Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson said he and team officials are reviewing the latest Rich Stadium lease proposal from New York State and Erie County, but continued to voice deep concern over soft ticket sales.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the start of the preseason, Wilson, while attending Saturday night's preseason opener against the Denver Broncos, said ticket sales have been "very slow" for individual games. He is already on record as voicing concern for the projected season-ticket sales of 34,000, which would be a drop of 7,000 since last year.
"We've had no enthusiasm for tickets or anything else," Wilson said. "It's been a major disappointment to me."
He said even the Miami game, traditionally the strongest-selling game on the schedule, is "very, very slow," although he did not give a specific count.
"(Individual-game) ticket sales are as slow as they have been in many, many years," the owner said. "They're horrible."
Although his first visit to the Bills' training camp at Fredonia State College isn't planned until later this week, Wilson also expressed concern over the noticeable decline in spectators.
"I don't know what people are focusing in on," Wilson said. "They're not focusing in on the Bills.
"Maybe, if we come out and win a couple of games when the season starts and everybody gets in a football frame of mind, things will pick up. But it's a major disappointment. There just doesn't seem to be a lot of enthusiasm."
One obvious distraction for fans has been the status of the Bills' lease, which is due to expire after this season. Wilson acknowledged that the uncertainty over the Bills' future in Western New York is "part of the puzzle" in explaining soft ticket sales, but said that there were other factors, including the economy.
"Everywhere I go (outside of Western New York) is growing," Wilson said. "I can't believe the building that's going on in Denver, Florida, San Jose, where we have a television station . . . Columbus, Ohio.
"The taxes in New York State are brutal and it's knocked the dickens out of Western New York. Pataki is doing a great job, but you can't turn this thing around overnight. It's going to take a long time."
Wilson would not get into specifics about lease talks, other than to say he has been in regular telephone contact with Gov. Pataki and intended to meet with him at some point in the future. He said no meeting was planned with the governor in Fredonia this week, and that any meeting would take place in Albany. Wilson said he refused Pataki's request to meet with the owner at Wilson's Palm Beach, Fla., residence because he thought it was inappropriate.
"I wasn't trying to duck him," Wilson said. "I just don't think it's right for the governor of the state of New York to come to Florida to see me. It just doesn't look right. As I said, 'George, listen, I'm going to come and see you.' The whole thing is about respect; he shouldn't have to come down to Florida."
Wilson refused to characterize whether he was optimistic or pessimistic about a resolution.
"We're having some talks with the state," Wilson said. "We'll just have to see what happens.
"I don't want the Bills to move. I've never threatened to move anywhere. I think a community that supports a team deserves to have a team, but we are at a big disadvantage in Buffalo. Who's going to come in an do any promotions with us?
"It's not like the old days where a big crowds of 80,000 can carry a team. It's all this unshared (with owner owners) revenue that gives teams all these millions of dollars to sign free agents."
Wilson did not rule out the possibility of the Bills moving, but did rule out Toronto as a possible relocation site. He said a recent report in the Toronto Globe and Mail that said NFL officials had encouraged him to consider moving the team to Toronto if he could not work out a lease in Western New York was false.
"We have no designs to go to Toronto," Wilson said. "That's absolutely not true."
Asked if Cleveland -- which the NFL has promised a team by 1999 -- is an option, Wilson said, "Maybe it is, maybe it isn't."