The Buffalo Bills, New York State and Erie County are set to announce a new 10-year lease for Ralph Wilson Stadium on Friday. Forgive me if I'm playing the role of the water-logged villain in the ocean of positive vibes emanating from Bills fans: the new lease changes nothing as far as the threat of relocation goes.
It's easy to point to the astronomical $400 million buyout a new owner would need to pay the county and state to move the team as reason to believe that the odds of moving have changed. New York State built that provision in to recoup all the money they've given the Bills for improvements to Ralph Wilson Stadium since before 1997.
But in negotiations, there is give and take. To offset that hefty fee, the Bills were able to get a freebie. They can leave with an inconsequential $28 million penalty after year seven. That is my reason for pessimism in this deal. Even at 10 years, the short-term nature of this lease still makes the Bills an attractive candidate to relocate.
If a Los Angeles-based ownership group purchased the team in the next few years, by the time the sale was voted on and finalized, the time frame would be even shorter than the current seven-year window. Add in the time it will take to build the sparkling new cathedral in L.A. (it took three and a half years to build the newStadium), and now you're in position where you are able to move the team. The timing can still work for an L.A. ownership entity.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he wants a team or two in the second-largest media market in the country, but it's been 17 years since professional football was played in Los Angeles. Opportunities don't come along every day, and the Bills coming up for sale would be a big opportunity - even if it meant waiting a few extra years.
Even the threat of playing in front of an empty stadium won't dissuade a new ownership group from moving the Bills. They would be preparing for a move to a huge media market, with corporate suites coming out of their ears and the largest television contract ready to be signed in 2022 (which is the same year the Bills' lease is up, for the record). That's where the majority of revenue comes from, and that's how the investors are going to make their money if that's their primary objective.
The only way the Bills get a buffer from L.A. is if a team (or, ideally, two teams) move into the market. San Diego would be the best option. They are having stadium issues, they can't sell out their games (even when they were good), and they are mostly local.
I want to applaud the Bills, New York State and Erie County for getting a lease done. But until the Bills have a local owner, or there are teams in every insatiable NFL market, we aren't even close to being out of the woods yet.