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Economics Expert: Bills Are Viable In Current Stadium

Posted August 14, 2014

By Danny Spewak - WGRZ -


ERIE COUNTY – County Executive Mark Poloncarz said publicly this week that the NFL is only asking for a new Buffalo Bills stadium because it would make the league richer— partly at the expense of the county's taxpayers.

And one of the nation's leading sports economists agrees with him.

Andrew Zimbalist, one of the authors of "Sports, Jobs and Taxes: The Economic Impact of Sports Teams and Sports Stadiums," said by phone Wednesday that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would prefer a new stadium simply because it would generate more revenue for the Buffalo Bills and the NFL, not because a new stadium is necessary to keep the franchise viable in Western New York.

"Can you have a Buffalo Bills team in Buffalo, N.Y., at the existing stadium and still have that team be competitive and be profitable? Yes, you can," Zimbalist said. "Goodell doesn't want that to happen because he's trying to maximize the value of all the franchises in the NFL. And the way to do that is by having them generate as much revenue as possible."

This week, the Buffalo News reported that NFL officials believe a new stadium may be the key to successfully keeping the team in the region. Goodell has not said much about the topic publicly, but he did make a vague statement at the NFL owners meetings this May that "a stadium is, long-term, important to the franchise." At those meetings, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also stressed the importance of a new stadium, saying that "I know, first-hand, how impactful a new stadium can be."

But Zimbalist said the Bills could survive without one.

They'd just make less money playing in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"Green Bay, Wisconsin, has had a team since 1922," Zimbalist said. "If Green Bay can host a team, Buffalo can too. It's really about jockeying for position and getting your teams in the most lucrative situation they can be in."

Poloncarz told both the Buffalo News and WGR Radio this week that he "rejects" the notion that a new stadium is absolutely necessary for the team's viability in Western New York. Although he does not oppose a new stadium altogether, he noted on a radio appearance with "Schopp and the Bulldog" that other NFL teams have built facilities ranging anywhere from $750 million to $1.2 billion dollars. Erie County taxpayers would have to pay for at least part of those costs.

"Where's that money going to come from? I don't see it just springing out of trees. So, I'm a little leery of, the general thought of, 'yes, let's give them whatever they want'," Poloncarz said. "I'm not going cut libraries, I'm not going to close parks, I'm not going to reduce Child Protective Services just to give multi-billionaires additional cash in their pockets. That would be silly."

A new facility wouldn't only profit the league, though. Zimbalist said if the Bills were to build a stadium in another location – like, say, downtown Buffalo – it might have a "marginal" economic impact in that specific area.

However, Zimbalist said the impact would not be large. Furthermore, his extensive research has consistently shown that professional sports franchises typically do not generate more development or more jobs for their regions. In fact, Zimbalist said his research shows that franchises often serve only a sentimental purpose— not an economic one.

But no matter how much money they bring in, the Bills are a part of Buffalo, and nobody wants to lose them.

"It's certainly something that can involve people and give them a sense of community, and give them a sense of happiness and pride," Zimbalist said. "It can do all those things. And maybe you want a football team for that reason."