by Pat Freeman
The recent buzz over the interest of rock legend Jon Bon Jovi in purchasing the Buffalo Bills has once again exposed that bit of uncertainty that still haunts Western New York over the future of our favorite past time. This happens as we approach the first anniversary of the lease extension which many think guarantees the team here for at least seven years. This hastily worked agreement I believe will come back to haunt Western New York in the not to near distant future, because as we’ve seen its added the Buffalo Bills to the list of possible franchises that will be up for bids in the future.
The modern interested party that purchases professional sports franchises has changed over the years and often times includes a name recognized investor who can become the face of these organizations. The days are gone when one person will step up to buy these multi-billion dollar franchises, and it usually takes an organizing group with one member who on paper has 30% controlling interest.
Why would Bon Jovi consider purchasing the Bills, it’s simple, he’s a cowboy, on a steel horse he rides, and he’s wanted, dead or alive-cs
So when this report hit the airwaves creating denials from the Bon Jovi camp it is reasonable to come to the conclusion that he most certainly has interest. Why would he not have interest in being part of an entity that makes a profit before it sells a ticket? NFL franchises are all ranked in the top 50 by Forbes Magazine, and there are many groups that are positioning themselves to join this elite club. We must ask the question with this so called iron clad lease extension why are so many still wondering about the future of professional football in Western New York? The reason has two components that we must examine to make this determination of our present circumstances.
1. The current owner Ralph Wilson has stated that as long as he is alive the team will remain in Western New York. His current age of 95 makes this a troublesome point for the faithful of this region because to our knowledge there is no existing transition plan in place, and it is believed that the team will be sold after he passes. If the team is sold at its current Forbes value of 845 million dollars on the open market to new ownership, and they desire to move the franchise and break the iron clad lease between the state, county, and the team up to year seven. They would have to pay $400 million dollar penalty, and a $200 million dollar relocation fee. Making their total to around 1.45 Billion-1.6 Billion and cheaper than what the dodgers sold for to a group headed by Magic Johnson. Now if the new owner says I will just wait until year seven and only pay a penalty of $28 million, and the relocation fee of $ 200 million they would save $372 million.
2. The second reason rests at the feet of our county executive Mark Poloncarz who from day one of his administration decided that renovating 40 year old Ralph Wilson Stadium was the best way to not have the Bills leaves this area on his watch. He ordered a cement study of the stadium to check the condition of the cement, and immediately let it be known that he was against a new stadium in downtown Buffalo. Unfortunately his lack of understanding of how the NFL works has already showed itself after this so called iron clad lease was presented to the NFL owners it was rejected over a 100 times requiring the Legislature to vote on it again. It was not until months later that this was publicly disclosed. What was not publicly disclosed was his cement study which showed a deteriorating edifice in Orchard Park. This with all of the information that was provided to Mr. Poloncarz including a private meeting with his so called hand pick experts he just refused to listen. I tried to explain to him that a true renovation of that facility was a waste of tax payer money because the facility is only used 7-9 times a year bringing in a revenue amount of $46 Million dollars which went to the Buffalo Bills, and the NFL.
The part that troubles me the most is the lack of listening of all those that supported this so called iron clad lease extension was that they failed to grasp the fact that a new stadium was the only way to lock this team into this area for the long term and not to put a band-aid on a problem that still exists. The teams that are in play for relocation all have stadium issues, and once you build a new facility that team is locked into that community for the long term. The way this agreement was put together it favored the options of the current owner and put the viability of the franchise being in Western New York for the long term as a secondary option with the pressure of being able to build a new facility within 5-8 years to keep this team here. This agreement only allocates funds for exploratory studies in years 8,9,10 of the agreement, and if we wait on those that put this together you can rekindle the feeling of watching the Buffalo Braves leave this area.
In closing we must act now to save professional sports in Western New York and create a way to defray the burden from the tax payer. This is the basis of the new downtown stadium complex. The creation of a multi use facility that is used year round connected to a new convention center, hotel, retail space and a one of a kind History of Sport Museum by the world renowned Strong museum of Rochester.