A Buffalo-area legal experts feels Buffalo Bills fans have demonstrated enough passion to keep the team in town for good once it's sold. But she also said fans can continue to show support as the sales process continues to further sway decision-makers.
Nellie Drew is a sports law expert who works as an adjunct professor at the University at Buffalo Law School. As an assistant attorney who worked on several matters for the Buffalo Sabres and the NHL in the 1980s and 1990s, she had a hand in getting the First Niagara Center built and several other team matters.
She said the insight she gained during that time, combined with what she's seen from Bills fans through the sales process – including everything from the Buffalo Fan Alliance trying to raise an interest-free loan for a new owner to Bon Jovi music bans amid talk he'll move the team – indicates that the team is safe at home in Western New York:
"They will stay here. Anyone who watched Andre Reed's induction into the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame knows that. Practically, it is never an easy matter to move a team. As long as there is demonstrated interest and commitment by sufficiently financed local owners and a dedicated, passionate local fan base, leagues prefer not to move teams."
The most recent franchise relocations – the Houston Oilers to Tennessee and the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore – were largely the result of ownership being unable to secure government help in building new stadiums in those cities. While showing some reticence at spending public money, state and local leaders involved with the Bills have said public money would be there for a new stadium should that be a prerequisite of the team staying.
Drew feels that would be a wise move:
"Given the mandate of such a significant portion of the population, I believe it is incumbent upon the state and local governments to assist in keeping the team in Buffalo. Of course, how they do that is the question. The good news is that the region is so much stronger economically than it was even five years ago. The difficult part is that choices still have to be made. Hopefully, another successful private-public partnership can be forged that will allow the Bills to compete both athletically and financially for the long term."
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who helped negotiate the Bills' current 10-year lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium, is also hesitant, especially given the $120 million renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium that's nearly done:
"We might need a new stadium; we might not. I would like proof before we commit 100s of millions for new stadium," he said on Twitter.
Drew said fans can also continue doing their part:
"Buy tickets. This year, you can make a difference by voting with your wallet and with your feed. Let's fill the Ralph from August through December."
The Bills have sold more than 55,000 season tickets so far this season.
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