While 93-year-old Bills owner Ralph Wilson may have no desire to sell the team during his lifetime to someone committed to keeping the franchise in Buffalo, Wilson can make it difficult if not impossible for the next owner to relocate any time soon.
And so the Bills and Erie County officials are working toward a new lease that, depending on the language of the final document, could make it so expensive to move the team that only buyers intent on keeping the franchise where it is will make offers for the team, once Wilson’s lifetime ends. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz tells the Associated Press that a basic agreement on a new lease could be reached by the end of July.
Step One would entail the negotiation of a “memorandum of understanding,” which would be followed by the full-blown lease. The current deal expires in July 2013, which means that the Bills could become free agents after the coming season.
Which also means that time is of the essence, in more ways than one.
Poloncarz says the team has “provided assurances of their commitment to stay in Buffalo.” Still, the only way to ensure that commitment will still exist when someone other than Wilson owns the team is to beef up the lease with terms that would make it difficult if not outright impossible to escape within the next 20 years, or longer.
The Bills are seeking roughly $200 million in upgrades to Ralph Wilson Stadium, a fairly modest amount for a facility that opened nearly 40 years ago. The challenge will be for the team, the county, and the state to work out a plan for sharing in the costs of the improvements.
The county definitely has an incentive to ensure that the team’s stay extends, indefinitely.
“We’re not New York City, we’re not Chicago, we’re not Boston, and we never will be,” Poloncarz said. “But I certainly like us to be greater than other cities out there of comparable size that wish they had an NFL team. Well, we have one, and I have no intention of seeing that team leave on my watch.”
Ralph Wilson has no intention of seeing the team leave on his watch, either. And he’s in position to ensure that the lease will keep the next owner from seeing the team leave on his watch, too.