What's the Bills Future In Western New York?

11:46 PM, Nov 20, 2012   |    comments
Ralph Wilson Stadium - Courtesy: US Presswire
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Buffalo, N.Y. - Football is all about numbers - six points for a touchdown, 10 yards for a first down, 10 yards for holding.

But the one number that Bills fans are most concerned about is '94' -that's how old Ralph Wilson is.

When the Bills announced the deal to play games in Toronto five years ago, Mr. Wilson ratcheted up the fear factor about the team leaving Western New York when he said this:

"I can't speculate what's going to happen in the future, but don't worry right now."

But Bills fans are worried about the future, plenty worried.

The thinking goes like this: when Mr. Wilson passes away, the team will be immediately sold, packed up and moved out of town, and the community's 52 year love affair with the team will come to a wide right kind of ending.

But hold on Bills fans, come in off the ledge, because things aren't that simple. And as a matter of fact, we've found that when you look at some other numbers, that scenario may not in fact at all be very likely.

One key to keeping the team here is of course to work out a new lease between the team, the county and the state, it would likely include about $200 million in improvements at the stadium.

And importantly here, unlike in the past, Wilson this time has not once threatened to move the team, and has said he wants to get a new lease done.

So given that, just listen when I asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about that Bills doomsday scenario four years ago.

Scott Brown: "Is there anything to prevent the Bills from just being sold to the highest bidder and being moved out of town?"

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: "Yes we have rules about our franchises. We work to make sure our franchises stay in their current market. Just because somebody spends the most money to buy a team does not give them the right to move it. They have to meet relocation guidelines that are very strict, very important to the league."

And what are those guidelines?

According to the league's bylaws, these are some of the factors that must be considered when a team is looking to move:

* Fan loyalty and support for the club. With the Bills having 70,000 thousand a game going to see a team that hasn't made the playoffs in 13 years? Check that one in our favor.

* The adequacy of the stadium - with the coming improvements to the stadium as part of a new lease, we can probably check that one off as well.

* The extent to which the club receives public financial support for its stadium. With a new lease, here's another check for Western New York.

* The club's financial performance. Last year according to Forbes Magazine, and here's one of those other number we were talking about, the team made $29 million. Yet another check in our column.

And here's yet another number- 75%. 24 of the league's 32 owners would have to approve any request to move.

We spoke with a nationally known expert on stadium and relocation issues, Marc Ganis of Sportcorp Ltd. who lives in Chicago.

Scott Brown: "The NFL says it has these strict relocation requirements, how serious are they?"

Marc Ganis: "Oh the NFL is very strict about enforcing them and being consistent in their enforcement of them.

"What I have to say to the Bills fans is they're staying here," said Shawn O'Rourke, a professor of sports management at Canisius College.

Here's what O'Rourke said when I put the doomsday scenario of the Bills being sold and moving out of town:

Shawn O'Rourke: "Do I believe it's going to happen? No, the Bills will stay in Buffalo for a lot of reasons. One is the fans themselves- it's such a great franchise here and it makes money and a lot of money. So whoever the new ownership here, they would be able to look at the books, they would be able to see the fan base. They would ignore their record, wins and loss record, but from a financial standpoint I don't see where else it could go and make this kind of money and impact like it does in Buffalo."

And O'Rourke brings up a good point. Exactly what city would this new owner in a black hat move the team to?

Well we've heard Toronto ever since the team signed that deal to play one regular season game a year there. So let's take a look at that.

A new owner would need:

About $800 million to buy the team

Add to that about another billion, that's billion with a 'B,' to build a new NFL-caliber stadium.

Throw in an estimated few hundred million in relocation fees for moving the team, and that would bring the total amount of money needed to buy and move the team up the QEW to at least two billion dollars.

And even if a potential owner had that much money, the NFL would still have to approve moving a team that has great fan support and is making tens of millions of dollars a year, which could be a violation of its own bylaws.

The same would be true for a move to Los Angeles, where the league is looking to place two teams.

The most likely candidates to move to L.A. at this point would be the Chargers, whose owner can terminate his lease at the end of any season, the Rams, who are waiting for an arbitrator's decision about its lease, or the Raiders whose lease is about to expire.

Yet another reason to get a new lease done as soon as possible.

Another point in our favor is the commissioner himself.

His family is from Jamestown and he spent his summers growing up at Chautauqua Lake, so you could call it our home field advantage.

Scott Brown: "Commissioner you're a native here, you know what this team means to the area how important is, it from your perspective how important is it that the league keep a team in Buffalo and what kind of role would you play in that?"

NFL Commissioner Goodell (in 2008): "Well as commissioner you play a big role in that. The Buffalo Bills are doing terrific, this step to Toronto has helped to strengthen that and I see the Buffalo Bills being in Western New York for a long time."

Scott Brown: "Does Commissioner Goodell being a native of the area help the Bills' case for staying?"

Marc Ganis: "Well it certainly doesn't hurt. Roger knows the area, he certainly feels fondly towards it, we've talked about it and he feels strongly about it. He also feels strongly about the base of where football started, the Great Lakes area.

"That having been said, recognize that Roger Goodell is the commissioner of the National Football League, not the commissioner of Western New York, so he's got to think in terms of what's best for the entire league and the future of the NFL."

During a trip over the summer to speak at the Chautauqua Institution Goodell said:

"The fans need to do everything they can to support the Bills, and we're going to work hard to make sure they continue to be successful here. There's no reason they can't be."

Scott Brown: "Commissioner Goodell says 'hey Buffalo keep supporting this team, workout a lease and I think the team can stay here' should we believe him?"

Consultant Marc Ganis: "Absolutely, that advice by commissioner Goodell is exactly the advice that the fans and the political leadership should be focused on. That is great advice, I would say do exactly what he said."

Another factor debunking the doomsday scenario is this: someone with local ties could simply buy the team.

* Sabres owner Terry Pegula certainly has the money and a love for the area.

* Bob Rich, who owns the Bisons and whose family bought the original naming rights to the stadium certainly has the money as well.

* Tom Golisano, the former owner of the Sabres.

And as to that number that concerns Bills fans the most, Mr. Wilson's age of 94, the commissioner said this to us four years ago, "We have owners that pass away, this happens unfortunately and teams go on and continue to be very successful."

Add it all up, and Canisius' Shawn O'Rourke is emphatic when speaking about the Bills future, "They're staying, they're staying here in Buffalo, they're staying here in Buffalo for a long, long time."






















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