Bills try to sneak through $226m in stadium subsidies without anybody noticing

It’s one of the basics of public relations that when you want to bury a story so that no one does any substantive reporting on it, you release it on a Friday afternoon when all the reporters are headed home for the weekend. So look what got announced on the Friday before a long Christmas weekend, yet:

The Buffalo Bills aren’t going anywhere any time soon, and the team’s CEO, Russ Brandon, guaranteed it Friday.

“Guaranteed,” Brandon said at a hastily called news conference, announcing the Bills had agreed to sign a new 10-year lease with the state and county to continue playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

“This is a monumental day for us,” he added. “The Buffalo Bills are right here in western New York, where we’re going to be for many decades to come.”

That’s the start of the Associated Press story that almost every news outlet ran with, and it’s actually not entirely correct: The Bills and New York state agreed not on a lease, but on a memorandum of understanding about the terms of the lease, which has yet to be finalized. And while Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to this lease deal, it still needs to be voted for by both the state legislature and Erie County legislature.

Under the proposed lease, the state would immediately pay $94.5 million toward renovations of Ralph Wilson Stadium, which is less than the $200 million that the Bills owners asked for earlier this year. The state would also be on the hook, though, for $132.3 million in operating subsidies over the next ten years. And it establishes an exploratory committee for building a new stadium at that point, meaning in effect the state is agreeing to pay the Bills to play in Buffalo while they’re waiting for a new stadium to be built.

In exchange, the Bills agree to be locked in to staying put through 2020, though after that they can buy their way out of the lease for a small fee. Given that it’s likely to be several years before anyone could build an NFL stadium for the Bills to move to anyway, this is a massive no-brainer for the Bills, who get to have their immediate stadium subsidy and still keep the opportunity for saber-rattling about a move in order to get a new stadium deal — hell, the Tampa Bay Rays have a lease that doesn’t expire until 2027, and that hasn’t stopped them.

But anyway, the Bills’ coach calls this “a win-win it looks like to me for everybody,” and the head of the Buffalo Bills Backers Club is ecstatic, and Deadspin says of the deal:

The CEO also did not answer questions about how exactly this will improve the morale of Western New Yorkers when they’re on the hook to pay more in annual taxes (about $226 million over 10 years) than the team gives back to the state (about $20 million annually), and fans may well find themselves watching the franchise play out the Buffalo string very shortly into this 10-year lease (which has a small buy-out after seven years). But other than that, this is a proud day for the community.

Okay, well, so not everybody is thrilled. Just pretend that Deadspin went home for the holidays along with all the other news outlets, and it’s a merry Christmas for all!


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