The Buffalo Bills are stuck between a Rockpile and a hard place, and the more-than-somewhat controversial Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports fame is trying to help them out of it. Will the team, the politicians, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have the good sense to take free money?
The Buffalo Bills lost their stadium sponsor
The New Era Cap Co. approached the Buffalo Bills and begged out of the agreement that had given the apparel manufacturer naming rights to the home of the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, New York, since 2017. The NFL team agreed to the request last month, but t left the Bills in a tight spot.
Even under the best of conditions, losing a major sponsor so close to the start of the season makes finding a replacement difficult. Factor in the recession brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic – plus the dearth of Fortune 500 companies locally — and the task becomes impossible.
On top of that, the stadium doesn’t have much time remaining. The Bills’ lease expires in 2023, and talks have been taking place for a couple of years about the team’s future home.
The Bills moved to what was then called Rich Stadium in 1973 after starting out in the AFL days playing at War Memorial Stadium, affectionately nicknamed the Rockpile. It’s almost certain they’ll be playing in their third stadium by the middle of the decade, so selling naming rights to the old place becomes even more difficult.
And that’s how their current facility came to be named Bills Stadium in an announcement made Aug. 20. Quite simply, the Bills had no other options … until now. That’s because Dave Portnoy had a brainstorm.
Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports is interested in a Buffalo Bills deal
Upon seeing the announcement that the Buffalo Bills will call their home field Bills Stadium this fall due to a lack of sponsorship, Dave Portnoy took an interest. Portnoy, the founder and president of Barstool Sports, said on social media he is “very serious” about buying the naming rights.
Portnoy said he has entered the process for landing the naming rights. The New Era Cap Co. is believed to have been paying around $4 million a year for those rights. Portnoy could rightfully expect to come in quite a bit lower given that there obviously is no one else in the running.
The only known offer to buy the naming rights came immediately after New Era bailed out. Tushy, a bidet manufacturer, reportedly offered up to $12.5 million, but Erie County officials, who must approve deals for naming rights, looked at the company’s proposal to bring a college bowl game (“The Toilet Bowl”) to town and rejected the bid.
The NFL doesn’t like Dave Portnoy and Barstool Sports
Assuming he passes muster with Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula plus Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz, Barstool Sports czar Dave Portnoy – who is a hardcore New England Patriots fan, by the way — would still have to get past Roger Goodell.
An NFL commissioner would seemingly have no role in a local team issue like naming rights. But seeing “Barstool Sports Park” in every story about a Buffalo Bills home game would rub Goodell the wrong way. The Barstool Sports website is controversial all by itself, but Portnoy and Goodell have a personal battle in progress.
Portnoy has long been a thorn in the side of Goodell, openly mocking him by selling T-shirts taunting him. When the NFL held an auction for COVID-19 relief in which the winner would watch an NFL game with Goodell, Portnoy posted the winning bid of $250,450. The NFL rejected the bid on the basis of past skirmishes with Portnoy.
Goodell hails from Jamestown. New York, 90 minutes southwest of Buffalo. He’s shown no particular affinity toward the Bills as commissioner, but one has to wonder whether Portnoy partnering with the Bills is where he would draw the line.
It shouldn’t be. The Bills lost years worth or revenue while the former Rich Stadium was named after then-owner Ralph Wilson because he thought offers for naming rights came in too low. With the team about to play without fans for most or all of the 2020 season, the Bills should take Dave Portnoy’s money and run.