NFL Nation: Ralph Wilson

Bills sale process: An FAQ

May, 22, 2014
May 22
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This week has seen several developments around the Buffalo Bills' sale process. From investment banks to prospective bidders to comments from current NFL owners, it's been a busy stretch.

If you are having trouble keeping track of it all, you probably aren't alone.

To summarize where things stand, let's answer some "frequently asked questions" about the process:

Where are the Bills in the process? On Wednesday, the Bills announced that they had retained investment bank Morgan Stanley and engaged law firm Proskauer Rose to facilitate the sale process. The Bills need a valuation of their company -- including most of their financials -- and Morgan Stanley will handle that. Proskauer Rose will ensure compliance with the Bills' complicated stadium lease with Erie County and other legal aspects to the sale. Now that the Bills have both of these firms in place, the sale will proceed soon.

When will the Bills be put up for sale? Prospective bidders are expected to be contacted within the next 30 days, which will essentially begin the process of bidding for the team. Reports have varied about when the sale will close. There are several steps before that can happen. Any potential owner must first be vetted by the NFL for financial and legal standing. That owner would then need to make sure his or her financing is in order -- it's almost impossible for this to be an all-cash transaction. Once all those ducks are in a row, NFL owners will have to approve a new member of their club by a three-quarters majority vote. NFL owners meet every few months. Their gathering in October would probably be the earliest chance to approve new Bills ownership.

Who will bid on the Bills? No person or groups have publicly stated that they will bid on the team. However, the Toronto Sun reported Wednesday that former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano will make a bid. The newspaper also reported previously that rock star Jon Bon Jovi will join with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment for a Toronto-based group that is also expected to bid on the team. Businessman Donald Trump has also expressed interest in bidding, but hasn't confirmed that will happen. Another possibility is Jeremy Jacobs' family. Jacobs owns the Boston Bruins and would have to sell that team to purchase the Bills, but the Buffalo native's son, for example, could act as the lead bidder and avoid that NFL rule. This spring, Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said he had heard from almost a dozen potential buyers, so expect there to be lesser-known groups emerge who have flown under the radar to this point.

Can a new owner relocate? For a new owner to relocate before 2020, it would take legal maneuvering worthy of a "Law & Order" episode. The Bills' stadium lease with Erie County includes a non-relocation agreement with several terms that make it nearly impossible for the team to move elsewhere before a one-time buyout period in early 2020. Still, that doesn't prevent a new owner from "sitting" on the team for six seasons and then moving it elsewhere. Doing so would would require delaying efforts for a new stadium, which could cause problems on the local, state, and NFL level. But it's one possible strategy for an owner who wants to relocate.

What about a new stadium? NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear he wants a new stadium in Buffalo. Other owners speaking at their meetings in Atlanta this week expressed similar viewpoints. The NFL just awarded a Super Bowl to Minnesota after a new stadium was built, which sent a message: The NFL is in the business of building new stadiums, not fixing up old ones. It's worth noting, though, that the league could use that stance as a way of getting more public funding from New York State and Erie County, which is what it was able to accomplish in Minnesota.

Who is AECOM and what are they doing? New York State hired AECOM, an architectural and design firm, to study sites for a new stadium around Western New York. CEO Russ Brandon made it clear Wednesday on WGR 550 that New York State's efforts fall "outside the scope" of the "new stadium working group," so it doesn't appear the Bills and Erie County are on board with the state's efforts to find a new stadium site. AECOM is expected to deliver a report to New York State by July. How much it will matter, without the cooperation of the team and county, is in question. Brandon and Mark Poloncarz have been adamant about keeping a retrofit or renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium on the table.

Will the team go to the highest bidder? That is not certain. The Bills haven't disclosed Ralph Wilson's wishes for how the team will be sold. Wilson's widow, Mary Wilson, serves as the controlling owner of the team, but beyond that, no specifics have been announced about who will decide which party will purchase the team. If Wilson's estate must sell the team to the highest bidder, that opens the possibility of the team being sold to a group that might not want to keep it in the region.
The Buffalo Bills will wear a patch this season to honor former owner Ralph Wilson, who died in March.

"Ralph would be humbled to see such a tribute in his honor, worn proudly by a team that meant so much to him," said his widow Mary Wilson, controlling owner of the Bills. "The patch is a fitting acknowledgement of his commitment to the players, the team, and the Western New York area, and our family is touched by the outpouring of support and remembrance."

Here is the first look at the patch, courtesy of ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell:

Cincinnati Bengals president and owner Mike Brown shared his admiration for longtime Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson late Tuesday.

Wilson, 95, died at his home on Tuesday afternoon. NFL team executives like Brown were told of Wilson's death during an afternoon session at the league's owners meetings in Orlando, Fla.

"His voice carried weight in our meetings here," Brown told Bengals.com. "He was an important voice in the National Football League. He had strong opinions and he wasn't afraid to voice them. He was his own and a very successful man beyond football, and a man I admired."

Wilson founded the Bills in 1960, helping establish the team with the start-up AFL that same year. He has been the Bills' only owner.

The Bengals, founded in 1968, have a similar longevity in leadership in a league that has undergone a series of dramatic changes over the years. Brown has been both team president and its second-in-command since its inception. He is only the Bengals' second president. The first was his father, Paul Brown, who established the franchise after a split from the Cleveland Browns, an organization named after him.
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The Buffalo Bills family knew this day was coming, but that didn't make it any easier.

Ralph Wilson, who founded the Bills in 1960 and owned the team for 54 years, died Tuesday at his home in Michigan. He was 95.

Wilson was the third-longest tenured owner in NFL history, behind Chicago's George Halas (63 seasons) and Pittsburgh's Art Rooney (55 seasons).

"A lot of Bills fans have been standing on this cliff for a long time, but for those of us who played for him and knew him, we were hoping it would never come," former Bills special-teams ace Steve Tasker said. "I’m sad. I’m brokenhearted."

Tasker, who played for the Bills from 1986-1997 and was a member of each of their four AFC championship teams, was one of several Bills players who shared their memories Tuesday, hours after Wilson's death.

One of Tasker's teammates, running back Thurman Thomas, stepped to the podium and told reporters he might have been too emotional to take questions.

"I don't know if I'll be able to answer any questions or stay as long as those guys did," Thomas said. "My heart had been heavy the last 24-48 hours [and] with Mr. Wilson passing today, it hurts."

Thomas was noticeably shaken by what has become a difficult time for the Bills. Thomas and teammates Andre Reed and Bruce Smith recently visited quarterback Jim Kelly -- the face of the franchise for 11 Hall of Fame seasons -- who is battling a recurrence of oral cancer.

While the Buffalo community rallies around Kelly and his family, it must now also mourn the loss of Wilson, who brought professional football to the region and kept it there for over five decades.

Wilson was the last surviving member of the "Foolish Club," the group of businessmen who founded the American Football League in late 1959, who still owned his franchise. Barron Hilton, the original owner of the San Diego Chargers, is 86.

Former Bills guard Ruben Brown, a first-round draft pick in 1995 who played nine seasons in Buffalo, gave a passionate speech Tuesday about Wilson's contributions to the region.

"He brought you, Buffalo, an NFL franchise that has been here several, several years. I’m from Lynchburg, Va. -- really Paddington, Va. There’s no football team there," Brown explained. "There’s no pro team where Thurman Thomas can get off work and come over to my high school and inspire me. See what I’m saying? That’s what Ralph Wilson gives Buffalo.

"There’s a professional athlete, there’s a professional business and one of the biggest business in the United States that’s happening right now is NFL football and Ralph Wilson put it in your backyard. And not only did he put it in your backyard, but he kept it."

Yet it wasn't until the 1990 season that Wilson first tasted the Super Bowl. His Bills would lose that game in crushing fashion and also were defeated in the next three Super Bowls, but their success during that era propelled the Bills onto the national stage.

"His thrill about the Super Bowl: I could sense the glow and how proud he was," former head coach Marv Levy recalled Tuesday. "Here's a guy who had come into the beginning of the AFL so many years previously and really had never gotten there until the 1990 season. It wasn't just Ralph Wilson that was going to the Super Bowl; he saw to it that everybody in the organization [went]. He really set an example of total organization wins.

"Not just a great owner, not just a coach or a quarterback, it was total organization. We'd go to those Super Bowls and he took everybody, the security guards, everybody. The people that cleaned up at night, they were part of the Buffalo Bills at the Super Bowl."

The Bills have long been the NFL's underdogs, playing in an outdated stadium and a small market. But Tasker remembered Wilson as a man who was responsible for shaping the current landscape of the NFL, a league that has grown significantly since Wilson's day as an AFL owner.

"Ralph took a lot of criticism here in Buffalo when the team was 0 for the '70s against the Dolphins and we couldn’t get into the playoffs. He took a lot of heat because he wouldn’t spend money and all the things people say about owners everywhere," Tasker said. "I’ll tell you this: The NFL is the 800-pound gorilla of professional sports leagues, and it’s because of men like Ralph Wilson. He’s not the only one. But he’s certainly the template for the kind of man, the kind of leader that has made the NFL the institution on the American landscape that it is."

Tasker became emotional when he remembered Wilson's joy after some of the team's signature wins.

"Occasionally when we’d win a big one, it was great to see what it meant to him. He didn’t fake his joy. He didn’t put on a front of how happy it made him. He didn’t make up any emotions to make it look good for any media or any fan. When the Bills won a big game, it was as if he was the only fan," Tasker said. "And sometimes, in the dark days, maybe he was. But this team mattered to him deeply. For all the criticism, for all the bad years and dark times and back to back 2-14 teams, let me tell you this, it wasn’t because he didn’t care. He cared deeply."

The Bills will hold a memorial for Wilson in the coming days, an event that figures to attract throngs of Bills fans.

It will be a celebration of Wilson's legacy, one that Brown tried to hammer home Tuesday.

"He brought you something to be excited about. He brought you something to root for. He brought you something for you to call your own and make your area, your home unique because he gave that to you," Brown said. "Yeah, there’s no Super Bowl as of late, but I’m sure all of Buffalo fans can be proud of what the Buffalo Bills are -- a tough, gritty team, and Ralph Wilson was that, too."

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- New York Jets owner Woody Johnson spoke to reporters Tuesday about Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who died at the age of 95:

"It’s the end of a real important era. He was so important in developing football to what it is today -- the NFL. He was the AFL. He was always a guy that was up to the task. He had a great sense of humor, he was a great speaker, Hall of Fame. I heard his Hall-of-Fame speech he gave at 91. It was better than most people could give at 31. Really just an incredible leader. Great vision. And so it’s the end, really, of a major, major part of American football, to lose a guy like Ralph Wilson."

Johnson said Wilson was one of the first owners he met after purchasing the Jets in 2000.

"He described the satisfaction he got out of it, working with the players, the fans and building this league," Johnson said. "It sounded like something that was very interesting."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell broke the news to the owners in a meeting.

"We’re lucky to have had a guy like that, because you had a guy like that at the right place at the right time, who formed this league," Johnson said, adding: "He was always a presence in the room. He always spoke very fluently about the past and what football meant to him, and how we were getting away from it if we were going off course. He'd let us know."
Reaction has poured in Tuesday afternoon from players, coaches, fans, and others following the death of Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson.

Here are some of their tweets:

 
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released the following statement Tuesday following the death of Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson:
"Ralph Wilson was a driving force in developing pro football into America’s most popular sport. He loved the game and took a chance on a start-up league in 1960 as a founding owner of the American Football League. He brought his beloved Bills to western New York and his commitment to the team's role in the community set a standard for the NFL. As a trusted adviser to his fellow league owners and the commissioner, Ralph always brought a principled and common-sense approach to issues. His lifelong loyalty to the game was instrumental in his richly deserved induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We are grateful for his many contributions to the NFL and offer our heartfelt sympathy to the Wilson family."
The following is Buffalo Bills CEO Russ Brandon's statement on the death of owner Ralph Wilson:
"I speak for everyone within the Bills organization when I say that we are all suffering a deep and profound sadness with the passing of our Hall of Fame owner Mr. Wilson. We have lost our founder, our mentor, our friend, and this is a very difficult time for us all. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Mary, his daughters Christy and Dee Dee [Edith], his niece Mary and his entire family.

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Mike RodakFlags were lowered to half-mast at the Buffalo Bills' facility in Orchard Park, N.Y., Tuesday in honor of the late Ralph Wilson.
Mr. Wilson had a relentless passion, a deep love for his Buffalo Bills, the City of Buffalo and the National Football League. He also loved the Bills fans and all of the people of Western New York who embraced the Bills.

This incredible man was the personification of the Buffalo Bills. His life was grit, determination and resolve. He was bigger than life in many ways and yet he was the everyday man, driving his Ford Taurus to the local store and greeting everyone as they called out "Hi Ralph!" He will be greatly missed by those in our community whose lives he touched.

Mr. Wilson was a man of true integrity, charisma and a hero in every sense of the word. His service to his country in the South Pacific in World War II is well documented. He was a pioneer in the American Football League. He was instrumental in forging the merger between the AFL and the NFL. Mr. Wilson will long be remembered as a man who was true to his word and did countless acts of kindness and generosity for so many, while never seeking the limelight in doing so.

More than anything, he wanted to bring a Super Bowl Championship to Western New York. He wanted it for the players, the coaches and the franchise. But mostly he wanted it for the fans. No owner has wanted a title more for these reasons than Mr. Wilson. In the end, he was extremely proud that his Bills are the only team to have played in four consecutive Super Bowls.

For those of us fortunate to have worked for him, we'll miss his kindness, his insight, his leadership, but mostly his sense of humor. He possessed the unique ability to turn a negative into a positive.

Our organization, our league, our community has lost a great man.

Right now all of us are absorbing this tremendous personal loss. We are performing our day-to-day functions as we normally would. We understand our fans' curiosity in wanting to know what the future holds for our organization and that will be addressed in the near future. But at this time, we are committed to honoring the life and legacy of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., the man who delivered NFL football to Buffalo."

Why Bud Adams isn't a Hall of Famer

September, 12, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams is a Hall of Fame candidate who has a case and some support.

But the crowd in front of the 90-year old Adams and voters’ understandable propensity to elect players ahead of contributors is likely to keep him out despite the case several voters make for him.

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Wade Payne/AP PhotoTitans owner Bud Adams believes he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Adams told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean:
“Besides the playoffs, one thing I would like to accomplish is to be considered in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I realize there may be some hard feelings about me moving the team to Nashville, but I truly feel my body of work …

“I don’t like tooting my own horn. But at my age, and now being the senior NFL owner, there is no one from back in those days than can really speak up for me now. I really feel this year could be a year I get serious consideration after 53 years. I’m sure hoping that’s the case.”

No, you can’t write the history of Pro Football without him. His part in the creation of the AFL and its ultimate combination with the NFL was crucial.

But history didn’t stop then, and his contributions to NFL in the 43 years since the merger didn’t do anything to build on those big contributions and don’t warrant a bronze bust in my eyes.

A good argument on Adams’ behalf is that if Ralph Wilson is in the Hall, Adams should be. The logical counter argument is that Wilson doesn’t necessarily belong there, and you can’t put the next guy in because the last guy got in.

Here are some nuts-and-bolts of a case against Adams:

  • He couldn’t build or maintain a relationship or partnership with Houston mayor Bob Lanier. That created a scenario where he had to break the hearts of a very good AFL/NFL market and move. (That move, I point out in the interest of full disclosure, was very good for my career.) Houston ultimately got an expansion franchise and the stadium Adams so desired. Had he been better at political relationships, the Oilers might still exist and perhaps Nashville would have been an expansion market.
  • In exchange for the league paving his way to Nashville, Adams basically agreed to be a "yes man" for commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and now Roger Goodell, in perpetuity. That means Adams has been a follower since 1996, not any sort of leader during a crucial era in league growth.
  • His best football moves also amount to ancient history. His most recent fingerprints on the franchise were the drafting of Vince Young (a major setback for a team that’s not fully recovered, still) and the foolish firing of beloved Oilers coach Bum Phillips.

Another event shouldn’t leave much of a mark. But in the Internet, cable TV age, it showed the degree of his disconnect that an inability to control himself left an indelible, negative imagine behind. On Nov. 15, 2009, after a regular-season win against the Buffalo Bills, he celebrated from his box by extended two middle fingers toward the visiting team. That was without purpose, cost him a $250,000 fine, and is the first thing that comes to mind for some when his name comes up.

Is that stuff bad enough to offset the strong part of his resume and his strong role in the early history of the AFL, and the AFL and NFL combining forces?

Four of five Hall of Fame voters who Wyatt talked to make a compelling case for Adams, despite it all.

I’m glad it’s colleagues and not me deciding.

But I’ll have no beef if they put a player in ahead of him, again.
The first day of 2013 will mark a major change within the Buffalo Bills organization.

ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter reports Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson will relinquish control of the team and promote Chief Operating Officer Russ Brandon to team president. Brandon has worked for the Bills since 1997, including the previous three years as COO.

The Bills will hold a noon press conference to announce the news.

Wilson's age (94) and health concerns factored into this decision. This week Wilson had to go through another head coaching change after firing Chan Gailey on Monday. With the coaching decision complete and a new 10-year stadium lease in tow, Wilson is content to officially hand over the reigns.

Brandon now will take over the daily operations in Buffalo and make the key decisions. His first order of business will be finding a new head coach. The Bills (6-10) are in the market for their third head coach in the past five seasons.

Four things we learned from Week 17

December, 30, 2012
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1. Patriots improved chances for deep playoff run

The Patriots needed some good fortune and a good performance Sunday to land a first-round bye. Both things happened, and as a result New England will skip the wild-card round.

The Indianapolis Colts beat the Houston Texans (12-4) in the early game and New England subsequently beat the Miami Dolphins to land the No. 2 seed in the AFC. The Patriots, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Houston, will have a bye and a home game at Gillette Stadium in the divisional round.

These are much better circumstances than playing next week and going on the road in the second round. New England has aspirations of making another Super Bowl run, and the road got a lot easier. The Patriots can rest their players and await their next opponent. They will not have to leave Gillette Stadium unless it's in the AFC Championship Game against the top-seeded Denver Broncos (13-3).

2. Changes coming in Buffalo and New York

The disappointing New York Jets and Buffalo Bills played a meaningless game Sunday. The Bills won at home, 28-9, and both teams finished 6-10.

There are a lot of questions surrounding the futures of the coaches and front offices in New York and Buffalo. After the game, Bills head coach Chan Gailey didn't want to talk about his future with the team.

"Let's talk about today," Gailey said in his postgame news conference.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sunday that the Jets will fire offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who failed to lead New York to a touchdown against Buffalo on Sunday. Schefter also reported head coach Rex Ryan is safe and New York hasn't decided what to do with general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

Buffalo’s situation is more up in the air. The Bills have offered no indication if they will make a coaching change, a front office change, or no change at all. That decision will be up to Bills owner Ralph Wilson.

3. Mark Sanchez looks finished

It looks like Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez could be a very expensive clipboard holder in 2013. New York will pay Sanchez a guaranteed salary of $8.25 million in 2013 and most likely keep him on the roster.

But Sanchez's play and confidence looks completely finished after the worse year of his career. His body language and performance just weren't right. That means the Jets cannot enter the offseason assuming Sanchez is the starter.

Sanchez, who was benched twice this year, had one final chance to redeem himself in the regular-season finale against the Bills. Instead, Sanchez threw for 205 yards, one interception and lost a fumble.

Sanchez could use a change of scenery but probably won't get it due to his high salary that makes him virtually impossible to trade. Sanchez has a lot of work to do in the offseason. But New York needs to do everything it can to find a better replacement.

4. Miami has work to do

Miami viewed its regular-season finale as a measuring-stick game to see how close they are to the Patriots. It turns out the Dolphins still have plenty of work to do. New England shut out Miami, 28-0.

Miami finished 7-9 and in second place in the AFC East. I predicted the Dolphins to finish 6-10. So this should be considered a successful season with a rookie head coach and rookie quarterback.

But it was further evident Sunday that Miami is still a long way from catching the Patriots in the AFC East. New England swept Miami this season.

The great news is Miami has a ton of cap space and plenty of draft picks to improve. Miami first must decide which in-house free agents to keep, such as left tackle Jake Long, tailback Reggie Bush and No. 1 receiver Brian Hartline.

The trio of Miami, Buffalo and New York all finished with losing records this season. But of the three teams, Miami has the most promise heading into 2013.

Bills agree to 10-year lease

December, 21, 2012
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The Buffalo Bills finally resolved their stadium issue. On Friday the Buffalo News reported the Bills agreed a new 10-year lease at Ralph Wilson.

This keeps the Bills in Western, New York. However, there is an out in the lease that should be concerning for Bills fans. The team can leave Buffalo after seven years for a relatively small penalty of $29 million. For perspective, that's about half of what the team paid quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ($59 million) in 2011. The penalty for the Bills leaving before 2020 is a significant $400 million.

That pretty much amounts to a "band-aid" contract for the next seven years. Ralph Wilson Stadium reportedly will get $130 million in revovations, with $35 million being paid by the team and $95 million being paid by county and state tax payers. Both sides compromised from the previous estimate of $200 million or more, mainly due to the difficult economic conditions in western New York.

The good news with this lease is Bills fans do not have to worry about their team relocating for the next seven years. But the Bills' long-term future seems murky beyond 2020.
The New York Jets were hoping for a bigger name with more starting experience to back up Mark Sanchez. But after giving Sanchez a $58.25 million contract that ensures he will be the starter for at least the next two years, the pool of quality candidates dwindled.

The Jets finally found their backup quarterback Friday. New York announced it agreed to a one-year contract with former Detroit Lions backup quarterback Drew Stanton. He spent the past four years in Detroit, and three years of those behind Lions franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Stanton, who has four career starts, has thrown for five touchdowns and nine interceptions. He's not the kind of quarterback who can challenge and push Sanchez. But New York showed that's not the goal after giving Sanchez the contract extension.

Here are some other free-agent notes around the AFC East Friday:

Bills planting a cleat firmly in Canada

June, 23, 2011
6/23/11
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The Buffalo Bills are living in the moment.

Los Angeles developers are stalking an NFL team for relocation, their owner is 92 years old and reports about the latest labor negotiations indicate small-market teams could have a tougher time competing in the new NFL economy.

Bills chief executive officer Russ Brandon claimed they can't afford to worry about the long-term future of the franchise. He said Thursday afternoon "we focus on the here and now."

But it's rather evident by his words the Bills are simultaneously concerned with here and there, straddling the U.S.-Canadian border.

"Regionalization works," Brandon said, "and it will be a linchpin to everything that we do from a business standpoint moving forward."

A news conference to discuss Friday night's unveiling of the Bills new uniform inevitably turned toward this week's lockout talks and how the club could be impacted by the next collective bargaining agreement.

ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton has reported the latest proposal framework includes mechanisms that require teams to spend almost all the way to the salary cap in current player payroll. That would make it tougher for the Bills to maintain the profitability it's used to.

Under the previous CBA, teams could spend just under 90 percent to the ceiling in cap figures, which could include dead money being paid to players no longer on the roster.

"I think the response is we just focus here and we focus now on everything that we can control, and that's keeping this building full, keeping all of our business platforms full," Brandon said. "We're a volume business. We're a very affordable business, as you know here with our ticket prices, and that's what we focus on.

"My job and everyone's job in this organization is to focus on this organization and our fans and that’s really what we do on a day-in and day-out basis."

Brandon declined to discuss specifics of the latest CBA proposal, but it wasn't difficult to gather the Bills' viability depends on Canadian interests.

The Bills have been forced to get creative over the past dozen years or so. Brandon said their attempts to regionalize the club have paid off. They moved training camp to St. John Fisher College in the Rochester area in 2000.

The Bills sold off five regular-season and three preseason games to Toronto for $78 million, the annual series running from 2008 through 2012.

Both agreements are likely to continue. Brandon said the Bills' season-ticket base from Southern Ontario has grown 44 percent since they began playing games in Toronto.

"When you look at it from our standpoint we're always looking to do everything in our power to keep this team viable," Brandon said Thursday, "and as you've heard many times from me: regionalization, regionalization and regionalization.

"When you look at our region of totality it's a very large market, and we're looking to bring fans back to Ralph Wilson Stadium. It's been a very successful venture for us and we're going to continue that process moving forward."

Brandon's comments concurred with sentiments expressed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a conference call with Bills season-ticket holders last month.

"We certainly hope the Buffalo Bills continue to be in Western New York," said Goodell, a native of nearby Jamestown, N.Y. "As a Western New York guy, I know how important it is to that region and how passionate our fans are there.

"The effort we've been going through with the Buffalo Bills and I would call the business leaders in the surrounding areas is to regionalize the team and to draw from a broader area, including Southern Ontario and the Toronto area. I believe that'll be good for the Bills to be successful in Buffalo."

Bills fans ought to get used to sharing. It would be better than waving.

Goodell's Q&A tour reaches Bills fans

May, 16, 2011
5/16/11
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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's tour of season-ticket holders resumed Monday with Buffalo Bills fans.

Goodell
Goodell
The conference call started off poorly. Technical difficulties prevented the second question from being asked until about 15 minutes into the session. Monday's mammoth appellate court ruling that allowed the lockout to endure wasn't discussed. Goodell's answers were dominated by boilerplate spin.

Reporters were allowed to listen in but not participate in the call. Goodell deserves marks for remaining on the line to talk for 46 minutes, but I hung up from the call feeling like I hadn't learned a thing.

Many questions dealt with the Bills as a small-market franchise and wondered how the lockout and new collective bargaining agreement would impact revenue sharing. Predictably, Goodell replied by stating the league's plan would keep small-market teams competitive.

One fan asked if Goodell, a native of nearby Jamestown, N.Y., could ensure the Bills remain in the area. Goodell didn't make any guarantees and emphasized the need to continue playing games in Toronto, a sentiment Bills CEO Russ Brandon delivered March 28. Brandon said the Bills' Southern Ontario season-ticket base had grown 44 percent since the Bills began exporting their games to the Rogers Centre in 2008.

"We certainly hope the Buffalo Bills continue to be in Western New York," Goodell said. "As a Western New York guy, I know how important it is to that region and how passionate our fans are there.

"The effort we've been going through with the Buffalo Bills and I would call the business leaders in the surrounding areas is to regionalize the team and to draw from a broader area, including Southern Ontario and the Toronto area. I believe that'll be good for the Bills to be successful in Buffalo."

Another caller asked about the possibility of a new stadium. Goodell said he wasn't aware of any proposal to replace Ralph Wilson Stadium and used the opportunity to hammer home one of the league's main talking points about the importance of withholding a larger portion of revenues before sharing with the players.

"It's one of the things we're trying to address in the collective bargaining agreement to make sure the Buffalo Bills and small-market teams can be successful is 'How do we encourage those investments in the stadiums, which are more and more being made in part by the private sector, meaning primarily the teams and-or the business community and the fans?' We need to encourage that, but those costs continue to rise, and those need to be recognized in the system."

There wasn't much news to digest, but the Q&A sessions are meant for the fans, not the media.

The conference-call tour is a brilliant marketing move by the league. Even season-ticket holders who don't participate receive advance notice of the option to communicate directly with Goodell if they wanted to.

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