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At some point, Pegulas have to think more about new stadium

Terry and Kim Pegula haven’t uttered a peep since a recent News story made it clear that their fellow NFL owners want the Bills to start giving serious consideration to a new stadium.

That’s understandable. It’s a tough spot for the Pegulas, who are sainted figures for ensuring the long-term future of our two pro teams. If they talk about the need to get going on a stadium, they come across as greedy NFL owners who are eager to start squeezing more profits from a small market.

On the other hand, if the Pegulas come out publicly and tell the owners to stop pressuring them, they risk seeming like small-timers who are out of line with their fellow owners in the world’s most powerful sports league.

So it’s left to indignant Buffalo fans to puff out their chests and declare that the big, bad NFL can’t tell them what to do.

But the truth is, the NFL can dictate to the members of its club, and my guess is the Pegulas didn’t particularly mind having Giants owner John Mara tell our Vic Carucci that the Bills need a new stadium.

The most telling quote in that story, however, came from Jerry Jones, the NFL’s most famous owner, and a driving force on league economics – some would say the face of league greed – for more than a quarter-century.

Jones was less direct than Mara, but it wasn’t hard to read between the lines of his remarks about the Pegulas.

“They walked in the room as one of the best owners in the NFL,” Jones said. “I’d say top five. And so once they assess it with a season or two, look at it, if there is any issue there, they won’t need” the rest of league “ownership to tell them about it.”

Jones wasn’t ranking them based on the Bills’ recent playoff record. The Pegulas paid $1.4 billion for the Bills, the most ever for an NFL franchise. That’s what gave them instant gravitas as top NFL owners in the eyes of Jones, who sees the world through greenback-covered eyes.

So what Jones is saying is, you’ve got the money and the wherewithal to build a new stadium. You’re in our club now, and you shouldn’t need us to tell you that your 43-year-old stadium isn’t good enough.

A lot of Buffalo fans don’t want to hear it. They’re content with the Ralph and want to preserve the so-called charm of the old place. They don’t want to see their taxes go up to pay for it and they’d like Pegula to stand up to the NFL and tell the other owners not to pressure him.

But you’re naive if you think the Pegulas aren’t eventually going to bend to the owners’ wishes. They’re not stupid. They knew what they were getting into when they bought the Bills. They’re builders. Just look at downtown. They didn’t buy into the NFL to sit on an aging, small-time facility.

A new stadium is inevitable. Most everyone agreed with that when Ralph Wilson was alive and people were scared that the Bills might leave town. There was a working stadium group, various plans in the works, and general acceptance among the people that a new building was a necessity.

The Bills were only too eager to float the idea of a new stadium when the new lease was announced in December 2012. At the time, county executive Poloncarz said the Ralph could be obsolete in 10 years. With six years to go on the lease, the owners are bullies to remind us of that?

The owners consider the Ralph one of the three worst stadium situations in the league – after Oakland and San Diego, two of the franchises that have been prominent in discussions of relocation. That’s not a club Buffalo fans should want to remain part of.

When Pegula bought the team in October 2014, he said, “There will be a new stadium.” There’s been little said about it since then. The stadium working committee that was formed when ownership was up in the air has been suspended, as Russ Brandon conceded.

During a radio interview last summer, Kim Pegula said a new stadium was on the back burner. Last December, Terry Pegula said there was no hurry, and mentioned the recent $130 million renovation to the Ralph.

The Pegulas inherited that ill-advised renovation, one the owners believed never should have happened. They believe it was money ill-spent, and that any further improvements to the Ralph will be good money thrown after bad. It’s hard to imagine a savvy businessman like Terry Pegula doing that.

The owners felt that money would have been better invested in a new stadium; it’ll cost the Pegulas something in the $300 million range to build a new one. Why would they spend another dime putting lipstick on the Ralph? Over the long term, they have a lot to gain financially from a new stadium.

It’s understandable if citizens want to proceed with caution; a new stadium would cost in the range of $900 million to $1 billion. The public would have to contribute a significant percentage. There would be personal seat licenses, which would be extremely unpopular with Bills fans who have grown accustomed to some of the most reasonable ticket prices in the sport.

I’m no more interested in paying more taxes than the next guy. I’m no NFL lover. I’ve said many times I’d trade the Bills for an NBA team. But if Buffalo fans want to be in the big leagues, they can’t cling to small-time thinking.

You’re either in or you’re out. Yes, the NFL reflects the society at large, with more money flowing to the top and the little man being priced out. There will be fewer seats in a new (presumably downtown) stadium, at a greater cost. That’s the sad reality of today’s NFL.

It’s a stadium-building league. If you’re going to celebrate being an NFL market and worship the Pegulas for keeping it that way, you have to accept it. The Bills are still here because the Pegulas decided to keep them here rather than move them to a more lucrative market.

You have to expect them to play by the club’s rules. You don’t join the Country Club of Buffalo and play golf at Delaware Park.

I know a lot of skeptics are outraged by the idea of building a new stadium. They wonder if Buffalo has the financial resources to support it. The studies show it’s a myth that new stadiums spin off a significant economic benefit – not for the people who really need it.

But if you’re one of those people who embrace the Bills as a community asset and believe in the “psychic” value of having an NFL team, you can’t have it both ways. There’s going to be a new stadium sooner or later. The owners are simply saying the Bills should be thinking sooner.


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