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Use caution when reading Buffalo Bills new stadium reports, as details are already changing

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

Hoo boy what a day. On Sunday, The Buffalo News reported that Kim and Terry Pegula had requested $1.1 billion in funding from New York State for a new stadium in Orchard Park and $400,000 for renovations at KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo. These reported upgrades to the homes of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres were met with disdain from folks around New York and beyond.

Politicians and citizens from all over the state recoiled at taxpayer money going to subsidize a billionaire’s private business and the tone-deaf attitude of asking for 100% financing when teams typically get between 40% and 70% of the building financed. Rightfully so.

Another report from a national source said Austin, Texas was a site being floated by Bills’ ownership as a potential bogeyman waiting to scoop up the team.

As we said Sunday, at worst this was all just the start of a negotiation between the Bills and the state on a new stadium. Yeah it was tone deaf and silly, but the details weren’t supposed to leak out. On the other side, New York’s anchor offer should be 100% private financing. Then when that’s dispatched, they can actually start negotiating.

Later Sunday, new details began to emerge quoting sources inside the Pegula organization with much different language. A spokesperson told The Buffalo News that the $1.1 billion figure was inaccurate and that the team was not seeking public assistance for KeyBank Center.

Further, one of the key points against the Pegulas has now been clarified:

“A person with knowledge of the discussions among the team, the state and Erie County said the team had not threatened to move the Bills to another city if a major public financing arrangement was not settled upon. But the source said the team made clear that other cities are interested in getting an NFL franchise.”

After all that, one of the most Pegula-connected reporters on the beat has been throwing cold water on the reports. John Wawrow of the Associated Press has said he’s not going to write about the stadium deal without confirmation, but had a lot to say for someone who is not reporting noting a few times Monday morning that “the story is already changing”.

He also threw this into the mix, for folks that are wondering about the Orchard Park location:

“As of two weeks ago, a lot of things were exceptionally preliminary, including the site,” tweeted Wawrow Sunday night.

All of this is to say that both sides are negotiating. If I was New York State, I’d want to make the Pegulas look suspect to gain public support for a drawn-out negotiation by leaking information that they asked for 100% taxpayer funding of a $1.1 billion stadium. I wouldn’t mention that New York taxpayers gave more than that to the New York Yankees or almost that much to the New York Mets.

It should also be noted, that it would be extremely unlikely the stadium cost is only going to be $1.1 billion. Allegiant Stadium was $1.8 billion two years ago. SoFi Stadium was reportedly $2.66 billion. You’d have to go back to 2016 and U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota to find one under $1.1 billion, and while that’s a great target at which to aim, it was five years ago before a global pandemic and inflation undoubtedly raised the price.

All that is to say that you should line up a dump truck full of grains of salt at this point in negotiations. We don’t know where the stadium is going to be, or how much it’s going to cost, or how it’s going to be financed. With a 2023 deadline on the existing deal, we can expect to progress fairly quickly in the stadium discussions and it would be no surprise to extend the current lease by a year or two to make it work.

Highmark Stadium is the fourth-oldest stadium in the NFL and the three older stadiums have undergone much more extensive renovations than the stadium in Orchard Park. The Atlanta Falcons have built and played in two different stadiums since the Bills started playing at Rich Stadium. The team could use a new facility that wasn’t designed with Richard Nixon was in the White House.