We read a new chapter of a very old story this past weekend, warning us that another billionaire will be holding their NFL city hostage in hopes of getting a new, publicly funded stadium in which to house their tax reduction machine.
Bills owner Terry Pegula, according to ESPN, will start whispering around town that if his demands are not met, he’ll move the team to Austin, Texas. Apparently, the city councils in Scranton, Pennsylvania and Jurupa Valley, California weren’t mobile enough to mount a sham proposal in time for consideration. Even the Austin city council was reportedly unaware that they’ll be used as the equivalent of an Instagrammable rebound date.
We’ve known for a while now, of course, that this is a game of who blinks first and we, the taxpayer, seem to have an irreversible tic. NFL owners had forever used the allure of Los Angeles to threaten cities to pony up for new space station-looking arenas before eventually gutting the Chargers and Rams franchises, leaving them in an expensive, empty auditorium to play in front of their nascent fanbases. London, for a brief second, was another way of headlocking certain host cities into squeezing their taxpayers before we all collectively laughed and dared the league to put a team five hours ahead of eastern standard time. San Antonio remains on the short list of extortion tools ownership is eager to use.
Now, one thing has become obvious. Not that new stadiums won’t help the city in any way, shape or form—in fact, the economic benefits might actually be nonexistent altogether, robbing funds from valuable sectors like education and housing. (Hopefully that has become clear to us now and we are more suspicious of the stadium lobby’s sleight of hand.) What’s obvious is that the NFL is running out of places to use as leverage in all of this. And as the ultimate grift begins to lose its momentum, many more will try and get in while the last plausible plots of land are propped up by a fevered media frenzy and a whole army of accountants, lawyers and developers hoping to make a dollar.
Buffalo, along with Green Bay, is one of two NFL cities that are not among the 80 most populous in the U.S. They are an anchor; one of the few remaining benchmarks that tie the league back to its existence as a barnstorming, bright-eyed startup hoping to spread the love of the game. There is value in the league existing here, helping them maintain the aura of accessibility and closeness. Losing a Buffalo would be detaching altogether from the remaining bedrock of the sport’s foundation; a promise that the league will be, from now until forever, just a collection of nomadic businessmen and women hopping from one rent-free, air-conditioned superstadium to the next, hoping that we’ll follow along and pay Kanye West prices at the concession stand when we arrive.
We should all dare Bills ownership to go through with the charade and crowdfund a fleet of Martz busses full of Bills Mafia down to Texas with collapsible tables and Keystone Ice in tow, giving them the tools to upend any formal, architectural model presentation. It would provide the perfect juxtaposition between the people this charade is actually hurting and the ones who stand to benefit the most.
Nothing against Austin, but beyond Los Angeles, the expense of gutting the league’s soul is too great. This won’t happen. It cannot happen. Oakland to Las Vegas was a population upgrade and a seat at the center of the gambling universe’s expansion. As callous as leaving St. Louis was, there was the attraction of potentially capitalizing on the second-largest city in the United States. Anything beyond this is just heartless.
The league will reason with itself that Cleveland eventually rose from the dead after its vital organs were packed up overnight and shipped to Baltimore. Time tends to heal. Of course, this will be less true for a humble city of 250,000, which will likely lack the kind of economic firepower to lure an expansion franchise back ever again. Bills fans have been kicked around for years now, with their last ownership change being a three-way game of roshambo between Terry Pegula, a Jon Bon Jovi-fronted group hell bent on moving the team to Toronto and a certain reality TV personality who allegedly falsified loan documents searching for federal financing. This is a fanbase that deserves better. A fanbase that weathered a lot of bad football and is finally, loudly, deservedly, enjoying their halcyon days. A fanbase that instructs other fanbases, often perpetuating the idea that each NFL city actually has fans this good and loyal, and not just a loose collection of khaki shorted bank employees hoping to make a business deal over a $14 Shocktop.
The fact that a threatened move has even surfaced to this point should show them—and us—how the controlling powers really feel about us and to what depths of stupidity we’ll sink in order to keep things the way they are. It may be time to dare them to go ahead with it, watching as the illusion of an NFL that cares about us begins to fade.
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