When the Buffalo News first lit the fuse on the possibility of future relocation by the Bills due to the potential inability to strike a public-private deal on a new stadium, the first reaction by many was to deny the obvious or to downplay it.
They’re negotiating, many insisted.
And while that’s right, no good negotiation can happen without leverage. For the Bills, the leverage comes from a potential relocation. That’s been obvious from the get-go.
It’s now becoming more obvious. Although the initial story from the Buffalo News expressly stated that the team had made “no overt threats” to leave town, something far closer to an overt threat has happened.
Pegula Sports and Entertainment spokesman Jim Wilkinson made some strong comments to WIVB-TV on Tuesday, making it clear that the stadium negotiations are indeed occurring with a clear “or else” in mind.
“The Pegulas have made a proposal,” Wilkinson said. “They would like to build it right there [in Orchard Park] and we need to hear back. You can’t really do plans and designs on things until you have a deal, and right now the City of Buffalo and the State [of New York] are going to have to decide if they want a team.”
They are going to have to decide if they want a team. That’s a direct quote from the person hired by Bills ownership to say things on their behalf.
Wilkinson also said that the Pegulas want to build a new stadium across the street from the current one, in Orchard Park. Wilkinson reiterated the notion that further renovation of the current facility makes no sense.
“It would cost 500 million [dollars] to replace the upper deck,” Wilkinson said. “It would cost a lot of money to replace the electrical systems and the water systems, which are many decades now out of date. It would be about a billion dollars to renovate the stadium — and not only is that unrealistic and not wise, it’s just not going to happen.”
It remains to be seen whether a new stadium is going to happen in Buffalo. It’s definitely going to happen somewhere. For the first time, the Pegulas (through their paid spokesman) have sent a clear message to the world that, if they don’t get what they want — i.e., if the public officials in and around Buffalo decide they don’t want a team — the Pegulas will take the team to a place that does.