bill Cowher, Brian Billick and Mike Shanahan. Other names like Steve Mariucci and Marty Schottenheimer surfaced. Fans spent $10,000 on a billboard demanding that the team hire Cowher. Whoever it was going to be, the fans and the media were convinced it was going to be a big name with a big reputation who was going to bring big talent to Buffalo and was going to rescue this team from the basement. Instead of roaring like a lion the BILLS whimpered out of the gates and hired Chan Gailey. Chan who? Chan Gailey. His last head coaching job was at Georgia Tech and he had not been an NFL Head Coach since the 20th Century. It was Nix who clearly made the hire but it was Brandon's responsibility as CEO and the voice of Wilson to carry out the owner's creed that he would spend huge money on a coach. The, "Marketing Genius," needed to step in and tell his GM, "Hey we have not made the playoffs in 10 years and our owner promised a big money coach. Maybe we should look at someone else." He didn't do that and instead the team did worst under Gailey (16-32) then they did under the first three years of Jauron who was 21-27.
Saluting Scott Norwood: As stupid as that looks this just furthers the disconnect that Brandon has with the fans. This was the game in 2011 at the Ralph against the Jets in which the BILLS came in 5-2 and then the wheels fell off. I was at this game and as part of the festivities of the BILLS finally being competitive Russ decided that at halftime he would salute Scott Norwood. With all due respect to Scott Norwood, we know what happened and we know he never kicked again. Whether you believe in superstitions or not, saluting the guy who was responsible for the single most heartbreaking moment in franchise history during a divisional game in which you are on your way to ending a 12 year playoff draught is a terrible idea. I stayed in the concourse and bathroom during halftime. This is like running a black cat on a leash under a ladder while breaking a mirror at the 50-yard line at the same time. It wasn't decided in the preseason that Norwood was going to be honored. It was announced during the week of the game. Of all the guys and all the weeks, that is when you salute him? Not something the fans wanted and while obviously it had nothing to do with the BILLS losing it just showed another poor decision by the, "Marketing Genius."
Toronto: The day Russ Brandon woke up in a cold sweat thinking that going to Toronto was a good idea was the day I woke up in a cold sweat knowing that this could doom the franchise to relocation and that he needed to be fired! After the success of training camp Brandon started thinking of other ways to regionalize the team, to increase its geographical footprint and sell more tickets and make more money. He felt that since training camp in Rochester had worked so well, he wondered what he could do with Toronto. Canada's biggest city with 6 million people located just two hours north of Buffalo. In a move that defies logic he sold a home game in a sport where a team only has eight of them and a time in which the team was (Still is) on the LA watch list and with an owner who has not announced a succession plan for the franchise after he passes.
Brandon held a press conference and announced to a nationwide audience which included potential new owners that the Greater Buffalo Area could not support eight dates on its own. He said that Toronto was vital to the team's regionalization efforts and that it needed Toronto for the long term viability of the franchise. Think about how that sounded to the NFL, to Los Angeles and to potential new owners. He gave off a message that Buffalo could not continue to support an NFL franchise. He might as well buried the franchise and give it a eulogy.
The original deal was eight games over five years for $78 million. That worked out to $9.75 million per game which was a considerable raise compared to what they make per game at the Ralph. The deal and the games were a disaster. On the field the BILLS were 1-4. Rogers Communications who owns the Rogers Centre in Toronto struggled to sell tickets with the 55,000 seat stadium averaging less than 40,000 fans through the gates for the series. The most being just over 40,000 last year for the Seahawks game. The players have complained calling it a joke and stating that it is not a home game. The fans have hated it feeling cheated out of big named opponents. The first two regular season games of the series were slaps to the fans' faces as divisional opponents Miami and the Jets got to go north costing the fans and the team the chance to provide that hostile home field that the area is so proud of. The last three games were against big market teams with great fan bases. The crowds have been small and mostly of football fans instead of BILLS fans. While financially it was a great success the rest of the deal has been a catastrophic failure.
Renewing the Toronto Deal: In a move that continued to show Brandon's inability to understand his customers or public relations he renewed the deal with Rogers for an undisclosed amount of money for another five years. Shame on the media for not forcing Brandon to announce how much the deal was signed for. Anybody who knows anything about business knows that you only redo a deal for the same or more money. If you redo it for less money then clearly it was a bad deal to begin with. This was one of those cases. It's a six game deal with only one preseason game and five more years of losing a regular season home game. This year it is against Super Bowl contender Atlanta in December. Given that Rogers needed the deal for less money, they made out like bandits. With it being two less games and no longer being $9.75 million per game it looks like the deal was done for only $20-30 million which is less than half of the original deal. Think about that for a second. Russ Brandon has such little faith in this market and fan base that he would rather nearly give away a home game then come up with ways to make the team more viable here in Western, NY. If the team does move after Ralph Wilson passes you can bet that the new owner will blame long term viability as a reason and that is directly linked to the Toronto deal.
Not Convincing Ralph to Announce a Succession Plan: Some of you will say that Ralph can do what he wants and he can but think about what is the right thing to do given the situation. On the field the team has struggled. Off the field they have sold a game to Toronto, the team is on the LA Watch list and the owner is in his mid-90's. This fan base has been through hell and they deserve much better than this. If the, "Marketing Genius" knew anything about public relations he would have thrown the fans a bone of some kind. There hasn't even been an announcement that the family or Russ will try to find an owner who will keep the team here. This on top of the bogus lease agreement that the team signed with Erie County to stay at the stadium. The lease is 10 years and for the first six there is a relocation penalty of $400 million. After the sixth year in which Ralph would turn 100 years old the relocation penalty drops to just under $29 million. Brandon in his press conference said the lease would assure the long term viability of the franchise. If the team can up and leave for $370 million less, how does that ensure any viability? Again it all goes to the succession plan which supposily Wilson has but isn't telling anybody. So the fans of a failing franchise have to wait on pins and needles for the owner to die and then wait and see what happens. Given what this fanbase has been through that is simply unacceptable and again it falls on Brandon who is in the trenches to give the fans something.
Not Rolling Back the Blackout Rule to 85%: After all of the mistakes that this guy has made over the years here was a chance to do something good for the fans. With the exception of 2004 this team has not really been in playoff contention come December which means that many of those cold weather games have been blackedout. I am against the blackout rule but the NFL to appease congress decided this cheap way to get the government off of their backs. The catch was that it would mean giving more ticket revenue to the visiting team. That is the reason that Brandon decided not to roll back but the truth is he needed to eat those costs. With all of the bad PR and bad decisions and uncertaintly surrounding this franchise you absolutley do this for the fans. If that gets an extra game on the tube then it is worth it. When you have taken so much from the fans and given nothing back, this was an opportunity to give something back and he blew it.
As you can see the mistakes are glaring and enormous and if you believe in the phrases, "It rolls down hill," and, "It all starts from the top," then you have to blame the, "Defacto Owner," Russ Brandon.