U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is requesting a change to a National Football League's matching loan program to free up $25 million in league revenue to help with renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium, without a penalty to the community if the team is sold.
Currently, what is known as the G-4 loan program would help the Bills pay for stadium upgrades, but it would have to be paid back immediately if the team is sold. That would permit a new owner to liquidate assets and relocate the franchise.
Under Schumer's proposal, the loan could continue with a new owner only if the franchise remains in place. Owner Ralph Wilson continues to say he will not sell the team in his lifetime, but at age 93, a sale would be likely sometime during the term of such a loan.
Schumer detailed his plan at a press conference outside the stadium Wednesday afternoon. He says he asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to make the league's relocation clause ironclad.
"What it means is that if the loan program is amended and the Bills take advantage of this program, there would be a huge financial penalty to moving the team out of Buffalo before the load is repaid," said Schumer.
"Under these amendments, the new owner would have a choice to keep the team in Buffalo and continue to use the loan money or move the team and be forced, not only to pay back the loan in full, but also return to a system where they have to give the visiting team's share revenue to the league"
The proposal is separate from continuing lease negotiations between the Bills and Erie County. That will likely require stadium upgrades totaling some $220 million from the county and the state.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz expressed appreciation toward Schumer for taking a "proactive role" in working to keep the Bills in Buffalo through the league office.
"What he talked about today is something that is part of our discussions with regards to the Bills' lease," said Poloncarz, speaking at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
"This matters for each and every small-market team across the United States because it's an issue, inevitably, that they're all going to face."
Late Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Irwin P. Raij, a nationally-recognized professional sports expert with extensive experience in stadium development and the sports industry, will advise the state's on its efforts to keep the Bills in Buffalo.
"Irwin Raij has years of experience working together with sports franchise owners, local communities, and government in sports development projects, and he will be a valuable addition to the state's efforts to keep the Bills right here in New York," Cuomo said in a written statement.
"I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate closely with the State of New York on an issue that carries both emotional and economic implications among many residents," said Raij. "Throughout this process, I plan to leverage my and the firm’s collective experience on these complex and evolving issues in order to find a solution that helps keep the Bills in Buffalo."
Commissioner Roger Goodell was also in Western New York Wednesday morning, participating in a sports ethics seminar at the Chautauqua Institution. The commissioner also took time to speak with reporters about issues surrounding the Bills.
Goodell, a Jamestown native, offered few new insights about the future of the team, including current lease negotiations with Erie County and a succession plan after owner Ralph Wilson dies. He did say securing a new lease with Erie County is a "very high priority," including an agreement on costly stadium upgrades.
As far as Wilson's successor, Goodell said nothing has changed, and that the 93-year-old will continue to own the team as long as he is alive. When he passes, the franchise will be sold, probably outside of the family.
Goodell downplayed any talk that the team is a candidate to relocate to Los Angeles.
"I think we all have responsibility to do what we can to make the Bills successful here in Western New York. Fans have a responsibility. I have a responsibility. There is no reason why the Bills can't continue to be successful in Western New York." said Goodell.