Losing the Bills was a legitimate fear for Western New Yorkers prior to the team's 2013 lease agreement with Erie County. Owner Ralph Wilson was aging and a new owner could've tried to relocate the team. But when the team signed a new lease that contained a non-relocation agreement with a $400 million penalty, those fears were eased.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz wrote a book detailing his view of the negotiations that will be released this summer. News reporters Tom Precious and Sandra Tan got an advance copy of the book and detailed their findings here.
One part that stuck out was how serious the Bills seemed to treat relocation during the negotiations. As Poloncarz tweeted, "the team's representatives expected it to be sold and moved" after Wilson's death. Of course, threatening relocation is the team's best negotiating tactic, but according to Poloncarz, even a new stadium wouldn't have swayed their thinking. Here's an excerpt:
In a meeting between the county and state in a conference room at John F. Kennedy Airport, (aides for Gov. Andrew Cuomo) dropped a bombshell, according to Poloncarz. The state had no interest in negotiating a one-year, temporary extension to the lease – one of the ideas being pitched by the Bills – but instead wanted a 15-year lease if tied to a major renovation of the stadium. Moreover, deputy county executive and key county negotiator Richard Tobe told Poloncarz that what the state really wanted was a 30-year lease tied to a new stadium in downtown Buffalo.
“They want a what?” a stunned-sounding Poloncarz recalls responding.
That idea faded within a couple of days, Poloncarz wrote, when two things became clear to the Cuomo administration: The Bills had no interest in a new stadium, and the county had already determined that a new stadium in downtown would not work for a host of financial and logistical reasons.
That's an interesting segment for multiple reasons, including the claim that a downtown stadium would not work. But it goes to show how set the Bills acted in regard to moving the team.
In the end, the relocation penalty seemed to do its job in scaring off prospective owners who wanted to relocate the team after Wilson's death. The team seems to be firmly planted in Western New York under the Pegulas' ownership, but we'll get a better sense of that as the lease's one-time early termination date of Feb. 28, 2020 approaches.
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