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Bills Lease Coverage Makes Me Want to Shout


On the day before Christmas, I think I’ve become the Pollyanna of the local media.

Quite frankly, some of the negative media reaction to the new Buffalo Bills lease since it was announced Friday makes me want to shout “enough already.”

The negativity started Friday when my former Buffalo News colleague Jim Heaney ended his Channel 2 report on the more than $200 million in subsidies the county and state are giving the Bills by offering his opinion ”that’s a lot of money for a business that makes a lot of money and a team that loses a lot of games.”

The Buffalo News’ extensive coverage of the lease also has seemed to highlight the negatives more than the positives.

The thorough front page story Saturday by sportswriter Tim Graham with the sub-head “Troubling exit clause gives team an ‘out’ after seven years” was very balanced after initially focusing on the out-clause, the major negative aspect of the deal that will cost state and county taxpayers the more than $200 million in subsidies over 10 years.

Jerry Sullivan’s Saturday column also initially highlighted the negative out-clause, before he concluded “it was a very good day for Buffalo and Bills fans around the world.”

On Sunday, News columnist Donn Esmonde weighed in on the out-clause that allows the Bills to move after seven years without paying a $400 million penalty.

I highly respect Esmonde. He is a friend of mine. But nobody ever agrees with any columnist all the time and I disagreed with part of my friend’s column. The headline read “Citizens pay a high price for Bills deal” and the column declared the Bills the winners in the negotiations with the state and the county.

None of the the News writers was around here when the Buffalo Braves left town so they didn’t experience the blow to the community’s psyche back then. And that was for a team in the National Basketball Association, a league that wasn’t nearly as important then as it is now.

I respect all of the opinions and reporting of my former colleagues and friends. I agree with some of Esmonde’s conclusions, which were supplemented by the views of a Smith College economic professor who is among those who believe that sports teams don’t have an economic impact on communities like Western New York.

However, I doubt Professor Andrew Zimbalist understands how much this community loves the Bills even when it hates their performance on Sunday afternoons after they lose 24-10 to Miami.

I’ll grant everyone who is bashing the deal that keeping professional sports teams can cost taxpayers too much money and aren’t as beneficial economically as we’d like. But you also can’t underestimate how  priceless sports teams can be to the area’s psyche and some businesses.

Just ask many hockey fans and local businesses how much they miss the Buffalo Sabres playing this season.  I imagine local restaurants, bars and charities would disagree with some of the professor’s views about economic benefit.

The Zimbalist comment that confused me most concerned his view that the Bills would be here for at least four more years without the lease because it would take that long to find a new city to play.

“Basically, you bought three years of additional time for $95 million in (taxpayer-funded stadium upgrades),” Esmonde quoted Zimbalist as saying.

Let’s accept that it would take four years for the Bills to get their affairs in order and move. Zimbalist’s argument apparently assumes the Bills would have made up their minds to leave after three years, which if announced or discovered, would be season-ticket sale suicide for four years.

However, if the owner of the Bills at that time didn’t make up his mind until after the seventh year of the lease, the new lease could be viewed positively as an 11-year deal (7 plus 4).

For argument’s sake and in the holiday spirit, let’s look at this deal with the glass half full rather than half empty.

That’s how the Buffalo News looked at it in an editorial titled “Staying put” that was much more positive than the views of its reporters and columnists covering the story.

The editorial called it a “solid and fair deal’ and added “losing the Buffalo Bills would be a devastating blow to Western New York, and that is simply unacceptable.”

Unless you’re a college economist. Buffalo State College economics professor Bruce Fisher told me weeks ago for a story on a different subject that all these professional lease deals are too costly for the community.

But I digress.

Let’s look at the deal positively.

Let’s imagine some good things that could happen seven years from now when the out clause can be exercised:

Los Angeles already has two new NFL teams and is no longer viewed as a possible destination for the Bills.

The Bills new owner shares with 31 others team the $2 billion-$3 billion or more in L.A. expansion fees and the team is more financially stable despite the hefty billions a new owner paid for the team.

The Bills find a new franchise quarterback and make the playoffs for the fifth straight season, leading to a surge in the sale of season tickets and the more important stadium boxes at higher prices.

The area’s economy improves along with the team’s fortunes. OK, maybe I’m being too much a Pollyanna on that one.

No other big city comes forward with major subsidies to steal the Bills because its taxpayers are against joining the NFL at such a steep price.

If you look at the deal positively, the bottom line is the area has seven more years for its fans to sing “Shout!” after touchdowns and prove that it belongs in the major leagues and can afford the high sticker price that comes with it.

Happy Holidays to all my readers!!!!


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9 responses to "Bills Lease Coverage Makes Me Want to Shout"

  1. Tim says:

    I totally agree with you, Alan. I was trying to find Donn on twitter today, because I thought his article was horrible.

    First, why is Zimbalist saying we bought 4 years when it seems like we bought 7? Donn ran with that and it doesn’t even make sense.

    This Zimbalist guy gets quoted all the time, probably by Esmonde. And, he never has a positive thing to say about Buffalo’s future. Anybody who looks at just the dollars and cents of how it effects a community just doesn’t get it…..But, he’s the leading person on the subject?? Looking at his resume I wonder if he’s ever stepped foot in Buffalo.

    We got a much better deal than I thought we would. I guess Donn still wants to get a zoo instead.

    • Bob says:

      It was their contention that it would take at least three years for the Bills to move, so we would have three years even without this extension. I can remember the moving vans sneaking out of Baltimore in the middle of the night on their move to Indianapolis, I’m not sure it took them three years to plan that.

      Alan, Merry Christmas…….

  2. Joe says:

    Alan, you state: “Let’s imagine some good things that could happen…”. Are you sure you’ve lived here a long time? I don’t know if it is permitted for people in this area to imagine good things that can happen.

    Have a great holidays Alan.

  3. Rick Azar says:

    Love your position on the deal. The non sports fan needs to understand
    how important the Bills are to the community. The team gives relevance to the area. It’s important for interest in WNY by prospective business expansion.Without the Bills WNY is not in the running. Good to be on the same side of the issue.



  4. Tim says:

    Tim O’Shei wrote a column now for Business First where he’s got his own preeminent expert! (I need to get in this business – lot of room at the top). He thinks the opposite of Dr. Zimbalist and his ivory tower:


    Directly after last week’s press conference announcing the new lease, I interviewed Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports consultants who was directly involved in the relocations of both the Rams and the Raiders.

    Ganis may be the pre-eminent expert on the subject, and his feeling both before and after the signing of the new lease is that the Bills won’t move.

  5. GMan says:

    I feel 7 more years of stress, high blood pressure, and possible heart failure. The local hospitals and immediate care centers will thrive on the expected lack of health of Bills fans . We may need more than Obamacare!! The hell with a new stadium. Build more hospitals to care for broken down Bills fanatics.

  6. As a man who was opposed to any continuation without playoffs, I must say this is probably the next best solution for getting this team out of our hair.

    The fact is that Southern California has at least four stadiums– Dodger Stadium, the Rose Bowl, the LA Coliseum and Angel Stadium– that can temporarily host an NFL team for a few years while either Farmers Field or the City of Industry Stadium is built.

    Second, the relocation fee is questionable as to whether or not it can be enforced (it’s the federal government that has jurisdiction over interstate commerce, not the state), and besides, there are ways around it. The first is the simultaneous “contract and expand” trick: suspend or fold the Bills, create a new entity for the LA team, and have it inherit the Bills’ staff (see: the Baltimore Ravens). (Or even better, hold a dispersal draft and an expansion draft.) The second is to basically announce that the team’s moving a few years beforehand and hope that the resulting attendance drop forces the county and state to waive the fee (see: the Houston Oilers).

    Unfortunately the media doesn’t seem to be too interested in the details of WHY the deal is not as good as it seems.

  7. ds says:

    Why is it that people fret about the ’1 percent’, except when the person plays for their favorite sports team?

    Let the millionaires pay for their own playground.

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