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As owners aid New York, Wilson feels buffaloed

Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. was on the very short end of another NFL vote last week, and the result left him even more discouraged than he has been about the economics of pro football.

"People in Buffalo should enjoy this team, because they're pushing us out," Wilson said in the locker room after the Bills' victory over the New York Jets on Sunday.

When Wilson says "they," he means the owners of high-revenue teams in the NFL.

The NFL approved a measure to give the New York Giants and New York Jets a $300 million low-interest loan for the building of a new stadium for the two teams. The vote was 30-2, with Wilson and Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown casting the only no votes.

Wilson voted no because he was unable to get the other owners to put forth some concrete rules for how small-market teams will get assistance from big-market clubs in a supplemental revenue-sharing plan that's supposed to go into effect in the near future.

The meeting on the aid to New York was held in Dallas on Thursday. Wilson attended and got up before the vote to speak.

Wilson said he talked to his partners about how the NFL's owners had stuck together and taken tough stands for the good of all the league in the past, particularly during past labor negotiations. He talked about the shortcomings in the new collective bargaining agreement, which Wilson is convinced gives the players too great a percentage of league revenues and further benefits wealthy teams at the expense of smaller-market teams. He told them that he would vote in favor of the New York aid if they would settle on some revenue-sharing rules. The owners did not.

"It's a terrible bargaining agreement, terrible," Wilson said he told the other owners. "If we're going to give all this money for the building of the stadium, we've got to knock out the qualifiers. It's incidental, but it would give us just a little to pay for the extra costs of the stadium."

The new stadium in New York will greatly increase revenues for the Giants and Jets. Those revenues will then cause the salary cap to go up, which will raise costs to all teams, including the Bills.

"The Giants and Jets stadium, with 200 boxes at $250,000 a box, will gross $50 million a year [for each team]," Wilson said, referring to the luxury box revenue, which does not have to be shared with other teams. There are 118 boxes in Giants Stadium.

The new stadium will increase the Bills' salary cap figure by $2 million a year in the first year.

"We're fighting to gross $7 million (a year)," Wilson said of the Bills' luxury box revenue. "What chance have you got long term?"

Under the terms of the new labor deal, the Bills and other smaller-market teams could get an average of roughly $6 million in supplemental revenue sharing this year, with that total doubling by 2011. The worry among those teams is that the rules might make it difficult for them to qualify for the money.

Wilson is one of eight NFL owners who is serving on a qualifier committee, which will make a recommendation on details of the new revenue-sharing formula. However, that committee has yet to have a formal meeting, even though the labor pact with the players was approved in March.

The NFL told teams last week that it has scheduled a conference call on the qualifiers. It's possible that new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ultimately will have to decide how smaller teams qualify for the aid.

Wilson is angry and discouraged.

"They're all together -- all the big market clubs are together," Wilson said.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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