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Bills leaving black media out in the cold

Despite the efforts of the NFL’s hype machine, these are the two weeks between the conference championships and the Super Bowl when nothing much really happens.

But if you’re a minority media outlet in Western New York looking to share in the Buffalo Bills’ multimillion-dollar marketing budget, it’s like that 52 weeks a year.

Despite the number of African-American players on the Bills roster and football’s popularity across demographic lines, Buffalo’s black media outlets say they get virtually no advertising or promotional business from the team despite reaching out to the franchise.

“They don’t spend any with media outlets of color,” said Pat Freeman, sports director at WUFO 1080-AM.

Now, Freeman is taking his case for marketing equity directly to the NFL. He has written Commissioner Roger Goodell, a Jamestown native, and is following up with another letter this week after getting no response. He also will bring it up at Goodell’s State of the League address next week if he gets a chance to ask a question.

A league and a team that are so image-conscious should not want that type of embarrassment.

Citing DiscoverOrg, a marketing information firm, Freeman notes that the Bills, who did not respond to requests for comment, have a $29 million marketing budget. The hope is that Terry and Kim Pegula, who bought the Sabres in 2011 and the Bills in 2014, will rectify the spending disparities as they learn more about a community in which minority groups constantly have to fight for inclusion.

“But it’s our responsibility to bring it to their attention,” said Freeman, who credits the new regime with promptly responding to an inquiry. He said that Pegula Sports & Entertainment cited its exclusivity agreement with WGR Radio but that it would look at that going forward.

However, that arrangement doesn’t preclude other efforts.

“Print is another story. If you can’t advertise with WUFO, why can’t you advertise with the Criterion and the Challenger?” Freeman said, referring to the popular African-American weeklies.

And WUFO owner Sheila Brown says there are other things the team could do – ticket or jersey giveaways to contest winners, for instance – with the community-oriented public affairs station whose sports talk shows discuss the Bills extensively and draw an audience that other outlets may not.

The team has done some advertising in the Challenger and Criterion in the last three decades, but not much. Spending just a fraction of its marketing dollars with minority media outlets could have a huge impact on those small businesses while also expanding the fan base and telling those readers, listeners and Web browsers that the Bills value them as patrons. As one owner put it, “It would be like a personal invitation to come out and enjoy the game.”

Of course, it’s not just the Bills. Media outlets of color say they get little advertising from most of the area’s major institutions. But they see the Bills as a market leader whose efforts could influence others to also reach out through black and Hispanic media.

Such a shift would help validate the Pegulas’ “One Buffalo” marketing campaign, and prove that it’s more than just an empty slogan.