Clock is ticking on Bills stadium talks

The stadium negotiations between the Bills and public officials in the city, county, and state are just getting started. They’ll need to move quickly.

The team’s lease at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park covers only two more seasons, 2021 and 2022. The Bills have made it clear that there will be no extension.

That makes the franchise a free agent in 2023, able to go anywhere. To play anywhere. Which means that progress needs to be made quickly on a new stadium in Buffalo.

Although relocation hasn’t been, and can’t be, ruled out at this point, it’s likely that the team will try to get a deal done for a new stadium in Orchard Park without any active efforts to get a new city to make an offer that would create specific leverage for a better deal. If, however, the Bills reach the point where they decide that the right deal can’t be done to build a new stadium in Buffalo, that’s when the effort will commence to find other suitable cities.

If it gets to that point, things will get very interesting. The Bills don’t want other cities to sense that they’re being used in an effort to get a better deal in Buffalo. If/when it’s time to listen to other offers, the Bills will be listening and considering and potentially accepting.

So, basically, now is the time for the public officials in Buffalo and New York to make their best offer to keep the Bills. If it gets to the point where other offers are being solicited, someone quite possibly will make the Bills an offer they can’t refuse.

Whether in Buffalo or elsewhere, the philosophical and political question becomes whether and to what extent the elected officials and/or their constituents have the will to subsidize billionaires. In recent years, the pendulum has swung sharply against public funding of stadiums used by privately-owned teams. Indeed, most if not all recently successful public-private stadium partnerships have happened without the proposal being put to a public vote. Public votes, in most jurisdictions, would be destined to fail.

Strange as it may sound, most people in a given NFL city don’t care about the NFL or whether an NFL team plays there. They just don’t. In a country with more than 350 million people, barely 100 million watch the Super Bowl. The league has not saturated the hearts and minds of the average person to the same extent that many would assume.

With incoming interim governor Kathy Hochul preparing for a re-election effort that will surely include multiple candidates in the Democratic primary who oppose public funding for private ventures, things will get tricky. Regardless, things need to get moving — or moving will become a very real possibility.