BUFFALO, N.Y. - The most powerful figure in the National Football League wants the Buffalo Bills to stay put. So does one of the league's most notable owners, as well as the president of the Green Bay Packers.
Basically, there was really no shortage of support for Western New York at the NFL Owners Meeting in Atlanta this week.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was born in Jamestown, said it's important to "look well beyond" the current stadium lease to ensure the viability of the franchise in this region. Atlanta Falcons' owner Arthur Blank said the Bills "belong" in Western New York, and Packers President Mark Murphy – a Clarence High School graduate – said the Buffalo market is "really important for the league."
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster wasn't in Atlanta, but as a member of the New Stadium Working Group, he was listening carefully from home.
"I was generally encouraged from what I heard coming out of the owners meeting," Dyster said.
The New Stadium Working Group's job is essentially to figure out whether a new stadium is necessary to entice a new owner to keep the Bills in Western New York, and if so, then explore where the team could possibly build that facility. According to Goodell, though, no amount of renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium would likely be able to sway a new owner to keep the team here.
"I believe a stadium is really, long-term, important to the franchise," Goodell said. "That's why you see them happening in Atlanta, why you see them happening in Minneapolis. These are important elements to keeping teams successful."
Dyster said it's important not to make any rash decisions so early in the discussion process, but it's undeniable that a new stadium looms large over the group.
"It's not a foregone conclusion that there's going to be a new stadium, but I think you heard enough people close to the situation that thought it was important," Dyster said. "It makes it obvious now why it was a really good decision on the part of the governor to get this process started. We're ahead of the game."
There are three basic options for the New Stadium Working Group to analyze right now: renovate the current stadium, build a new stadium at the same location in Orchard Park or build a new stadium in a new location. According to Dyster, the group must leave every option on the table before new ownership takes over in order to create flexibility.
That way, there's no risk of alienating a potential owner, depending on the recommendation the group makes on a new stadium—or lack thereof.
"The new owner may not want the new stadium. The new owner might want a new stadium but not know much about the geography or economy or transportation system of Western New York," Dyster said. "Having all those options on the table up until the ownership question is settled is absolutely critical.
Dyster hopes the group can at least complete basic research by the end of the summer, to prepare for the change of ownership.
"[New owners are] going to want certain homework to have been done. It doesn't have to be definitive answers, doesn't have to have the same level of detail, but at least some basic feasibility analysis needs to have been carried out about multiple potential stadium locations," Dyster said.