On Tuesday, the Buffalo Bills announced they were extending the five-year deal they initially signed with Rogers Communications in 2008. The company line is that it expands the Bills' brand while providing the team with a shot in the arm of cash. But there is an untapped revenue stream sitting in Orchard Park on the side of the team's home as long as it says Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Earlier this month, the Cleveland Browns signed a deal with FirstEnergy for the rights to name their stadium for 17 years at an average of $6 million per season. As the Bills cry poor in the NFL, a naming rights deal of a similar nature could garner the Bills $60 million over the course of the new lease without having to ship games to a foreign country.
Erie County Executive Marc Poloncarz discussed the naming rights of the stadium at the time of the lease announcement. He spoke with WGR 550's Schopp and the Bulldog on December 21. You can find it at the 16-minute mark.
"Naming rights were on the table," said Poloncarz. "We let the Bills know that when it comes to the value of the naming rights, that's money that could arguably be theirs that we are not going to pick up for them. They have the option of selling the naming rights, and they have elected not to do that. For the county and the state to pick up the tab because the Bills have elected not to do that is not fair. It's all part of the [new lease] agreement."
Selling the naming rights would be a one-time money grab for the organization. The same can't be said for the Toronto Series, but the naming rights can't be ignored. One of the selling points of the first deal was the team made considerably more for one leased game at the Rogers Centre than a game in Orchard Park.
The Toronto Series is different in that the goal is regionalization in addition to the increased revenue. Bills CEO Russ Brandon calls the deal "key" for the long-term viability of the franchise, and he's right. By increasing the fan base into a city ripe with potential corporate sponsors, he can continue to strengthen the team's foothold in the region to the point where a new owner might consider keeping the team in Buffalo.
Any new owner will know that naming rights are on the table, but it's not something that would sour a sale. It only costs the Bills money every year the team owner keeps his name on the side of the building. In a day and age when 24 of the league's teams play in sponsored stadiums and the Washington Redskins sell naming rights to their parking lots (!), Buffalo is the only organization with their team owner's name on the building. (Paul Brown, Cincinnati's stadium namesake, died in 1991. It's the only other stadium named for a team owner.)
Brandon was elevated to team president on January 1, 2013. With Wilson stepping further into the shadows and a new head coach on the horizon, a new lease signed and a new Toronto deal imminent, it seems logical that Brandon would at least explore selling the name of the stadium. Perhaps after his "emotional" meeting with Wilson, where the longtime owner handed over control, Brandon wants to keep the name out of respect for a man he called a "father figure."
Brandon's business background should tell him all he needs to know about selling the naming rights to Ralph Wilson Stadium. There's no better time than in conjunction with a new lease.