BUFFALO, N.Y. — Speaking at Jim Kelly’s celebrity golf tournament Monday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league wants to keep the Bills in Buffalo — but in a new stadium.
“You’ve got to think long-term here,” Goodell said. “This has been going on for decades, and it’s time to get a new stadium done that we can make sure the Bills are here and successful for many, many decades going forward.
“We’re focused on keeping the Bills [in Buffalo] in a new stadium in a public, private partnership. That’s what this is all about and that’s where we’re focusing.”
Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula submitted a proposal for a $1.4 billion stadium across the street from the team’s current stadium in Orchard Park, which has a 10-year lease that will end in 2023.
Pegula Sports & Entertainment (PSE) spokesperson Jim Wilkinson said the team is waiting to move forward with its plans for the stadium until a deal with Erie County is reached and that “the city of Buffalo and the state are going to have to decide if they want a team.”
But Goodell’s comments add credence to the belief that PSE’s thinly veiled threat to relocate is simply a negotiation ploy and that the team will ultimately remain in western New York.
The commissioner of 15 years said he has discussed the topic of the Bills’ stadium nearly every time he travels to Buffalo — dating back to the 1990s, when the topic revolved more around renovations to the stadium. Even then, Goodell said, they knew renovations would only be a temporary fix and the time would come when a new stadium was necessary.
“We’re certainly beyond that,” he said. “I think a new stadium is what’s needed. I think it’s going to require a public, private partnership. I think the Bills, the community and the NFL are all going to have to come together and do that in a smart way.”
Since 1973, the Bills have played in the Erie County-owned Highmark Stadium, the fourth-oldest stadium in the NFL. The county put more than $200 million of renovations into the stadium over the course of the lease it signed in 2013, but Wilkinson estimated renovating and modernizing the stadium would cost roughly $1 billion — and that any renovation talks are “over.”
Goodell said he was not sure what the stadium’s timeline is but added that the team’s new stadium needed to be “built for Buffalo” and “fit Buffalo.”
Erie County commissioner Mark Poloncarz said PSE never made any overt threat to leave during negotiations and that the county was willing to get a deal done as long as it was fair to all parties involved.