By Tim Graham
The Buffalo Bills' game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Ralph Wilson Stadium officially has been blacked out.
The club announced today more than 15,000 tickets remain for Sunday's game, 10,000 are available for the Dec. 9 game against the St. Louis Rams and another 15,000 are available for the Dec. 30 regular-season finale against the New York Jets.
We've known these numbers for a while, but that doesn't make them any less troubling.
The Bills had one of their most incredible offseasons by signing defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson and drafting starters (cornerback Stephon Gilmore and left tackle Cordy Glenn) at two important positions. Even the Vince Young signing created some buzz.
The Bills became a chic pick to make the playoffs and break the NFL's longest active drought.
Yet they still have had trouble selling tickets. As CEO Russ Brandon has said, the Bills are a volume-based business. Business is bad.
Some will blame the weather, but I'm not convinced. A beaten down fan base is a likelier reason. Zealous fans have grown cynical, and rightfully so. This turned out to be the perfect year to maintain an I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it mentality.
Bills fans won't purchase tickets based on hope anymore. When the season began, the Bills had sold 43,267 season tickets -- up 16 percent from a year earlier at the same time. But they were below their 2010 total of 44,084 and even farther away from their recent peak of 56,011 four years ago.
In today's paper, Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan wondered how the Bills could market a team with Chan Gailey as coach and Ryan Fitzpatrick as quarterback.
The Bills barely sold out their Nov. 15 game against the Miami Dolphins, with the announcement coming down to the wire. The Bills almost certainly won't sell out their last three home dates.
The Dec. 16 game in Toronto doesn't count. The Bills' payout is the same whether they fill the Rogers Centre or don't sell a ticket. But had the Bills played the Seattle Seahawks in Ralph Wilson Stadium, you could bet that game would have rows of empty seats, too.
So the Bills comfortably sold out just three of their home games, less than half.
How many fans will return next year?