NEW YORK – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is confident the Buffalo Bills will continue to remain successful in Western New York, but to do so requires a new stadium.
“We said at the time when they entered into their new lease, that this is really a short-term solution. We need to find the right long-term solution that is good for the community and can help the Bills continue to be successful in Western New York, and I’m confident we’ll get there,” he said Wednesday at an NFL-sponsored event in Manhattan, ahead of today’s first round of the NFL Draft.
Goodell’s statements elicited positive reactions from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who was open to the idea, and County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who wants all options available.
“We will do what we have to do to keep the Bills in Western New York,” Cuomo said late Wednesday. “I spoke with Commissioner Goodell and County Executive Poloncarz yesterday, and we’re all on the same page: If a new stadium is what’s needed and is possible, it will get done.”
Poloncarz also said every option should be explored.
“I, like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, am committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo for generations to come, regardless of who the new owner may be,” Poloncarz said. “As evidence of this commitment, consultants have been retained on behalf of the state and county to prepare options for the consideration of prospective owners that will include (1) a new stadium to be constructed at one or more possible locations and (2) the further renovation or retrofit of Ralph Wilson Stadium beyond the renovations currently being undertaken.”
Goodell noted that the process of selling the team is just getting started. “They are working on their process as far as selecting their advisers. Then when they have their advisers selected, they’ll start a more formal process,” Goodell said when asked for an update on the sale of the team.
The commissioner was referring to a financial team retained by the Bills to evaluate all aspects of the team in preparation for its sale.
“I’ve had a lot of discussions with prospective owners, but I’ve also had discussions with public officials,” Goodell said. “We all want to focus and get that stadium and do it the right way and get the right ownership in there to make sure they continue to be successful in Western New York.”
When the Bills signed their 10-year lease with Erie County in December 2012 that called for $130 million in improvements to Ralph Wilson Stadium, part of the agreement included formation of a New Stadium Working Group, which would explore the feasibility of a new stadium. That group held its first meeting last month, with representatives from the state, county and team.
The Buffalo News reported last month that the sale of the team could be completed in time for owners to vote on it at their annual meeting in October. Approval of 75 percent of the league’s owners is required.
Goodell was asked whether the NFL would approve an ownership group with designs on moving the team – specifically to Toronto.
“Well, that hasn’t happened, so you’re dealing with a lot of hypotheticals in there. There’s two votes. There’s one vote to approve an ownership, and if a team potentially relocates, it’s another vote,” the commissioner said. “We’re not making those one vote. We’re making those two separate votes. And the intention is, whoever buys the team will be trying to make the team work in Western New York.”
Goodell’s comments drew reaction from public officials involved in the negotiations, including Cuomo – who did not dismiss the idea of a new stadium – and Poloncarz, who emphasized that the option of renovating the current facility should not be dismissed.
“At this time, all options should be part of the discussion and nothing should be disregarded,” Poloncarz said. “We look forward to commencing these discussions with an owner who is likewise committed to keeping the team here in its first, and what should be its only, home territory of Buffalo and Erie County.”
State Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, said that he has sponsored legislation to make the deliberations of the New Stadium Working Group open to the media and public. His bill mirrors a similar measure introduced by Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo.
“As our community moves forward in considering how best to meet the needs of the Buffalo Bills, it is critical that such deliberations be done in public,” Gallivan said. “The work of this committee will have a significant economic and cultural impact on Western New York, and the process should not take place in secret.”
“I agree that the committee should be as open as possible, and there are many parts of what the working group is discussing that should be public,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who is on the committee. “There are other parts we need to be more careful about and should not make public, such as possible stadium locations, since that could lead to land speculation that could actually hurt our efforts to keep the team in Buffalo.”
“The commissioner’s comments make one thing perfectly clear: he is committed to keeping the Bills in Buffalo,” Schumer said.