A Buffalo Stampede

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So who owns the Buffalo Bills?

The answer is Ralph Wilson. But one would get the feeling that this was a government-run entity with recent events.

As you no doubt have heard, Wilson says that the new NFL collective bargaining agreement jeopardizes the financial survival of the Bills and other small market football teams. Wilson now appears to be willing to consider moving the franchise, something he previously said he would never do. And it’s because of the sharing arrangement. So bad is the situation, said Wilson, that he needs help.

He needs political help. And what does he get?

A Buffalo stampede that would do Willis McGahee proud. Rep. Tom Reynolds wrote a letter that took up Wilson’s cause and sent it to 94 other congressional representatives. Rep. Brian Higgins wants a congressional hearing about the Bills plight. State Sen George Maziarz put a petition on his website… a petition directed to "Commissioner Tagliabue" (as in Paul Tagliabue). A petition that talks about the hardworking western New Yorkers who will "roll up our sleeves" to keep the Bills in town. "I support the Buffalo Bills," the petition ends. Erie County Executive Joel Giambra weighs in.  Gubernatorial candidate Bill Weld says that he will go "helmet to helmet" to make sure that we don’t get "sacked" by a Bills departure. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer does a press conference with Wilson. Then he has a pow-wow with Paul Tagliabue.

How quickly the elected officials line up. And how tough they talk. They will fight to keep an NFL franchise from leaving the area. After all we in upstate New York couldn’t possibly survive the loss of an NFL franchise. Sure there are other problems –  the struggles of upstate cities to pay for services… the inability to attract jobs upstate… the crushing taxes and government spending burdens for local governments and taxpayers… the performance of schools. But come on, this is the Buffalo Bills.

Sure… some would argue that the elected officials are simply jumping on a bandwagon that might get easy press attention and give them easy praise from the electorate. They might say that it’s far simpler to back the Bills than, say, put effort into Medicaid reform or workers compensation changes.

Why with that kind of reaction from the public officials, you would think that this was a publicly-owned football team. But it’s not. It’s Ralph Wilson’s team.

Wilson tells the press that he doesn’t want public money for a new stadium – or to make up what he says are going to be revenue shortfalls. That’s good. Because the last time a threat of moving was voiced by the privately-owned Buffalo Bills… the state coughed up $96 million improve the county-owned stadium that bears his name.

The claim of losses by the Bills is just that – a claim. It’s not like the team cracks open the books for public scrutiny. They aren’t publicly-owned. Not that they aren’t in a tough position (as Leo Roth of the Democrat and Chronicle points out nicely in his piece

This whole thing winds up being quite a statement about what it is that we value. If this were a manufacturing firm – it would not get nearly this kind of attention from the public… it would not receive these kinds of public displays by elected officials. And a few years back… the last time the team complained about its survival in Western New York… the state gave it millions to refurbish the stadium in Orchard Park. You don’t see that every day either.

The investment isn’t just lung power from fans on a fall Sunday. It appears to be tax money… and the time of our regional and statewide lawmakers.

But remember who owns the team – and who would gain from any sales of the team in the end.