NFL owners step up pressure for new Bills stadium, Schumer says Congress could chip in funds

I’ve heard of sports team owners standing back and letting league officials do the heavy pressuring around new stadiums, but the scene in Buffalo, where Bills owner Terry Pegula has been saying he doesn’t need a new stadium anytime soon while sportswriters and now NFL officials say otherwise, is just bizarre:

A source with intimate knowledge of the NFL’s stadium situations described Ralph Wilson Stadium as one of the “three worst stadiums in the league,” along with those in Oakland and San Diego…

“It gets tougher and tougher to compete when all these new stadiums are going up and” the Bills are “going to be at a disadvantage, I think, somewhat competitively unless they get one,” New York Giants owner John Mara said. “We’d all like to see them get a new building.”…

The NFL doesn’t see the $130-million face-lift of The Ralph as major.

“No, it isn’t,” said a league official, who requested anonymity. “In fact, I was not for that renovation. None of us were. In other words, we thought we should have gone right to the question of what should be the big renovation or a new facility. Because if you’re going to build one, you’re going to try to break ground within five or 10 years from now. If you’re going to do that, then you sort of didn’t need to spend that $130 million. You should have saved that for the new facility.”

There are so many possibilities here of what’s going on: Pegula could be playing good cop, and letting his fellow owners rattle the new-stadium saber on his behalf; there could genuinely be a split between him and the rest of the league on how soon to push for a new stadium right after the state of New York spent $130 million to renovate the old one; or everyone involved could be in agreement to wait a few years and then see where the political climate stands.

Regardless, even this level of non-threats has seemingly shaken loose a potential offer of stadium cash from one local politician:

[U.S. Senator Charles] Schumer says he’s talked with National Football League Commissioner Roger Goddell and Bills owner Terry Pegula.

“The original rush to build a stadium was to keep the Bills in Buffalo, and the stadium would. Pegula’s committed to Buffalo. Everyone’s convinced he’s committed to Buffalo. And so…there’ll be talk about a stadium. Nothing definitive nothing answered. But I don’t think there’s a rush towards it.”

But when the time comes, Schumer says, he want’s to do the right thing for Buffalo. And he says some federal funding may be available for infrastructure improvements required for any potential stadium site.

If there’s anything that should cheer you up with tax day just a couple of weeks away, it’s the prospect of your federal tax dollars soon going to help the Buffalo Bills owner get a new stadium. Because don’t we all want to do the right thing for Buffalo?

“Aging stadium makes Bills fans drunk and stupid” is totally a meme now, guys

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle football reporter Sal Maiorana has a story up today about how fan misbehavior in the parking lot outside Buffalo Bills games is concerning team execs — Bills fans were apparently rated #1 in drunkenness in 2015, which is impressive both because of the baseline and as something that can actually be measured — which naturally enough segues into a discussion of how Buffalo could solve this by building the team a new stadium with fewer parking lots:

Of course, much of the nonsense in the parking lots would go away if and when the Bills build a new stadium in downtown Buffalo because with so little space to park, the tailgate experience would almost cease to exist.

However, that’s not happening anytime in the near future. [Bills president Russ] Brandon said the issue of building a new stadium has been pushed to the back burner, going so far as to say that the New Buffalo Bills Stadium committee that was formed in 2014 has, for now, been “suspended.”…

“With the lease being up when it is (2023), there’s going to be very thoughtful conversation in both the private and public sector down the road if that’s the route we go,” said Brandon.

If this bizarro argument sounds familiar, it’s probably because you remember when SBNation’s Bills blogger said pretty much the exact same thing less than two months ago. It’s tough to guess from this distance whether “Aging stadium causes football fans to get drunk and act stupid” is a meme that someone in Bills management is trying to plant in the sports media, or just something that sportswriters have come up on their own in hopes of having something to write about in the offseason, but here we are. Can we maybe somehow blame the Buffalo accent on it, too? Crazier arguments have been made!

Bills fans like to get drunk and act stupid, blogger says stadium is to blame

As an early entrant to the “Craziest Reasons of 2016 to Build a New Stadium” competition, I present to you SBNation Buffalo Bills blogger Matt Warren, who thinks the Bills need a new stadium because their fans keep getting drunk and acting stupid in the parking lot of the old one:

As Bills fans’ behavior continues to make national headlines for all the wrong reasons, that timeline might be moved up; the rationale holds that that behavior can be ameliorated by moving the stadium to a more controlled, downtown location.

“The rationale holds” — not sure whose rationale this is, but Mr. Straw Man has some ‘splaining to do about how a parking lot downtown is any more “controlled” than one out in the sticks. Warren adds that “a new downtown stadium could change not only the zip code, but the clientele in attendance at the game,” which seems to imply that he thinks people who attend football games at schmancy downtown venues don’t get drunk, or at least when they do are less likely to do backflips onto folding tables. Which, I haven’t spent that much time in Buffalo, maybe he’s right — but spending a billion dollars on a new stadium just in hopes that your doofus fans don’t end up on Deadspin seems like an awfully inefficient use of resources.

Bills owner says he’ll wait to ask for new stadium until it’s less embarrassing to do so

Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula was asked yesterday about his demands for a new stadium right after getting $130 million in state-funded renovations for his old one, and said, in essence, Shh, not so loud:

“The only answer to that question is the state and county, there’s been a lot of money put into Ralph Wilson Stadium,” Pegula said. “We’re in no hurry. We realize that if that work was just done, how foolish would you look if you start looking around for a new stadium when we’ve just renovated the one we have? We have time. We have an existing lease on the current stadium.”

Yeah, what kind of schmuck would demand a new stadium right after collecting a pile of state subsidies for renovations? I mean, really

“Well, there’s going to be a new stadium somewhere, that’s all I know,” Terry Pegula said. “The league was pretty emphatic that Buffalo — we’re a small market — needs to be as competitive as we can.”

It’s all about the timing.

Cuomo now says Bills stadium plan not “imminent,” acts like he’s not the one who raised it

It’s time again to play follow the bouncing Cuomo! To recap New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statements on funding a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills right after funding $227 million in renovations to the old one:

May 26, 2014: “If it was essential, I would support it.”

June 4, 2014: “I am very cautious about anything that would cost more money.”

August 10, 2014: “If we need a new stadium to keep the Bills here long term, that’s something that I’m interested in talking about.”

September 10, 2014: “I think the stadium with the renovations is doing very well.”

September 15, 2014: “The stadium’s good. Let’s stay right here for a while.”

And now yesterday:

A decision on whether and where to build a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills is not “imminent,’’ Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday in Buffalo.

After a state-funded report that the administration commissioned was released last month identifying possible sites for a new stadium, Cuomo signaled to reporters that resolution of the stadium issue is far from a burning issue for his administration.

““I’m not at a point where I have a preference … I think the location question is premature,’’ Cuomo said.

Right, it’s so not urgent that Cuomo had to appoint a state commission to investigate it. Clearly something is going on here — either the Bills’ new owners have signaled to Cuomo that they want to hush up all the stadium talk until it’s a better time, as the Buffalo News’s Tom Precious speculates, or Cuomo himself wants to wait until it’s a better time — but it’d take a state-commissioned investigation to find out what.

Buffalo voters split on whether taxpayers should spend anything on new Bills stadium

Okay, so now the Buffalo News has reported on what voters told pollsters about whether they’d support public funding for a Bills stadium, and it’s not quite as rosy as last week’s reports on how many people just like new stadiums in general:

In a random scientific poll that showed a clear majority favoring a new facility and a downtown location for it, some 48 percent of voters polled said taxpayers should pay some of the costs for the Bills’ new home. That’s exactly the same percentage of people who said the public should pay none of the costs.

None of the 505 voters surveyed between Jan. 20 and 21 said the public should pay the total cost of a new football palace, which is expected to cost upward of $1 billion. And only 1 percent said the public should pay most of the costs.

This is no surprise, of course — if anything, it’s a bit puzzling that that many people would voluntarily say that they should be on the hook for part of the cost of a stadium, though I suppose years of “public-private partnership” talk has softened up the populace, especially when the question is just whether “some” of the costs should be borne by taxpayers. (“Some? Does that include one dollar? I could be in for one dollar.”) In fact, a better question — or set of questions — would have been “Would you still support a Bills stadium if the public is asked to pay X% of the costs?” since that’s likely to be the decision that local lawmakers will need to decide on. Maybe next poll, if there is a next poll.

Buffalo poll finds voters want new downtown Bills stadium, neglects to ask about paying for it

The Buffalo News has conducted a poll of county voters on a new Bills stadium, and they asked — oh, come on, what do you think they asked?

55 percent of all the people surveyed said the new stadium should be located downtown, while 40 percent favor Orchard Park, the poll found.

Apparently having run out of ways to send reporters out to cover where are we gonna build a new stadium oh boy oh boy, the News is now crowdsourcing this story.

Okay, the News did also ask Erie County voters whether they think the Bills should get a new stadium, and respondents supported that as well, 54-36%. And that’s all that anyone could want to know about public opinion on the project, right?

The survey of 505 Erie County registered voters offered a far different take on the stadium issue than some of the public dialogue about it, which has centered on concerns about financing the facility and the potential loss of the Bills’ tailgating tradition if the team were to move downtown.

Right, these people didn’t express concerns about how to finance construction of a new stadium, because … hey, did we forget to ask them if they thought the public should help the Bills pay for a new stadium? Aw, crap. Well, it probably wasn’t important anyway.

Buffalo News actually reports on Bills stadium funding plan, sky doesn’t fall

For anyone who’s read my coverage of the Buffalo News’s coverage of the Bills stadium plans, this will come as a bit of a shock, but: The News has actually run an article exploring how the stadium would be paid for! Not just where it would go! It’s a miracle!

Okay, so “explored” may be pushing things. The article in question mostly just runs down the projected cost of a stadium (“around $1 billion”), then how much other cities have spent on subsidizing stadiums (“direct public costs associated with those projects ranged from zero to 90 percent”), then alleges that “recent history” shows NFL teams and other private sources like PSL and naming-rights sales are starting to pay a bigger share of costs (not true according to Judith Grant Long’s figures, but maybe if you only count “direct public costs,” okay), and we get:

Unless the Bills’ new billionaire owner breaks with tradition, taxpayers in some way will be on the hook if a new stadium is built.

Still, this is an actual article that cites people on various sides of the stadium-funding question (including both E.J. McMahon of the conservative Empire Center for Public Policy and Ron Deutsch of the progressive Fiscal Policy Institute, both of whom oppose stadium subsidies for the Bills), and talks a bit about both the economics and politics of any deal. If this is the start of a new era in actual reporting by the News, then Buffalo citizens (and New York state citizens, since the state is talking about kicking in a chunk of the stadium cost) will be well-served. If it’s just a momentary blip and the News now feels comfortable going back to “Where will the new stadium go?” every other week … well, let’s try to stay glass-half-full, shall we?

Bills owners say new stadium needed to be “competitive,” whatever that means

New Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula have made it official: They want to build a new stadium! Or have someone build them a new stadium. Or the NFL wants them to have a new stadium. Or something. Someday.

“Well, there’s going to be a new stadium somewhere, that’s all I know,” Terry Pegula said. “The league was pretty emphatic that Buffalo — we’re a small market — needs to be as competitive as we can.”

The one answer the Pegulas couldn’t provide yet is a location, timeline or how the costs of a new stadium will be split.

The Pegulas stressed they’re in no rush after the Bills’ current home, Ralph Wilson Stadium, underwent $140 million in renovations this off-season.

There’s that word “competitive” again — as those of you who’ve read our book may recall, this is part of the standard stadium playbook, though as Detroit stadium activist Frank Rashid pointed out, it’s seldom specified whether this means “competitive on the field, or the business is competitive, or what. But it suffices, because nobody asks what they mean by it. There’s never a follow-up question.”

Also not asked: How anyone knows that a new stadium would help the Bills be competitive when no one knows how much it would cost or who would pay for it. (One of the keys to making money on an investment is having the amount you spend be less than the amount you get back in new revenues. Actually, the only key.)

These would all be excellent followup questions, and the Buffalo News had a whole exclusive interview with the Pegulas to do it in, and … nope. Though we did get this tidbit from Terry:

“Sports are important. I saw it in Pittsburgh. I saw Pittsburgh transform itself from a smelly, dingy steel town to Renaissance One, and I believe there was a Renaissance Two. And championships both in football and baseball, and everybody’s head all of sudden lifted up.”

Owner of two pro sports franchises thinks sports are important. Stop the freaking presses.

Western NY voters oppose subsidies for Bills stadium by more than 3-to-1 margin

After much asking of where a new Buffalo Bills stadium should be built, somebody finally asked local residents if they think their tax dollars should help pay for one. And the answer was resoundingly negative:

The poll found 71 percent of all respondents were opposed, 21 percent in favor and 5 percent undecided. That likely comes as little surprise, given the challenges facing western New York, and a national economy emerging from recession with a disgruntled electorate.

“When we’re having the problems that we’re having, that (a new football stadium) is kind of ridiculous,” said poll respondent Carol Saj, 74, of Penfield. “We just put a ton of money into the one that’s up there.”

This wasn’t the Buffalo News doing the poll, of course, because the Buffalo News doesn’t admit that whether to build a new stadium is even a question that should be asked in polite company. Rather, it was the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, which hired a polling firm to do a telephone poll of 500 Monroe County registered voters.

[EDIT: As should have been obvious to me when I wrote this, the D&C not only isn’t in Buffalo, but didn’t even poll Buffalo voters — Buffalo is in Erie County, not Monroe. (Rochester is in Monroe.) That makes this telephone poll even more feeble, though it’s still marginally relevant in that it’s all New York state taxpayers who are expected to foot at least part of the bill for a new stadium, just as they did with the renovations to the current one.]

The D&C blames the recent NFL domestic violence and brain injury scandals for the stadium’s poor showing, but really, it should come as no surprise, as New York taxpayers just paid a bundle for renovations to the Bills’ old stadium, and even that was pretty unpopular. You’d almost think that voters are generally opposed to public subsidies for private sports venues — but nah, nobody around the newsroom thinks like that, so that can’t be right.