The Buffalo Bills and the independent organization of former players known as the Buffalo Bills Alumni Foundation will no longer formally work together, according to the alumni organization and the team which spoke to The Buffalo News this week. The biggest noticeable change for the group will be the inability to use the team’s two logos on their website or correspondences but there will also be financial ramifications.
The move underlies what many feel is a generational gap between older and younger alumni. The Bills hired 90s-era cornerback Marlon Kerner as their director of player engagement and alumni but most of those in power with the independent alumni group are twenty or thirty years older than Kerner, including organization president Booker Edgerson. All of the board members are from teams that played in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Foundation members say the team catered more to 90s-era players in recent years, including hiring Darryl Talley and keeping Hall of Famers Steve Tasker, Thurman Thomas, and Jim Kelly on the payroll. Kerner also mentioned that the team was the group that reached out to recent alumni, a group he says was underserved by the Alumni Foundation.
Edgerson, a Bills Wall of Famer who played during the 1960s, says the team has always been supportive of the alumni group, which was founded to provide an outlet for former players to help the community they served while they were still in uniform. He says the Alumni Foundation has contributed $2.5 million to charities since being formally founded in 1998, including a $100,000 contribution to Roswell Cancer Institute this January.
But a large financial investment came directly from the team, says Kerner, who estimates that the team’s direct funding, tickets and parking passes, and covering the cost of travel for out-of-town alumni when they returned to Buffalo for events was worth more than $100,000 annually. With that they wanted more say into where the money went. The Bills also have a staff already in place to handle things like appearance requests and requests for assistance, so Kerner sees it as a natural evolution. In 2013, the NFL launched their “Legends” initiative and teams have been bringing alumni relations in-house two years before Buffalo hired Kerner.
Kerner says the team will still provide some of that support like tickets to games and parking passes but will donate the money on behalf of the alumni instead of giving it to the Alumni Foundation to allocate. Using the team’s logo will be off-limits for the Foundation, because they aren’t an arm of the organization.
Both the team and alumni say this isn’t going to sever ties permanently. They both see the benefit in having a relationship and they say they won’t compete against each other.
“We’re always going to be supportive of them,” Edgerson said, “because, hey, I’m a Buffalo Bill, and nothing can change that.”