With the passing of Bills’ founder and owner Ralph Wilson earlier this week, the somber news has been followed by the idea that the Bills are a candidate for relocation. Wilson, of course, was a huge proponent for keeping the Bills in Buffalo.
New ownership, however, would most likely be less enthused about keeping the Bills in the city they originated in over 50 years ago when they sprung up as a part of the American Football League. Donn Esmonde of The Buffalo News writes that it would be unexpected if the team remained there past the current lease, which is set to expire in 2022 and can be bought out in 2019.
Esmonde spoke to two authorities on the business of sports, Ted Fay who teaches sports management at SUNY Cortland, and David Carter who teaches sports business at USC. Neither of them are optimistic that the Buffalo would be able to retain their beloved Bills.
“Long term, it’s fair to say the team is at risk of being moved,” said Fay. “Buffalo doesn’t make common sense as a business model.”
Carter, who also serves as a consultant for several NFL-seeking cities and a prospective NFL owner in Southern California, agrees that the Bills are a candidate for relocation.
“Ultimately, I think the money does talk,” said Carter. “You have such a small corporate presence in the region. If you are not in a market that generates added revenue (for an owner), you’re really hamstrung. So I think greener pastures will be explored.”
Esmonde notes that the region of upstate New York does not have a single Fortune-500 company, and Fay adds that while in Los Angeles private citizens can afford luxury suites, the consumer base in Buffalo is one that has not yet been solicited for personal seat licenses, and idea that has become common across the NFL.
Carter believes that on the open market the Bills would not be valued based on their location in Buffalo, but instead on how its worth would be in a larger market.
The scenario in which Buffalo keeps their team longer is specific, and would involve a local ownership group as well as cooperation from the NFL.
“The NFL, as a brand and image, likes those iconic, cold-weather, visceral places like Buffalo,” Fay said. “The league has to weigh the benefits and the costs – not just monetary – of extracting Buffalo from its equation.”
Thanks to Wilson, the organization will have time to decide rather than be yanked out from Buffalo abruptly, but while Wilson has bought the city some time, their long term prospects are still unlikely.