What the Buffalo Bills Owe WNY And What WNY Owes the Bills By Peter Livingston

Like many people, I was saddened to hear of the passing of Ralph Wilson. He meant a lot to the community. He was very active with philanthropic efforts in Western New York and supported efforts to get underprivileged youth involved in sports. Oh, and there was also the Buffalo Bills.

I am a Buffalo Bills fan. Although I don’t recall where I was when President Barack Obama was elected, I do remember where I was when Scott Norwood missed wide right. Speaking of kickers, I don’t remember where I was when the first Space Shuttle launched, but I do remember where I was when the Bills beat the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl for the first time in seventeen years in 1983.

I remember going to games with my father and I look forward to taking my own children to games someday. The Bills have been a big part of my life.

There seems to be growing concern from everybody except County Executive Mark Poloncarz that the Buffalo Bills will be sold and relocate. As he notes, the Bills signed a ten year lease last year. That doesn’t mean that they will stay in Buffalo; there are many opportunities for them to terminate the lease, as Mr. Poloncarz knows. I don’t fault him for entering into such a weak agreement - the Bills probably would not have signed a stronger one.

While people are discussing the future of the team, I hope  fans keep in mind exactly what the Bills owe to Western New York: Nothing. The Bills only obligation to this area is to honor its agreements with the county and the state according to the terms of the lease and nothing else. Although there are many reasons for them to stay here, there is no moral obligation to do so.

The Buffalo Bills provide entertainment; for that we buy tickets and merchandise. Because of that, the team has been a successful business and they are closely identified as part of the fabric of the community. To lose the Bills would hurt, or at least it would hurt me.

Aside from the emotional attachment, losing the Bills would have an economic impact on the region. They are a valuable marketing tool, bringing national attention to the region eight times per year (more in the 1990s). Businesses looking to locate here will include the NFL as part of their evaluation. The millions of dollars in income tax from the players, staff and employees means a lot to New York, especially since the Buffalo Bills are the only NFL team located in the state. In addition, drawing visitors from outside New York State, especially fans from Canada, helps local hotels, bars and restaurants, as well as sales tax revenues that keep our property taxes from going even higher.

Of course, the Buffalo Bills also have factors to weigh when deciding their future. Certainly, they can charge more for tickets elsewhere. The Buffalo Bills currently have affordable prices when compared to the rest of the league. However, will they have a loyal fan base that will still buy tickets after a decade of sub-mediocrity? Will fans elsewhere buy as much merchandise? Will players and staff feel as valued in another community?

New York State and Erie County must view the Buffalo Bills as a commodity, and not as a close relative who needs a hand out. Rest assured, the Buffalo Bills see their future as a business decision. Some may wonder why taxpayer dollars are spent to keep the Bills here. After all, David Beckham is looking to build a new stadium to locate a soccer team in Miami without government support. Unfortunately, Miami is not Buffalo, football is not soccer and keeping the Bills here will require taxpayer support.

The Buffalo Bills can have a successful future in Western New York, but it will require some out of the box thinking.

Some ideas include an expanding ownership group, encouraging more fan base participation and creating opportunities for cross-branding. I look forward to seeing ideas that develop over the coming months and years. I hope they are successful and the Bills stay in Western New York.

Regardless, the decision to keep the Bills must be a sound financial move for both sides. I am confident a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached if emotions are kept out of the discussion. As for the team or Western New York owing each other anything: let's leave that out, too.

We owe that to Mr. Wilson’s memory and we owe it to ourselves.

Comments? Please email me at peter.r.livingston@gmail.com. I am also know to make inane comments on Twitter @PRLivingston.

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