The future of the Bills in Buffalo became slightly less clear on Sunday, when the Buffalo News reported that owners of the team want a new stadium to be funded entirely by taxpayer money. On Wednesday, Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz tried to take some steam out of the situation — with an important caveat.
“We will get a deal done,” Poloncarz said, via ESPN.com. “It’s just got to be a fair deal for all.”
Poloncarz said, both verbally and on Twitter, that the team has not threatened to move if their requests aren’t met.
“I want the public to understand there’s been no gun put to the head of Erie County and New York state stating, ‘If you do not do this, we are moving,’” Poloncarz said. “I want people to understand negotiations are a long process. . . . A negotiation takes time. It takes compromise on both sides.”
In fairness to the Buffalo News, it didn’t report that threats had been made. It reported that, during the discussions that have occurred to date, representatives of the Bills have not made any threats but have “made clear to government negotiators that there are other cities elsewhere that desire an NFL franchise and would pay handsomely for it.”
Yes, that’s how negotiations happen. To get whatever the Bills want (or to even get close to it), they need leverage. Without the express or implicit suggestion that there’s an “or else” in the equation, they won’t get what they want.
For the city, the county, and the state, paying the full price of the stadium surely doesn’t amount to a “fair deal.” The question becomes whether the bottom line for the team intersects with the bottom line for the politicians.
But here’s the most important reality. The fact that the issue has emerged puts any and all other cities on notice of an opportunity to cobble together a package that could be sufficiently better than what can or will be offered in Buffalo. If the best offer from another city is close to the best offer from Buffalo, presumably the team would stay put. If the gap is so big that it can’t objectively be ignored, that becomes a potential problem.
For now, it’s unknown whether another city will make the Pegulas an offer they can’t or won’t refuse. What is known, however, is that there’s a reason for a city that believes having an NFL team unlocks a higher degree or tax revenue or status or whatever to start crunching numbers. That’s how Las Vegas got the Raiders from Oakland. That’s how Baltimore got the Ravens (Browns) from Cleveland. That’s how Indianapolis got the Colts from Baltimore.
That’s how it works. And while it’s premature to spot a viable alternative destination for the Bills, it’s not premature to wonder whether a viable alternative will emerge before the Bills sign off on whatever the best offer is that can be made in their current location.