Eric Morris wouldn’t have any trouble filling the seats.
He knows hundreds of kids who would love to sit in a luxury suite, watching the Buffalo Bills play. It would be a slice of heaven. This contrasts to most of last season’s suite invitees, who apparently likened it to an afternoon in a far hotter place.
The state, as part of the Bills’ lease deal last year, got the rights to a 16-seat luxury box. I argued at the time that – given the 226 million taxpayer dollars pumped into stadium subsidies and upgrades – some of the seats should go to regular people, chosen by lottery. County taxpayers will shell out at average of $10.3 million annually to the Bills over the next 10 years, with state taxpayers kicking in the rest. Since we’re subsidizing the team, we – to my mind – rate at least a share of the luxury box.
Predictably, the politicians didn’t see it that way. Rather than open the suite door to the hoi polloi, the box was used to lure or reward business contacts and for tourism promotion. Among other things, this assumes that exposing people you want to impress to a chronically crummy team, and to outbreaks of drunken mayhem in the stands, is somehow more of an enticement than a deterrent.
But the top-down sensibility ruled – and now we see where it got us. A story in Friday’s Buffalo News revealed that, on average, most of the sweet suite seats were empty – and nobody showed up for the final two home games. Mealy mouthed excuses from officials about time limits and use restrictions don’t smokescreen the obvious: They couldn’t give these things away – at least not to the people they wanted to give them to.
Eric Morris will have no problem filling the box.
Morris is a sweet guy with a Schwarzenegger chest who, for the past 13 years, has coached youth football on the city’s East Side. He and others like him are coaches, counselors and, sometimes, father figures for thousands of Pee Wee footballers, ages 5 to 15.
“It would mean the world to some of these kids to go to a game,” said Morris, an assistant football coach at Bennett High School. “Most of them, their parents don’t have money for tickets.”
Some parents, Morris told me, can’t even afford the $100 registration fee that covers pads and uniforms.
“Me and the other coaches do barbecues and beer blasts to raise the money,” he said. “Some of these kids, their fathers are dead or in jail – that’s the reality.”
I know that using the suite to give poor kids the thrill of a lifetime is the furthest thing from the minds of harrumphing state officials. Their collective mindset doesn’t even extend to an “ordinary folks” lottery, to acknowledge and reward people whose tax dollars cement the team to Buffalo. But it is never too late for a sensibility adjustment.
It seems only fair to me that a suite essentially bought by taxpayers should be used by “regular” folks – especially those who would most appreciate it. Eric Morris’s Pee Wee footballers are at the top of that list.
“They love the Bills,” said Morris, who coaches the G.C. (God’s Children) Cowboys. “That’s all you hear at practice, ‘I’m Fred Jackson.’ ‘I’m C.J. [Spiller].’ Going to a game, what a great memory that would be for them.”
We could make those kids, and others like them, part of the suite mix.
Or we could keep reserving seats for no-show business types and indifferent travel writers.
I know who I’m rooting for: The G.C. Cowboys.