If Austin is a potential destination for the Buffalo Bills, that’s news to the powers that be in Austin.
Ryan Autullo of the Austin American-Statesman has spoken with multiple members of the Austin City Council. And they said that Sunday’s report from Seth Wickersham of ESPN as a potential destination for the Bills is the first they’ve heard of it.
This would mean that the potential move of the Bills to Austin is, at least for now, a leverage play to get public funding in Buffalo.
That doesn’t mean it can’t become something more than that. But, obviously, if team owners Terry and Kim Pegula want to get the attention the politicians in Erie County and New York, they need to have a Plan B. The fact that the Plan B is not yet viable doesn’t matter.
It’s no surprise. In any negotiation, leverage is needed. If the Bills have no alternative to Buffalo, they have no real leverage.
For now, then, it appears to be part of the effort to maximize public money for a new stadium in Buffalo. The Pegulas reportedly have proposed that the venue will be fully funded by taxpayer money. That surely isn’t happening; to get (for example) 50 percent of the project paid by public money, they need to start higher than that. Asking for 100 percent is, obviously, as high as it can get.
The broader reality is that the cat is now out of the bag. So whether it’s Austin or somewhere else, any other city that covets an NFL franchise now knows that the Bills could be in play. Those cities have to ask themselves whether they’re willing to be a pawn in a game they can’t win, or whether they can indeed put together a package that can get the attention of the Pegulas.
Where it goes from here remains to be seen. However, the time has come for folks in Western New York to ponder the possibility of an “or else” destination emerging. And if another city will do that which Buffalo, Erie County, and/or New York won’t do, some difficult decisions may need to be made.
It’s unfortunate, but it’s a basic reality of the NFL business. The relocations of the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders prove that owners will go where the money is, or where a privately-funded stadium will be more likely to turn a consistent profit. And if the money isn’t in Buffalo, the possibility that the money will be somewhere else becomes extremely relevant. Thus, what could begin as a bluff could become something more than that.
Is that the way it should be? No. But that’s the way it is. Until the Pegulas get an acceptable plan in place for a new stadium in Buffalo, the possibility that another team may find a way to bogart the Bills will be on the table. Time will tell whether it’s Austin or somewhere else. To get the best deal in Buffalo, somewhere other than Buffalo needs to become a viable alternative. Until a new deal is done in Buffalo, there’s a chance that somewhere other than Buffalo can become the new home for a team would ideally never move.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t happen. But it has happened to St. Louis, to San Diego, to Oakland, to Cleveland, and to Baltimore. It could indeed happen to Buffalo. It shouldn’t, but it could. The longer it takes for the public funding to be secured in Buffalo, the greater the chance that another American city will decide that its ticket to legitimacy comes from luring an NFL team to town.