Save a couple of seats for us. It is the right thing to do and, I think, a symbolic gesture that acknowledges reality.
As part of the new Buffalo Bills lease, the state is getting a suite in the upgraded stadium. The space affirms the obvious: State (and county) taxpayers will, between the stadium facelift and operating costs, kick in $226 million over the next 10 years for the care and feeding of Ralph Wilson's National Football League team. State officials say they will use the 16-seat suite to entertain CEOs who want to do business here and presumably to reward those who already do.
For starters, I wonder whether it is a good idea to expose people whom you are trying to impress to the Bills. The team doesn't write a lot of happy endings. But I get the concept: This is a perk, negotiated in return for the state's contribution. I think state officials should take the logical next step and set aside a couple of suite seats each game for people who will, through their tax dollars, actually make that contribution.
Yes, I mean the “little guy” – without whom that $226 million would not be possible. “Real people” deserve not just a seat at the table, but a couple of seats in the suite. After all, we are paying for them.
During the past 15 years of the current lease, taxpayers shelled out $215 million for stadium upgrades and operating costs – on average, $14 million a year. The annual outlay bumps up with a new lease, particularly for county taxpayers – who will, unlike last time, kick in for stadium remodeling.
All told, during the next 10 years, county and state taxpayers will hand over $226 million for stadium upgrades, maintenance and various help and handouts.
A couple of suite seats is the least state officials can give taxpayers in return. The logistics are as simple as adding a Win Bills Tickets link on the state's I Love NY website. Fans can enter before each home game, with the drawing for the winner held a few days before kickoff. If she's not too busy, maybe Yolanda Vega can do the honors.
Given that the stadium renovation has yet to begin, state officials have plenty time to sign on.
I think they need to officially and symbolically recognize the folks who foot the Bills' bill. Taxpayers will underwrite plant improvements and operating costs for a wildly profitable private business that, say sports economists, returns little economic kick.
Like it or not (and, frankly, I don't), we are paying pretty much the going rate for any community with an NFL team. The Bills bring us bragging rights, office-cooler conversation, communal identity and a connection to the big time. But it comes at an exorbitant cost.
Given a choice, I would prefer to instead have a local major college football team. We would get the same community-bonding benefits, but without the hefty taxpayer handouts that come with an NFL franchise. But that is not the reality around here.
Which leaves us with an Albany-controlled suite in a spruced-up NFL stadium. Our $226 million should at least buy us a seat at the game.