The state and local officials have seven years to work to keep the Bills in Buffalo, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy said today.
After the death of owner Ralph Wilson yesterday, the future of the Bills was put into further doubt. The team in the short term will be put into a trust before a new owner is found, and the team’s lease makes it near impossible for the team to move before 2020.
“It buys us seven years, which is at least a substantial amount of time to make sure the next ownership team that comes in sees the benefit of keeping that team in Buffalo,” Duffy told reporters in Elmira today.
The 10-year agreement, reached last year with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and local leaders, runs through 2023. The Bills would be forced to pay $400 million if the team is relocated before the seventh year. After the seventh year, the team would have a one-time-only option to buy out the remainder of the lease for $28 million.
The agreement included $130 million in upgrades to the aging Ralph Wilson Stadium; the cost is being split between the county, state and team.
Duffy, who was involved in the negotiations last year, toured the stadium yesterday — just hours before Wilson’s death was announced.
The former Rochester mayor said the state would work with local officials and the NFL to keep the team in Buffalo, saying it is critical to the region’s economy and psyche.
“They’ll be there for seven years, and it’s really incumbent the Bills, the state and Erie County to work hard to keep that team there beyond seven years because that team means so much to western New York and New York state,” Duffy said.
Erie County Executive Marc Poloncarz said yesterday that the county could sue if the Bills try to break the lease.
“If the judge should determine that the team could move, then by contractual arrangement, a non-relocation agreement, they would have to pay a $400 million penalty,” he told reporters yesterday.