Did Roger Goodell subtly threaten Bills fans over stadium issue at Jim Kelly's charity event?

Shalise Manza YoungYahoo Sports Columnist
Yahoo Sports

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is spending Monday in Western New York, playing in Hall of Famer – and cancer-free legend – Jim Kelly’s charity golf tournament.

Not surprisingly, Goodell again took the occasion to push for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, even seemingly subtly threatening the city and fan base.

‘I want the Bills to be successful’

Goodell spoke to reporters before teeing off at Kelly’s annual event, and was asked about the alleged need for the Bills to play in a new facility.

He wants to see New Era Field, the Bills’ 45-year-old stadium, replaced.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell once again said he believes the Buffalo Bills need to replace New Era Field. (AP)
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell once again said he believes the Buffalo Bills need to replace New Era Field. (AP)

“The reason why I'm supportive is because I want to make sure this franchise remains stable here and continues and remain competitive,” Goodell said, via Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News. “And I think it's great for this community. And we've been able to do these stadiums in such a way that it creates a tremendous economic benefit, too.

“I want the Bills to be successful and I want them to continue to be competitive here in Buffalo.”

The remarks are similar to the ones Goodell made in 2016 at the same event, when he said Buffalo must “stay up” with modern NFL facilities.

Reporters on Monday pressed Goodell on whether that meant the Bills could relocate and he responded, “I don’t know about that.”

‘Answer is probably a scaled-down palace’

It’s nothing new to see the NFL and team owners threaten fan bases with relocation unless residents pony up the money for a new stadium.

But Buffalo without the Bills? You can’t be serious.

Earlier this year at the NFL owners’ meetings, Buffalo owner Terry Pegula was asked about the stadium issue and said the league “more or less” wants to “see something done one way or the other.”

Buffalo is one of the smaller markets in the NFL, and “any way we can increase our revenue, they’re for it,” he said.

Of course when it came to the billion-dollar question – would Terry and his wife, Kim, foot the bill for new home digs? – he answered, “I don’t know.”

The Pegulas have commissioned CAA ICON to complete a market research study to help determine the best option. More than 30,000 people have been surveyed and focus groups have been held. The results are expected this summer.

“I think the answer is probably a scaled-down version of some of these palaces that are being built around the country,” Terry Pegula said at the owners’ meetings. “The thing [Rams owner] Stan [Kroenke] is building in L.A. is amazing, Jerry Jones’ facility in Dallas. So we need to do something that’s Buffalo style.”

The Pegulas ponied up $18 million for a state-of-the-art performance facility that opened in April.

If Goodell wants the Bills to be competitive, having top-notch practice, treatment and meeting spaces for players – you know, the people who actually determine wins and losses – to use on a daily basis is a lot more important than a stadium they use 10 times a year.

But as we all know, the NFL has one concern: money.

Erie County owns New Era Field, and in 2012 the Pegulas signed a lease that runs through 2023; the deal includes $130 million in renovations to the building.

Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said in March that renovation might be more beneficial than a new stadium: “We know if we can extend the lifespan of that stadium for another 25 years, and if it worked for our market, why would we not do that?”

New Era is getting a new turf field this year.

Poloncarz has a point, and the Bills wouldn’t be the only franchise to take the renovation route: Arrowhead Stadium, which is slightly older than New Era, underwent a $375 million renovation about a decade ago; the Hunt family paid $125 million of that, and the rest was paid by Jackson County, which owns the facility.

Soldier Field, the second-oldest stadium in the NFL (L.A. County Coliseum is oldest), underwent extensive renovations in 2002-03, at a cost of $630 million. That, however, was paid for entirely by taxpayers, and as of 2016, residents were still paying for the project.

Stability comment seems dubious

Goodell’s job is to promote and push for whatever the majority of NFL owners want, and to make those owners more money (those two things are not mutually exclusive, of course).

But saying a new stadium will help the Bills remain stable?

Unless Goodell knows something the rest of us don’t – i.e. that the Pegulas want out already – the Bills have been a model of stability for the entirety of their existence: founder Ralph Wilson owned the team for over 54 years, until the day he died in 2014 at age 95.

The Pegulas were approved as the new owners not long after, paying $1.4 billion for the franchise.

Again, practice and training facilities, which can attract top free agents, seem far more important to the team’s success than its home stadium. A great quarterback, good coach and strong front office are also more important.

Bills fans are proud, loyal (if a little crazy) and continue to attend games even though their team has made but one playoff appearance in the past 19 years.

But like many other cities that once thrived on manufacturing, Buffalo’s population is half what it was at its peak in 1950; Erie County has lost roughly 200,000 residents since the 1970 census. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last month that the average weekly wage in Erie is $925, or $48,100 annually.

There are currently 2019 Bills season tickets available through the team website for $468 – if the team builds a new stadium, what are the odds they remain relatively affordable like that?

Slim and none.

Goodell’s contention that a new stadium would be an economic boon for the county and area is dubious as well – stadium deals almost always benefit the team, not the government that owns it.

Even though Erie County owns the stadium, the Bills reap the money that came from the reported seven year, $40 million naming-rights deal with New Era.

As outlined in The Atlantic last November, cities don’t benefit like sports teams and leagues want you to believe. The construction jobs created when a new arena is built are temporary, and it’s not always local workers who get them.

The majority of jobs tied to stadiums are low-paying and seasonal: concession stand workers, ticket scanners, suite attendants and the like work only when the stadium is being used.

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