It’s Saber-Rattling for Now, but Texas Is in Line for Its Third NFL Team

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A general view of Highmark Stadium during Buffalo Bills training camp on July 31, 2021 in Orchard Park, New York.

Los Angeles has gone from zero teams to two, and the Las Vegas Raiders are now a reality. That means that NFL owners need a new city to serve as leverage when they demand money for a new stadium. The Buffalo Bills appear to have found a bogeyman it can use to scare Western New York and the state into opening their wallets.

The Buffalo Bills are planning on a new stadium

A general view of Highmark Stadium during Buffalo Bills training camp on July 31, 2021 in Orchard Park, New York. | Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images
A general view of Highmark Stadium during Buffalo Bills training camp on July 31, 2021 in Orchard Park, New York. | Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Kim and Terry Pegula bought the Buffalo Bills in 2014, ending uncertainty about the future of the NFL team after founder Ralph Wilson died. Fans in Western New York have been waiting seven years for the second key decision that will determine the Bills’ longer-term fate.

The Buffalo News reported over the weekend that the Pegulas are seeking $1.1 billion in taxpayer money to fully fund a new stadium. Plans call for putting the facility in suburban Orchard Park, New York, next to Highmark Stadium, which opened in 1973. The Bills will raze the existing stadium for parking if the current proposal becomes reality.

The current urgency stems from the fact that the Bills’ lease expires in 2023, and Highmark Stadium has fallen behind the standards being set in other cities despite multiple overhauls. The Pegulas have made no overt threats to move the team, but they reportedly have reminded elected officials that other cities would welcome the prospect of landing an NFL team.

The owners certainly can offer a proposal. But the people controlling the purse strings can push back on the idea of paying 100% of the cost for a building almost exclusively serving a private business.

Already, a spokesman for Pegula Sports & Entertainment has disputed the $1.1 billion figure while declining to say if the figure was too high or too low.

When will Texas land its third NFL team?

When the data from the 2020 U.S. census is released, Texas will boast of four cities with populations of 1 million or more residents. The Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans are long-standing members of the NFL. San Antonio, with a population of about 1.5 million, earns mentions as an expansion candidate from time to time.

ESPN’s Seth Wickersham cited an “ownership source” in reporting that Austin is one possible destination among cities “that desire an NFL franchise and would pay handsomely for it.”

Austin is a booming market that recently reached the 1 million milestone in population. With no franchises thus far in the country’s “big four” major-league sports, landing an NFL team would qualify as a coup. The odds of the Pegulas moving the Bills to Austin are remote, but that city now plays the “eager suitor” role that Los Angeles did from 1995-2015 and Las Vegas did for a decade before the Raiders migrated from California.

And if politicians in Austin or San Antonio say they can come up with the money for a shiny new stadium and training facility, that turns up the heat on Buffalo and fans in the next city whose team makes noise about leaving.

Whether it’s the Bills, another existing team, or an expansion franchise, Austin or San Antonio could easily land an NFL team by the end of the decade.

The Buffalo Bills’ Terry Pegula made his money in the gas industry

Kim and Terry Pegula made their first major impact on Western New York sports when they stepped in to buy the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres in February 2011. After Ralph Wilson died in March 2014, his estate put the Bills up for sale in a development that attracted the interest of future U.S. president Donald Trump and musician Jon Bon Jovi.

The Pegulas ultimately won out with a bid of $1.4 billion, ending worries that Bon Jovi’s Canadian backers could move the team to nearby Toronto.

Terry Pegula founded East Resources, a natural gas drilling company, which he turned into a fortune by extracting substantial natural gas deposits from the Marcellus Formation. Pegula sold a substantial portion of the company to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion in 2010, netting him $3.3 billion. He sold off additional holdings in 2014 for $1.75 billion, presumably freeing up the capital that paid for the Bills.

Forbes lists Terry Pegula’s net worth at $5.4 billion, which will certainly raise the issue of how much money he should be contributing toward a new stadium for the Bills.

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