One of the great things about the NFL is that while the NBA and Major League Baseball have abandoned the small to midsized American cities for bigger TV markets, there are still football teams in places like Buffalo, New York, and Green Bay, Wisconsin. That might not be the case for long, though, as the Buffalo Bills are once again threatening to move the team from its original home if Western New York doesn’t build a shiny new stadium.
This impasse between the municipality and the Bills’ billionaire owners may result in a fantastic new sporting complex coming to the second-smallest market in all of North American professional sports. However, it could also lead to Kim and Terry Pegula becoming two of the biggest villains in sports history.
The Buffalo Bills have played in their current stadium since 1973
The American Football League awarded Ralph C. Wilson the Buffalo Bills franchise in 1959, according to ProFootballHOF.com. From the team’s inception through its first heydays of the mid-1960s, the Bills played in downtown Buffalo at War Memorial Stadium.
The stadium started out with a 26,000-fan capacity and later expanded to accommodate 45,748 Bills fans. When the AFL and NFL merged, the agreement dictated that stadiums have at least 50,000 seats, so, in 1973, the franchise moved to the 71,870 seat Rich Stadium in suburban Orchard Park.
This is where the team had its most success. Right away, star tailback O.J. Simpson excited the Orchard Park crowds. The team had some down years in the late ‘70s and early 80s, but coach Marv Levy showed up in 1986 and started building something special.
The early ‘90s Bills have the historic distinction of making four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993. Rich stadium hosted three of those four AFC Championship games.
The organization took a fall after those star-crossed ‘90s teams. The stadium became known as Ralph Wilson Stadium in 1998, then New Era Field in 2016. When the hat company backed out of its naming rights deal, Bills Stadium became the name until Highmark took over the rights for 2021.
In 2014, Wilson died and his family sold the team to husband and wife billionaires and Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula.
The Bills organization is subtly threatening to move the team unless New York builds them a new stadium
As 2021 NFL training camps began, a report in The Buffalo News stated that “based on well-placed sources, said the Pegula company is asking for a 100% taxpayer-funded package of $1.5 billion for a new stadium for the Bills and work at the Sabres arena.“
ESPN’s Seth Wickersham followed this report up by tweeting that “An ownership source tells me that Austin is a possible destination—or threat—as one of the ‘other cities elsewhere that desire an NFL franchise and would pay handsomely for it.’”
These reports outraged the Bills fan base, especially the team’s most passionate fans, known as the Bills Mafia. The Bills’ PR machine was quick to squash these rumors, but the threats from the organization continued in September.
Pegula Sports and Entertainment senior vice president Ron Raccuia appeared on Buffalo’s WBEN-Radio, per ProFootballTalk. When asked if the Pegula’s and the Bills organization would consider re-signing their lease with Highmark Stadium after the current run ends in 2022, Raccuia responded, “No, we absolutely will not.”
He then did try to calm tensions by stating, “We’re not even focused on that, yet,” but the gauntlet was already thrown down.
Moving the franchise would make the Pegula’s two of the biggest villains in sports history
Moving a team is in no way comparable to what these owners did. However, it is the next rung down on the sports owner villainy ladder. Owners like Robert Irsay (who moved the Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis), Art Modell (who took the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore), and Walter O’Malley (who relocated the Dodgers from Brooklyn to LA) are on this level.
The Pegula’s are already on thin ice (pun intended) in Buffalo. They are currently in the process of running the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres into the ground. Now-famous radio talk show caller Duane from Buffalo summed up the town’s hockey fans’ feeling about the Pegula’s perfectly screaming on WGR 550’s Schoop and the Bulldog, “Make us feel like we matter to you!”
If this is just tough talk from the Pegula organization is just a negotiating tactic, it may be dirty pool. Bills fans will ultimately forgive this sordid period once there is a new stadium comes. That is, assuming they build it with a reasonable combination of public and private money.
If this is the first salvo in a petty war that ends with the Bills leaving Buffalo, that’s a different story. In that case, the Pegula’s will go down in history as two of the ultimate sports scoundrels.