As potential buyers consider purchasing the Bills — or, perhaps in the case of Donald Trump, merely talking about purchasing the Bills — a group of fans has accelerated efforts to persuade the winning bidder to keep the team in Buffalo.
On Monday, the Buffalo Fan Alliance announced its advisory board, which includes 2014 Hall of Fame receiver Andre Reed. Other notable members of the board are former Bills kicker Steve Christie, former NFL receiver Phil McConkey (a Buffalo native), and NBC’s Luke Russert.
The release announcing membership in the advisory board explains that the Buffalo Fan Alliance hopes to raise between $100 million and $170 million, which would be loaned at zero percent interest to a group that promises not to move the team. The arrangement would save an estimated $8 million to $14 million per year on debt service costs.
It’s an admirable effort, but it’s hard to see the interest-free loan making the difference between staying and going. If the buyer is motivated by the potential to double the value of the franchise by taking it to Los Angeles and then earning millions more in revenue from the second largest population base in the nation, the potential to save $8 million to $14 million per year in interest costs won’t matter. If the buyer intends to stay, the buyer will stay — especially if staying results in a new stadium partially funded by taxpayer dollars.
There’s a chance the loan could provide the last piece of a financing puzzle for a group that is otherwise close to pulling off the transaction. But Bills fans shouldn’t want an owner who can barely afford to own the team. Bills fans should want someone with deep pockets who chooses to stay in Buffalo.
Ultimately, however, that buyer may have to outbid a buyer who would offer a lot more to the Wilson family in order to acquire an asset that can be moved to Los Angeles. If that happens, the $8 million to $14 million per year in interest savings won’t come close to bridging the gap.
It’s unclear what will happen to the $100 million to $170 million in principal loaned to the buyer who promises to stay put. It could make more sense for that money to simply be donated to the effort to build a new stadium, with politicians ensuring that the Bills would make a long-term commitment to playing there.