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Bills fans should be wary of franchise predators<br> I don't trust rich people, and I certainly don't trust the NFL owners. The owners are interested in one thing: Profit.

After more than 20 years, I have a pretty good idea how Bills fans think. They need to see the most optimistic view of the team's future. They love looking over the back fence and seeing unsightly weeds and garbage in the back yards of other NFL franchises.

Buffalo fans take comfort in the notion that other pro football towns are less emotionally invested in the product and have a more tenuous hold on their teams.

So they had to be encouraged by recent reports that a firm looking to build a new stadium in Los Angeles had contacted five existing NFL teams about the possibility of relocation -- and it didn't include the Bills. The teams were the Raiders, Rams, Vikings, Chargers and Jaguars.

In the short term, it is a good sign. There are teams who have more pressing issues than the Bills and are more immediate targets for relocation. But the sense of security among Buffalo fans is based on one obvious condition: Ralph Wilson remaining alive and in control of the team.

When Wilson is gone, all bets are off. If he dies, the Bills would be at or near the top of any list for possible relocation. Wilson has no known succession plan. He plans to have the team auctioned to the highest bidder. It's hard to imagine the top bid coming from someone who intends to keep the Bills in this market.

I tend to be a pessimist -- or a realist -- on such matters. I don't trust rich people, and I certainly don't trust the NFL owners. The owners are interested in one thing: Profit. That's why they locked out the players. That's why they cut the pay of the little people during the lockout. That's why they cheated on their TV deal.

Most NFL owners aren't moved by the notion of Buffalo as some quaint, cuddly franchise worthy of preserving. If they have a chance to sell out the Bills for greater profit, they'll do it in a heartbeat. Don't kid yourselves. Go ahead and breathe easy about that list. But keep your eyes open for predators.

It's disconcerting to hear that there's growing sentiment for putting not just one team in LA, but two. Patriots owner Robert Kraft has said there should be two NFL teams in L.A., the nation's second-largest city. Kraft is on the league's broadcast committee. Surely, the league wouldn't mind having two teams in that large a market.

Broadcaster Al Michaels, who lives in L.A. and is close with Kraft, agrees.

"There's no question in my mind that if a stadium gets built, they'll start with one team but get another team," Michaels said recently. "The league may not come out and say this overtly, but where would you rather play a Super Bowl than Los Angeles?"

They're playing a Super Bowl in New York, which recently built a new stadium for the Giants and Jets. Why not have two teams to get maximum use out of the proposed $1 billion stadium in L.A.? There are two competing proposals to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles, some 16 years after the Rams and Raiders fled town.

The leading contender is Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which wants to build a 72,000-seat stadium on part of the city's convention center campus. AEG has asked the City Council to approve $350 million in municipal bonds to get the project moving by July 31. That would keep the project on schedule to open for the 2016 season.

Philip Anschutz, owner of AEG, is tight with Kraft and Jerry Jones. That should tell you where the sport is going. Big money talks in the NFL. Remember how Wilson behaved that day in Toronto when they announced the Canada series, how he gushed about all the construction and joked with the late Ted Rogers about overpriced seats?

There's still talk about an NFL team in Toronto, by the way. Last month, at the 100th Grey Cup Festival, Toronto mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Doug, said they're still chasing an NFL team and want to host a Super Bowl. Doug, an Etobicoke councillor, had caused a stir earlier by saying they might acquire the New Orleans Saints.

They'd need a new stadium in Toronto, of course. The Fords say they're not after the Bills. But there are people in large cities eager to get NFL teams and it has to be worrisome to anyone who fears for the Bills' long-term future in Western New York.

Buffalo is not a well-respected franchise. In a recent ranking by ESPN the Magazine, the Bills ranked 107th out of 122 major sports franchises (the Sabres were 11th). In ownership, players, fans relations and stadium experience, they were no better than 106th. They were 19th in affordability, which is hardly the goal in today's NFL.

Sorry about the gloom, but the Bills are vulnerable. The best thing for Buffalo fans would be if one of those five other cities moved to L.A. soon, while Wilson was still alive. Even then, the specter of a second L.A. team will be very real, especially if the first team does well. It's hard to believe the NFL can't thrive in a market that large.

I learned long ago not to assume Buffalo was well-positioned relative to other markets. About 20 years ago, Buffalo was supposedly No. 1 among six candidates for a Major League Baseball franchise. MLB wound up picking four other cities, including two in Florida that have never justified the choice on baseball alone.

In the end, it wasn't financially viable here. The Riches saw that late in the process. It was about market size, television, the economy. The NFL is a salary cap league, true, but those are major considerations nonetheless.

When Kraft and other powerful people talk about wanting two NFL teams in L.A., it makes me nervous. I also hear the unspoken belief that one team might be too many for Buffalo.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com