The Buffalo Bills regularly compete with the constant snow and the slow death of American manufacturing for the title of “most depressing part about living in Western New York.” They have failed to make the playoffs thirteen seasons in a row; I was in first grade the last time they were relevant. For their efforts, the state of New York recently handed them $123 million.
That money is part of a $270 million deal to refurbish and renovate the Bills’ stadium. The Bills, who are certainly not lacking money of their own, are coughing up just $44 million of that. What they’re really providing is an agreement not to leave Buffalo until at least 2020. The forty-nine regular season games in Buffalo over the next seven years will cost the taxpayers of Erie County and New York $4.6 million each.
It could be worse.
The Bills could be requesting a new stadium entirely. A recent proposal for a new stadium in Buffalo was valued at $1.4 billion. That’s about the going rate for a football stadium these days. New York City gave up at least $500 million to build baseball stadiums for the Yankees and Mets, which opened in 2009. The Yankees, for the record, are owned by a billionaire family that would never consider moving the team from New York. Cities and counties across the country are providing millionaires and billionaires the money for similarly high priced stadiums in all sports.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping the Bills from demanding a new stadium of their own once this lease is up. This is a temporary fix.
Why give this money to people who already have it?
In theory, some of this money will be recouped on income taxes paid by the very wealthy athletes residing in the city. But mainly, cities do this because professional sports leagues have them (pardon the pun) by the balls. Ask Seattle, who refused to fund a $500 million arena and watched as their beloved Sonics moved to Oklahoma City. Ask Sacramento, whose only major team, the Kings, will probably be moving to Seattle after this season. Fifty-six years ago, the franchise that is now the Kings and will soon be the Sonics left Western New York. My hometown hasn’t had a major pro team since.
I am not a Bills fan, but I come from the one part of the country where Bills fans exist. I am not in love with the idea of the state providing money to billionaires, but I know that it would be a tragedy if the Bills ever left this region. That is not hyperbole. The Bills mean more to Buffalo and Western New York than they could ever possibly mean to Los Angeles, a city with so much else going for it. Buffalo means more in the universe because the Bills are there. These fans love that team, and they deserve that team. How do you put a price on any of that?