Buffalo Bills Stadium Upgrades Could Be Partly Funded By Team, League

Matt Warren, Buffalo Rumblings

Taxpayers in New York State may not have to foot the entire bill for potential renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The $200 million or more needed for upgrades at Ralph Wilson Stadium may not fall entirely at the feet of Erie County and New York State taxpayers, according to a report today from The Buffalo News. In the last ten years, two notable "small market" teams have taken advantage of a new NFL program the Buffalo Bills could also use.

"In both Kansas City and Green Bay, the team and the NFL combined to pay for at least one-third of the renovations," says the story by Gene Warner and Denise Jewell Gee. "Nobody's saying whether the Bills are willing to pay that high a share. Those close to the negotiations have put a gag order on the specific dollar amounts discussed, so the only people who know the details aren't saying."

In the last ten years, the NFL has matched private funding from teams to pay for stadium upgrades in the two cities. Under the league's G-4 loan program, the league matches the team's investment in the new stadium up to $100 million. In 2003, the Green Bay Packers put more than $63 million toward the complete retrofit of Lambeau Field. That figure was matched by the NFL for a $127 million private total, or 43 percent of the final cost. The remaining $168 million was picked up municipally.

At Arrowhead Stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs and the league combined to contribute one-third of the $375 million renovation price tag in 2010. The team contributed about $67 million to the project. Those figures come from John Vrooman, a sports economist at Vanderbilt University, cited by The Buffalo News.

Vrooman is quick to note that the Bills would likely not put that much into the renovations at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills are asking for much less money than the two other teams, and the ratio is what the economist eyes.

"The Chiefs' split was more like what will probably happen for the Bills," he told The Buffalo News.

If the Bills and NFL put one-third of the cost of a $225 million renovation, as the Chiefs did, it would cost Ralph Wilson $37.5 million, with the NFL matching that figure. The minimum amount the NFL will match is $25 million, according to NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy.

The Bills' lease expires a year from now, but both sides have said they expect an agreement of understanding by the July 26 opening of training camp - and a final deal in place before the current lease expires. Local and state government paid the entire $63 million renovation price tag in 1998.

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