If you don’t build it, they’ll go: that’s the threat in Buffalo as the owner of the Bills is pushing for public subsidies to fund a new stadium for the NFL franchise.
Fracking mogul Terry Pegula, who bought the Bills in 2014, wants government funding to build a new $ 1.4 billion stadium to replace the team’s currently dated home. If he doesn’t get it, Pegula has said the team could move.
“Right now, the city of Buffalo and the state have to decide if they want a team,” said Jim Wilkinson, spokesman for Pegula Sports and Entertainment, in August. He declined to comment on The Post.
But a source who knows the family and has spoken to them over the past few weeks tells the Post that the threats are just that – useless threats: The Pegula family is unlikely to move the bills, even if they’re neither state nor local get funding to build a new 60,000-seat stadium, the source said.
Still the Pegula family has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in developments for Western New York – they also own the Buffalo Sabers hockey team – and is reluctant to invest more than a billion dollars more of their own money in a new stadium for the Bills.
Pegula has agreed to pay some of the cost of a new stadium, say people familiar with the negotiations, The Post say, but he hasn’t provided an exact number so it’s not sure what he’s state in terms of either and calls for local funding. The team negotiates with state officials, including Buffalo-born and new Governor Kathy Hochul. Negotiations are not at an advanced stage, well-known sources told the Post.
Hochul’s office confirmed negotiations, which, according to a spokesman, are “ongoing”. “Your government looks forward to providing details to the public once the negotiations are over,” said the spokesman.
Pegula tried to start negotiations with former Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2019, but they never got off the ground, the sources said, resulting in a now tight deadline.
The deadline looms because the lease for the Bills’ current home just outside Buffalo, Highmark Stadium, expires in July 2023. And construction experts have said it will need $ 1 billion in repairs over the next five years. Both facts underline that Pegula will soon have to make a decision.
“A renovation is just not an option – and neither is an extension of the lease, which ends in 2023 without a contract,” Wilkinson, the Pegula spokesman, told the Post.
Sources familiar with the matter tell the Post that if Pegula can’t make a deal until the end of the year, he will look for other alternatives so that the Bills can move before the lease expires.
Pegula knew by the time he bought the team that a new stadium would be needed, said two sports industry sources who have spoken to Pegula over the past few years. Because of this, they said they were skeptical that he would follow a threat to move the franchise.
“When he bought the team, he was talking about building a new stadium,” said one of the sources, adding that Pegula was worth more than $ 7 billion in July, according to Bloomberg calculations. “I don’t think his threats to move are credible.”
“I think Terry will build something. He has the money. “
“Everyone went into that 2014 auction with open eyes to buy the team,” said a second sports industry source who spoke to Pegula. “He doesn’t want to leave Buffalo – and he can’t stay in this building.”
If he didn’t agree on public funding and decided not to invest the money on a new stadium himself, he would likely sell the team before moving it, the source told The Post.
The Bills, which are profitable and generated $ 73 million in operating income last year, would be a desirable franchise for any city, according to Forbes: chatter among NFL watchers said Austin, Texas or even London could compete for the team, when Pegula decided to leave Buffalo. And other NFL owners, who generally share the league’s profits, would likely be delighted if the Bills moved to a bigger market.
There is a precedent in the New York market for a team’s property to pay for their own stadium: The New York Giants and New York Jets paid $ 1.6 billion in 2010 to build the MetLife stadium in New Jersey with no public financing.
However, it is possible that Pegula is no help on the way.
An Albany lobbyist who followed the situation said he doesn’t think Pegula’s chances of getting public funding have necessarily improved with Hochul replacing Andrew Cuomo.
Hochul has announced that she is running for governor next year – and paying for a Bills stadium would not be popular with New York City voters. It is also very likely that she will face a primary challenge from the Democrats.
“If they can get away with a huge financial package, it doesn’t look good for Downstate voters,” said the lobbyist. “That would get her every voice in Buffalo, but she still has those voices.”
Pegula doesn’t make it any easier for her by recommending building a new stadium next to the current one in Orchard Park, a suburb of Buffalo, in a parking lot owned by Bills, according to Mark Rosentraub, professor of sports management at the University of Michigan.
It would probably be a better case for public funding if the new stadium were proposed for downtown Buffalo, which could use a shot of renovation, he said.
A wild card is the National Football League and whether it pressures Pegula to move if he doesn’t get public funding – and whether that would help fund a new Buffalo stadium.
NFL teams share almost all of their revenue, and the bills generate perhaps the lowest revenue in the league due to the few suites in the current stadium and the relatively small Buffalo market. Because of this, many NFL owners would love to see the team move, sports industry sources said.
Still, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell comes from west New York and has been visiting Buffalo for the past few weeks to make it clear that he doesn’t want the team to move.
Influential Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a radio broadcast interview earlier this month that he doesn’t want the Bills to move either.
“Buffalo has a special place,” said Jones. “All of these AFL teams have a special place, just like Green Bay. So my wish for me would be that they work something out and stay there. “
The NFL has a stadium fund that Pegula can borrow money to help fund a new stadium, with or without public support.
For example, last year the NFL loaned the Rams owner $ 500 million, on top of the $ 400 million he already borrowed to build a new stadium with his own money.
But NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the Post that the stadium rentals program is part of a public and private partnership. It’s often a partnership between local, regional, and state sources, the team, and the NFL. It is available for public funding projects with team contributions.
In other words, if New York State doesn’t raise the funding, the NFL can’t help either.
Pegula has pointed out that it makes little financial sense to spend $ 1.4 billion on a stadium in Buffalo because it’s simply too small a market with a metropolitan area of just over a million people.
The question is whether, if necessary, he would uproot a Buffalo institution to defend his point of view.