Bills: What does lease agreement mean for long-term future?

A new lease agreement should keep Bills fans tailgating at Ralph Wilson Stadium a while longer. (US Presswire)

The Bills took a significant step toward securing their long-term future in Western New York on Friday with the announcement of a new 10-year lease agreement with Erie County and New York State. But what exactly does that mean for the future?

With some time to digest Friday’s events, here’s a look:

The Bills aren’t going anywhere in the next seven years: The penalty for leaving any time before 2020 -- $400 million -- was much higher than anyone expected. Reports in the months leading up to a deal suggested that number would be closer to $50-100 million. That’s tremendous news for Bills fans. The deal isn’t perfect, but it’s extremely strong over the next seven years.

The out clause: There is a loophole in the lease that would allow the Bills to leave Buffalo for much less than $400 million. In 2020 -- after the seventh year of the deal -- the team can trigger a one-time option to terminate the agreement by paying a $28,363,500 fee. New York State Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy sidestepped a question during Friday’s press conference when asked about the inclusion of that clause. In all likelihood, that clause exists to protect the new owner of the Bills -- whoever that will be -- by giving him some leverage to get funds for a new stadium in the future, which leads us to...

A new stadium is suddenly up for discussion: Prior to the lease announcement, Bills CEO Russ Brandon had steadfastly maintained that the Bills were interested in improving Ralph Wilson Stadium and not looking to build a new stadium in the immediate future. The Bills now appear open to the possibility of a new stadium, which will eventually be needed for any true long-term success. A “New Stadium Advisory Group” is being formed to discuss all options moving forward.

“Our commitment right now is to the renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium -- that is what we are going to do moving forward,” Brandon said. “What is exciting about this is as a committee, as a group of leaders in this community, we are going to look at the potential of a new stadium in the next decade or so, see if it makes sense for our community. We are committed to do that -- all hands on deck from the county and the state.”

Ralph Wilson Stadium is almost 40 years old and it’s clear that a new stadium will be needed eventually. But does it make financial sense in a city like Buffalo that has so many other needs? A major study from 2008 declared Buffalo to be the third-poorest large city in America. This will be a healthy debate in the years to come, but it’s set to become a legitimate debate for the first time in a long time, given Friday’s comments.

What about LA? Lingering questions about an NFL team -- or two -- in Los Angeles have been a thorn in the side for Bills fans for many years. Is this deal enough to keep the Bills from moving to L.A.? For the next seven years, that certainly appears to be the case. After that? It remains up in the air.

How quickly does the NFL want a team in Los Angeles? It’s not known how that timeline will mesh with the Bills’ seven-year, seemingly iron-clad agreement. It’s entirely possible that a new owner will buy the Bills sometime in the next five years or so and simply wait until he can pay $28.4 million to leave in 2020. This lease does nothing to ease those concerns and Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. has continually shied away from any succession plans.

Owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr.’s health is an ongoing concern: Little has changed in this regard, but it’s worth noting that Wilson is 94 years old -- which is why this lease is considered to be so important regarding Buffalo’s future. Wilson was not in attendance for the press conference and has not been seen at One Bills Drive for quite some time.

For more updates on the Bills follow correspondent Mark Ludwiczak on Twitter @CBSSportsNFLBUF and @MarkLud12.

Show Comments Hide Comments
Our Latest Stories