Bills reach deal for 10-year lease extension and $130 million renovation

The Buffalo Bills announced that they have reached an agreement with Erie County and the State of New York to make $130 million of improvements to almost 40-year-old Ralph Wilson Stadium. The deal also includes a 10-year extension to the current lease for the Bills, which was originally scheduled to end next summer.

Oakland/Alameda County and the Raiders aren’t talking about renovating the Coliseum, they’re talking about a new Coliseum. If they were considering renovation, they probably wouldn’t be happy with the amount of public money that’s involved. Here’s how the whole deal breaks down.

  • $35 million from the Bills
  • $41 million from Erie County
  • $54 million from the State of New York

Improvements include a new scoreboard, changes to concession areas and gates and technology. $130 million doesn’t go as far as it used to.

A report in the Buffalo News digs deeper into the deal, and finds that the Bills can leave after year 7 of the lease by paying $28.3 million to buy out the remaining years. The report by Tim Graham also found an interesting loophole:

If a new owner bought the Bills and wanted to move them, then the county and state would have two remedies, as allowed by the lease agreement. The first is to file an injunction to prevent a move. If a judge declines to order the Bills to stay, then the Bills would have to pay $400 million in liquidated damages with the exception of a window after the seventh year of the deal.

An unlikely chain of events would create this scenario. The key is the health of Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who at 94 is the oldest owner in the NFL and has had trouble attending games over the past couple of years. If the Bills were sold, it seems like the new owner would wait until the “window” or after the lease expires to make the move.

It’s unclear if the Bills will apply for G-4 funding from the NFL. No mention was made of the NFL’s stadium loan program in today’s announcement. It seems possible that the Bills chose to go the cheaper route to avoid having to pay back the loan (no matter how small) when the team is sold, which is the current rule.

Bills CEO Russ Brandon was careful to characterize the improvements as short-term, with an eye towards a new permanent home sometime towards the end of the extension.

“The investment, while significant, is modest in contrast to building a new stadium or engaging in a major retrofit, far less than what the interest alone would be on a new stadium over the term. We look forward to the opportunity to execute this plan and to join Governor (Andrew) Cuomo and County Executive (Mark) Poloncarz as we work toward a shared vision for the future of the Buffalo Bills beyond the term of this deal.”

This eliminates the Bills as a Los Angeles relocation candidate, which is no surprise as they weren’t high on the list anyway. While Bills fans and local pols should be pleased by the deal, let’s not make more of it than what it really is: kicking the can down the road.

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