Jerry Jones' signals mixed on Bills' future

The wish of Buffalo Bills fans is clear: they want their team to stay in Western New York.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell -- a native of nearby Jamestown, New York -- could be an ally in that fight, as could a new owner who wants to keep the Bills in the region.

But other NFL owners? That could be a different story.

According to the Buffalo News' Tim Graham, who is at the NFL's May owners meetings in Atlanta, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones declined to comment directly on the Bills' future.

"Out of respect for Ralph Wilson, out of respect for everything he's meant for the NFL -- a Hall of Famer, but in my mind one of the founders of the NFL -- I don't want to get ahead of things at all in commenting about the future of the Bills," Jones told the Buffalo News.

Jones then offered a broader statement that could be interpreted several different ways.

"We always ought to be looking for ways to improve not only the growing of the pie, but also growing the fan base," he said. "And to the extent that you can involve more fans in any team location is something to be considered."

Involve more fans? Like, in Toronto?

"We certainly want to create every opportunity we can to involve more fans. At the end of the day, it's my town against your town, Cowboys against whoever we're playing," Jones told the Buffalo News. "To the end that we can create more rivalries and involve larger viewing audiences, populations, that's something that you have to look at when you get a chance to, and that's the debate between Buffalo and Toronto."

The Bills tried to grow their fan base in 2008 when they started playing a regular season game in Toronto. Attendance and interest in the game dwindled and the Bills will not play north of the border this season.

How else, then, would the Bills expand their fan base in their region? Winning is the most obvious way, and if the Bills can return to the playoffs this season it should take pressure off the team's current administration when a new owner takes over.

But the Bills still need to find a way to sell more tickets. Jones' comments Monday are a reminder that he and other NFL owners are always looking to increase the league's profits and having a team in Buffalo that had one game blacked out last season and "manufactured sell-outs in the other four or five," as CEO Russ Brandon put it, isn't in the collective business interest of those owners.

Having a newer, smaller stadium could help stem the Bills' troublesome blackouts. Goodell said twice this month the Bills need to build a new stadium to remain viable in the region, and Jones echoed that belief to Graham on Monday.

"I know firsthand how impactful a new stadium can be," Jones told the Buffalo News. "A state-of-the-art stadium, one that can and tries to create as many amenities and fan experiences as you can with technology in 2014 as opposed to when some of these other stadiums were built. Every team needs to look at how they can continually be as fan-friendly as they can. I can tell you first-hand a new stadium is a step in the right direction."

The Cowboys opened AT&T Stadium in 2009. It can seat over 100,000, has over 300 luxury suites, and has one of the world's largest video screens. It hosted the Super Bowl in 2011 and the men's basketball Final Four this spring. When the Cowboys play, expect anyone from former presidents and famous country artists to be in Jones' private box.

Cowboys season-ticket holders must first purchase personal seat licenses, which start around $10,000, just to have the right to buy tickets. And don't forget parking -- that's another $75 per game, if bought from the team.

After all, personal seat licenses -- which are becoming standard practice in new NFL stadiums like those built in New York, Minnesota, and San Francisco -- aren't an option in Buffalo.

"We can't afford seat licenses and luxury suites," Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said in February.

That’s the context for Jones’ comments. The modern NFL is a cash cow and some owners well feel that the Buffalo market — home to one of the NFL’s oldest stadiums and one of the league’s least expensive tickets — is holding the league back.

Something will have to give. If Jones has reservations about keeping the Bills in Buffalo, he could have a say in their sale process, as owners will have to approve a new owner and could also give the nod to a possible relocation.

Jones’ opinion may not please many in Western New York but it can’t be discounted. He is a keen businessman and an influential voice among NFL owners.

But, as Jones said, let’s not “get ahead of things.” He spoke Monday in generalities that suggest a new stadium and increased ticket sales could alleviate any concerns about the Bills’ future, so to pin Jones as “anti-Buffalo” would be premature and likely inaccurate.