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Pegulas’ initial proposal asks for 100% taxpayer-funded stadium for Buffalo Bills

When Kim and Terry Pegula purchased the Buffalo Bills, we knew the next question was going to be when the team was going to build a new stadium. For at least seven years, the NFL has been poking and prodding trying to get a new facility for New York State’s only NFL franchise. With a looming deadline of an expiring lease in 2023, the sides have begun to talk about replacing, not renovating, the team’s home now called Highmark Stadium.

The team would like to remain in Orchard Park, according to multiple reports over the last six weeks, and build a facility next to the current stadium. The old stadium would then be razed for parking and the team would never have to host games in an alternate market.

On Sunday, Tom Precious of The Buffalo News reported that early negotiations have the Pegulas asking for 100% of the money for the project funded by the taxpayers. Precious, the News’ Albany bureau chief, also says the Pegulas asked for money to renovate the KeyBank Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres, as part of the negotiation. In the proposal, $1.1 billion would go to a new Bills stadium while $400,000 would go downtown to KeyBank.

This is a “non-starter” for New York State, per the report, who does not think the taxpayers should be on the hook for all the money. The current stadium is owned by Erie County and the new stadium would have the same arrangement. Precious has done research on the issue, noting that most stadiums are between 40% and 70% taxpayer-funded, certainly nowhere near 100%.

The team has made no overt threats of leaving during the talks, but the negotiations have made clear that other cities are lining up to pay for an NFL team.

It’s been proven in multiple studies that NFL stadiums and sports venues in general aren’t really worth the money in terms of economic cost. They barely break even for the taxpayers in most cases. Especially in a town largely devoid of corporate sponsorship partners and companies willing to fork over major dollars for private boxes, the cost is either going to be borne by taxpayers or ticketholders.

“Governor Cuomo is committed to the Bills staying in Buffalo, as demonstrated by the state’s contribution to the recent $130 million investment in the current stadium,” said Cuomo spokesperson Freeman Klopott of the budget office. “The administration is fully engages with the Bills and other stakeholders as we conduct due diligence to understand the economic around the team’s proposal...”

This is a negotiating tactic, plain and simple. The Pegulas are asking for the whole kit and caboodle up front knowing they won’t get it and use it as a starting point. While emerging from a global health emergency and a severely impacted economic state in 2020, it’s a bit tone deaf and silly, but it’s a negotiating tactic nonetheless. No one on either side expects the Pegulas to pick up 100% of the tab and no one expects the taxpayers to pick up 100% of the tab.

Where we ultimately end up is going to take months to figure out. We’ll provide updates as it happens.