NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and league owners can do all of the nudging and cajoling they want through the media.
The Buffalo Bills are going to continue to take their sweet time when it comes to addressing when, where, or even whether they’ll build a new stadium.
“We have not met and discussed anything relative to all the noise,” Bills managing partner and President Russ Brandon said of the New Stadium Working Group, formed two years ago, that includes state and local political leaders. “We have not met since April (2014), right after (previous team owner) Ralph (Wilson) passed away, on a new stadium.
“We’re going to take a very slow, quantitative, objective view on what makes sense.”
Political leaders will be major players in the process, just as they were for the last two renovations of Ralph Wilson Stadium in 1999 and 2013.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz, for one, has been vocal in his criticism of NFL owners for trying to put pressure on the Bills and Western New York to get a new stadium built. He said it has more to do with their desire to gain more revenue that it does with any genuine concern over the Bills’ inability to remain competitive in their current facility. Polancarz went as far as to demand the NFL open its books and prove the Bills are lagging competitively because of where they play.
But Brandon stressed that, whenever the time comes, the Bills fully intend to work closely with local and state politicians.
“Every renovation we’ve been through could not have happened without the partnership of the county and the state, and any future renovation, retrofit or new stadium will require having partnership with the county and the state,” Brandon said. “Mark and the county have been great partners with us and very supportive of the renovation, and we would not have gotten to the finish line without Mark’s support in the past. And, at the appropriate time, we’ll sit down and talk about what we need to look at.
“In any major initiative, you’re going to need your partnership with the county, city, state, whoever it may be. And getting everyone aligned is always the art. So we’ll just cross that bridge when we have to cross it.”
A new stadium poses challenges that, as Brandon points out, might not necessarily be a good fit for Western New York. In all likelihood, it would have significantly fewer seats than The Ralph, whose capacity is 71,850, and prices for tickets, club seats and luxury suites would dramatically increase.
That’s a large part of why the Bills don’t want to rush into anything and are going to conduct thorough studies.
“We have made the model work on the Bills side, based on how we have built the business from a volume standpoint,” Brandon said. “So you have a lot of tickets in the building, general-admission seats in the building, 6,800 club seats, a lot of suites and price points have been fairly manageable, amongst the lowest in the league. As we go through market-condition studies and different things that you do when you look at things, like we’ve done previously with renovations, and as you update that information, you have to look and see what makes sense.
“The key is to realize that we are not LA. We are not Atlanta. We’re not Minneapolis. People say, ‘Oh, we’re very similar to Minneapolis.’ They have 28 Fortune 500 companies in that community. We have zero. We have to be a regional operation. We know that. That’s proven.
“But with a new stadium comes new economics. And with new economics comes a public-private partnership, (personal seat licenses), a lot of infrastructure cost. So we have to look at it in a very macro view and make sure that, as a community and as an organization, that there’s a partnership that exists that makes sense.”