Schumer Launches Plan to Help Keep Bills in WNY

3:57 PM, Aug 9, 2012   |    comments
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Senator Schumer was in Western New York Wednesday to present his plan that he hopes would help keep the Buffalo Bills playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium well into the future.

Schumer held a press conference outside the stadium to provide details of his plan. He's calling on the NFL to amend its G-4 loan program to allow the Bills to get a $25 million loan match to upgrade the stadium and special incentive for a future owner to keep the team in WNY.

Right now, the current NFL loan program for stadium renovations requires full repayment upon sale of the football team, making it an unattractive offer for the Bills, whose owner Ralph Wilson is 93 years old.

The Buffalo Bills, Erie County and state officials are currently working on an agreement for a new lease agreement for Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Schumer wants the NFL to waive the "Due On Sale" rule so the loan can benefit a future owner, but only if the new owner keeps the team in WNY.  The change would make it easier for the Bills to take advantage of the loan to match the teams investment into stadium upgrades.  However, Schumer says the "Due on Relocation" Rule should remain ironclad and put a significant financial penalty on any new owner that tries to relocate the team during the life of the loan.

Some might question whether the penalty would be substantial enough to make someone with deep enough pockets to spend $800 million to buy the team even blink at the prospect of having to pay $25 million or so to move it to a more lucrative market.

But Schumer insists it would make them think twice, and says at the very least it can't hurt in efforts to keep the team in WNY when ownership someday passes from Ralph Wilson, who has owned it since its inception and is currently 93 years of age.

"I will do everything in my power to keep the Bills right here in Buffalo. Because of the their unique situation, the bottom line is that the NFL's loan program to upgrade stadiums, as structured, is practically useless for the Bills. Making some basic, common sense changes to this key NFL loan program is something that can generate significant resources for much-needed stadium renovations, and could do so in a way that provides significant incentive for any future owner to keep the team in western New York," said Schumer.

2 On Your Side spoke with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who is leading negotiations for a new lease between the county and the Bills. He said Schumer's plan "won't hurt" those talks, but he said it's too early to know if it will help, because even with the changes, there's no certainty the Bills would go after the loan.

The Bills declined an on-camera interview Wednesday and wouldn't respond to questions regarding their interest in taking a G-4 loan if the changes are made.

Russ Brandon, President and CEO of the Bills, released the following statement regarding Schumer's proposal:

I spoke to Mr. Wilson (Wednesday) afternoon about Sen. Schumer's recommendations, and clearly the proposed amendment would be very helpful for our franchise. Obviously, Sen. Schumer has made productive recommendations in the past and has certainly been an advocate for small-market franchises like ourselves.

Schumer said he also discussed his idea with NFL Commissioner (and Western New York native) Roger Goodell before presenting it publicly. He said Goodell received it well and indicated to him that he would consider it.

But Schumer steadfastly refused to comment on whether the team indicated to him any interest in obtaining a G-4 loan.

Below is a copy of Senator Schumer's letter to NFL Commissioner Goodell appears below:

Dear Commissioner Goodell:

I write today to ask you to consider amending the League-Level G4 Loan Program in a way that will make it possible for the Buffalo Bills to take advantage of the programs benefits without harming the league or the other teams in the program. As you know, I have been a longtime supporter of the Buffalo Bills and have continually advocated for initiatives that will help keep them in Buffalo. I am also aware that you have been a staunch advocate for the Bills and I know that you remain committed to continuing to ensure their viability in western New York. As the Bills work with local officials to finalize a new lease agreement for Ralph Wilson Stadium the opportunity for you to once again demonstrate your commitment to the success of the Bills in Buffalo has presented itself.

As you may know, the terms of the new lease agreement are still being negotiated but it is likely that they will require a significant investment in Ralph Wilson Stadium on the part of the team, and the local taxpayers. The G4 Loan Program is designed to help teams and communities offset that investment by providing loans for stadium upgrades that are then repaid through visiting team ticket revenue over a number of years. This program could be of tremendous benefit to the Buffalo Bills and local taxpayers because it would match any stadium investment the Bills make between $25M and the total costs of renovations. However, one clause in the loan program could prevent the Bills from taking advantage of this program and would then put further financial burdens on both the team and taxpayers.

The current program requires that the loan be repaid in full upon the sale of the team. This clause is a reasonable way for the league to protect itself from someone buying a team for a short period of time, taking advantage of the loan, and then liquidating the team and turning a profit. However, in the case of the Bills, the team could be likely to be sold at some point during the life of the loan but not for the purpose of a quick profit. By requiring the loan be due on sale we make it disadvantageous for the Bills ownership to utilize the program. However, a simple amendment like the one that already exists in the League's Revenue Sharing Program would allow for the team to take advantage of the program and would also help keep the Bills in Buffalo for the long term. The 'due on sale' clause of the G4 Loan Program should be amended to include the same exception that the revenue sharing qualifier includes: it does not apply for teams who are being sold by a principal owner that has owned the team for at least twenty years. Another option would be to amend the G4 Loan Program due on sale clause to not apply in a situation where the sale of the team results from the estate sale of the principal owner. Either of these exceptions would still protect the program from those looking to turn a quick profit while allowing teams like the Bills to take advantage of the programs benefits.

Furthermore, the G4 Loan Program has a 'due on relocation' clause that I would ask you not to amend. By amending the due on sale clause and making it possible for the current Bills ownership to access the program while also protecting the due on relocation clause it could create an additional financial penalty to any new owner who tried to move the team during the life of the loan. That new owner could then be confident that as long as they keep the team in Buffalo they could continue to use visiting team ticket revenue to pay down the balance of the loan but should they decide to move the team they would need to pay off the balance of the loan using their own funds right away.

By making this change you can help offset the burden on local taxpayers and the team, you can help Ralph Wilson Stadium get the upgrades it needs, and perhaps most importantly you can help ensure that there will be yet another reason to keep the Bills in Buffalo even after they are sold. Thank you so much for your consideration and continued support of the Buffalo Bills. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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