Two-thirds of readers participating in this weekâ€™s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say the Buffalo Bills franchise still will be in Western New York five years from now. News that the Bills will play annual games in Toronto through 2012 triggered renewed speculation about the future of the franchise in Buffalo. It intensified when, during a recent visit to Toronto, Bills owner Ralph Wilson responded to a question about the Bills relocating north of the border by saying, â€œDonâ€™t worry right now.â€
If Wilson were to sell the Bills, more than half the respondents favored Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kellyâ€”who has said he has the financial backing neededâ€”buying the franchise and keeping it in Buffalo.
More than 40 percent of readers favored Rochester billionaire Thomas Golisano buying the franchise.
â€œIf the situation arises, I would do what I can to try to keep the team in the area,â€ Golisano told the Associated Press over the weekend, while noting that Wilson has insisted he has no intention of selling the franchise.
Toronto Blue Jays owner Ted Rogers and Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors, also have been mentioned as possible future owners. They are partners for the annual Bills games at the Rogers Centre.
Roughly 550 readers took part in the poll, conducted Feb. 11 and 12.
The following are the specific poll question and results. (Only readers of the Daily Report e-mail are eligible to participate in the Snap Poll; all other responsesâ€”and any multiple responses by eligible readersâ€”are filtered out.)
Do you think the Bills franchise still will be in Buffalo five years from now?
If the Bills were to be sold, who would you favor as the new owner?
Jim Kelly and his investor group: 51%
Thomas Golisano: 41%
Torontoâ€™s Ted Rogers and Larry Tanenbaum: 3%
To take part in the next Snap Poll, sign up for the free Daily Report at http://www.rbjdaily.com/dailyform.htm.
Here are some of the respondentsâ€™ other comments:
The franchise will only be in Buffalo if someone like Golisano or Kelly keeps it here, or brings it back out of commitment to the economy and fans of Upstate New York. Anyone who does it solely for the money will take it elsewhere.
â€”Kathleen Moyse, Charlotte
Tom Golisano saved the Sabres from bankruptcy, and turned the team around to a couple of winning seasons. Granted not a great season this year, but I believe he would be able to give the Bills the same boost. As a lifelong Bills fan, I would love to see them in a playoff game again.
â€”Kyle Ingraham, Avalon Copy Centers
Why is this town so interested in supporting Buffalo and their sports teams? The dollars that leave this community for their economic growth are better spent in our own. Letâ€™s support our own local sports teams for a change.
This is a high-profile issue, but at the end of the day, the Bills are a private company and will go where they can make money. I donâ€™t think it will happen in the next five years, but moving is always a possibility.
There is a moral obligation to keep the Bills in Buffalo especially after New York State taxpayers paid millions to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium.
â€”Jack Bent, Charter Real Estate Brokerage
Ralph Wilson has stated that he will own the team as long as he is alive. I think it would be better if he would sell the team while he is alive to a buyer such as Jim Kelly or Tom Golisano who genuinely cares about keeping the Bills in Buffalo. If the team is sold after Ralph Wilson dies, then I think it could become a bidding-war situation where an outsider with deep pockets would get the team with no allegiance to Western New York and ultimately move the team to a different market.
â€”Mark C. Williams, vice president of finance, DeCarolis Truck Rental Inc.
The deeper the pockets, the better off the franchise will be. Look how well Tom has turned around the Sabres.
With the expressed interest and support of Tom Golisano and Jim Kelly, Iâ€™m confident that the Bills will remain the Buffalo Bills.
Seems like the Bills need to reinvent themselves to stay viable; let a consortium of fans buy the franchise, then weâ€™ll see what really happens.
â€”Richard Stevenson, CEO, CobbleSoft International
Tom (Golisano) has shown the willingness and ability to fund projects that he is interested to achieve high quality results.
â€”Clay Osborne VP HR Bausch & Lomb
Since the renovation of the Bills Stadium in 1998, management of the team has worked very hard to regionalize the franchise by drawing season ticketholders and premium seat purchases from across Upstate New York and the Southern Tier regions. Moving the training camp to St. John Fisher College and emphasizing Rochester in their business development efforts have been two strategies effectively executed by Billsâ€™ management. Not being located in a major metro market and with the cheapest ticket in the NFL, it is critical that the team make up on volume what can not be supported in premium pricing (ie; always keeping the seats filled). The effort to reach out to Toronto is a natural extension of their 10-year regionalization effort given the close proximity of that population center to Buffalo.
â€”Marty Birmingham Regional President Five Star Bank
The value of the franchise goes up everyday. It will be near $1 billion soon, and no local group would be able to afford it. Hence the team moves somewhere. Wilson doesnâ€™t want to be remembered in Buffalo like Art Modell was in Cleveland, so heâ€™s waiting until heâ€™s dead instead of trying to sell in now. What a shame.
Ralph Wilson should make plans to sell the franchise today. Tom Golisano may want to buy today, but he may not want to buy five years from now. Mr. Wilson has at least two qualified and interested parties. If he does not sell, the disposition of the franchise will be left to his estate, and Mr. Wilson will have lost the opportunity to ensure that his legacy endures and remains in Upstate New York.
I think it would be a shame if Mr. Wilson were to sell the Bills to another country. The Bills are a part of Upstate New York, and there would be many disappointed fans, including myself, if they were to become a Canadian Team. Toronto is at least a three- to four-hour drive for many fans outside the Buffalo area. I think it would be a terrible mistake on Mr. Wilsonâ€™s part to consider selling them Canadian investors. There are investors right here in our community that are more than willing to take over the franchise and keep them where they belong.
â€”Maria Mauro, Chase
The ferry can go, we donâ€™t need the $230 million-plus Renaissnace Square in Rochester so no one will go there, BUT sports are a vital part of our community and cultural fabric. The fact that Bills fans trek from as far away as Syracuse and Rochester to Orchard Park in the worst of Upstate New York weather suggests that the Bills are going to be around a long time. The issue is that the media needs to write about something, so grin and bear it, we will be debating this in the press. Whether itâ€™s Kelly, et al or Golisano, or others, makes no difference. I would like to see a community ownership like Greenbay. I do see need for a more weather-compatible stadium like the new one in Dallas (Cowboys). If we can build stadiums in NYC, we can build one in Western NY (hopefully this side of Buffalo). P.S. I’m a lifelong Giants fan! Go Giants!
â€”Dennis Kiriazides, Xerox, retired
Maybe the reason they canâ€™t make any money for the bills in Buffalo is because Ralph Wilson is too cheap to spend the money and get proven people who can bring them into the playoffs. He thinks itâ€™s overkill or something, while the Giants, Patriots, Dolphins keep spending the bucks to get real manager talent. I wish instead of beating around the bush and dangling it in front of the public, he would just take his team and leave (see how he does in Toronto when he has a couple of losing seasons). Iâ€™d rather watch a team that has an owner who has the want, will and desire to win.
â€”Loren Meale, Nothnagle Home Securities Corp.
If Buffalo and Erie County merge into one governmental entity, and eliminate all but zoning functions of town governments, thus streamlining governmental costs and lowering taxes so that growth can occur on the Niagara Frontier, then I believe it will be an attractive venue for an NFL franchise. If Rochester can do the same, which it apparently cannot accomplish politically, it will help a lot. If Buffalo and Upstate NY are still depressed and stagnant compared to other NFL franchise venues, the team will surely move. After all, the NFL is a business first, then a sport, then a source of quality of life for the franchise communities and fans.
â€”David Lovenheim, Keystones Global LLC
As a nearly life-long Buffalonian, I would like to think something could be done to keep the Bills here. It was really an eye-opener to see that the gate in Toronto would be about four times what is received at the Ralph. Thatâ€™s with significantly fewer seats. If the Bills go to an open bid when Ralph passes away, itâ€™s a good bet they will end up in Toronto. Given the economics of the situation, the prospective owners in Toronto can afford to place a much higher bid than any group in Buffalo. I think the only chance the Bills have of staying put is if some arrangement is made before his passing. Will the Bills be here in five years? Only if Ralph lives longer than that.
â€”Michael Pijanowski, HSBC Bank USA
It would be a shame to see the Buffalo franchise be moved to another city. Western New York really supports and loves the team.
â€”Lisa Curry, Eastern Copy Products
The Bills will remain in Buffalo. I believe the NFL is exempt from certain parts of the federal antitrust laws. With the Democrats in the majority in Congress, Senators Schumer and Clinton have substantial power. If the Bills were moved, most likely Sen. Schumer would begin the process to lift the NFLâ€™s antitrust exemption. I donâ€™t think the NFL is willing to have that â€œcan of wormsâ€ opened. Of course, if the Democrats lose control of Congress and/or Sen. Schumer leaves office; the prospect of losing the Bills increases.
â€”John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates Inc.
It may be irrational exuberance to think the Bills will be here in five years but they bring a sense of pride and a commonality for those of us who have followed them forever. Although my family would enjoy having Sundayâ€™s available for them.
â€”Kevin Best, Best Times Financial Planning
(c) 2008 Rochester Business Journal. Obtain permission to
reprint this article.