A recent letter writer proposed that we use our share of the tobacco settlement to purchase the Buffalo Bills. Whether or not one agrees with this method of financing, the idea of local public ownership (like the Green Bay Packers) should be explored.
For years, local public subsidies have contributed to private profits for the franchise. Why not purchase the franchise so that our community reaps the annual profits and the capital gains? Surely, we'd still be spending money on the team. But it would be an investment rather than a subsidy.
If shares in the Bills were publicly traded, and if locals managed to gain a majority of the stock and were committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo, we'd still have three problems. First, local private ownership is not a guarantee the business will remain in Buffalo. Second, taxpayers would still likely be expected to pick up the tab for stadium construction, maintenance, etc. And third, private profits would still be publicly subsidized.
Why not hold a referendum on public purchase of the franchise purchase through a bond offering? We could stipulate that each adult resident in the region be given an option to make a minium investment in these franchise bonds. If the going price for a small-city NFL franchise is $300 million, and there are half a million adults in Western New York, the minium purchase could be a $600 franchise bond. Those who do not wish to exercise their option could sell or assign it to someone else.
NFL franchises are profitable and tend to appreciate in value over time. Annual profits could be used to pay interest on the bonds, retire the bonds or improve facilities. In our community-owned franchise, the pressure to maximize those revenues that do not have to be shared with other NFL teams could be minimized. We would not have to build pricy luxury boxes and suites unless we wanted to. The price of parking and concessions could be reduced. And when we decide to liquidate the asset, it would be a sizable boon to public coffers.
Ralph Wilson has frequently said the Bills belong in Buffalo, so wouldn't he look favorably on a realistic, fair offer? The important thing is for the community to start the discussion now, before the team goes on the market, so we can be ready.
SUSAN M. DAVIS