On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced five appointments to a New Stadium Working Group that will explore options for a new stadium that would keep the Bills in New York beyond the expiration of the 10-year lease they signed at Ralph Wilson Stadium last year.
That lease came with an agreement from the state, team and Erie County to finance upgrades to the stadium. Those improvements were central to Bills CEO Russ Brandon’s statement in response to the announcement about the exploratory group.
“We are very appreciative of the continued support of New York State and Erie County for the Buffalo Bills franchise. Our primary current operations focus is, as it must be, on the modernization process that is occurring presently here at the Ralph Wilson Stadium campus,” Brandon said. “We have to bring it home safely, on time, on budget and with a level of quality we can all be proud of. We are confident our fans will be excited about the numerous changes taking place on our stadium campus and we look forward to being near completion by the start of the 2014 season.”
That focus on upgrades over a new stadium isn’t a new development. Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said on WGR 550 that the Bills expressed no great desire for a new stadium when lease negotiations were going on and cited the cost of a new stadium as one of the reasons. Poloncarz said Buffalo “can’t afford seat licenses and luxury suites” that are used to finance the cost of stadium construction.
There’s also an ownership issue. The Bills would have to pay a $400 million buyout to leave Buffalo in the first seven years of the lease, but it drops to $28 million at that point. There’s a chance that the team could be sold before that point if Ralph Wilson passes away and Poloncarz said that there isn’t going to be a stadium without a longer commitment from any owner to remain in Buffalo. Poloncarz knows that’s not a sure thing.
“In the end, I also have to remind everybody that the NFL is a business,” Poloncarz said. “These are a lot of very, very wealthy individuals that have other businesses that make substantially more money than they probably do on the NFL. This is a business and they want to see the business succeed. We have to be prepared to show that this community is willing to keep this team. The question is, ‘What will it take?’”
It’s a question that figures to be asked in Buffalo a lot in the coming years.