Erie County official decries NFL owners' push for new Bills stadium

Days after New York Giants owner John Mara and Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told The Buffalo News that the Buffalo Bills will be financially disadvantaged long-term if they do not replace Ralph Wilson Stadium, Erie County (New York) executive Mark Poloncarz responded Thursday by accusing other NFL owners of being greedy on the issue.

"I go back to what I said a couple of years ago," Poloncarz told WGRZ-TV in Buffalo. "If the NFL is gonna talk about the viability of the team in Buffalo, then show me the books. We know the team is viable in Buffalo. We know it's successful here. But what this is is not a question of the viability of the team in Buffalo. What this is is a question of the other owners who truthfully are trying to reap as much dollars as they can. They're multibillionaires, folks. They don't care about the people of this community. They don't care about the Buffalo Bills. All you have to do is ask the people in St. Louis. Do they care about the St. Louis Rams? No. St. Louis bent over backwards to try to keep their team and then they lost them. They're now going back to Los Angeles."

Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula -- who voted to approve the Rams' move to Los Angeles -- have pumped the brakes on talk of a new stadium since purchasing the Bills in late 2014, even as commissioner Roger Goodell has publicly stated, most recently in Jan. 2015, that the Bills need a new stadium to compete with new facilities in several other NFL cities.

Team president Russ Brandon said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, that there were no discussions during the gathering about replacing Ralph Wilson Stadium, which is the third-oldest stadium in the NFL that has not undergone a full-scale renovation. The venue, which opened in 1973, underwent a $130 million, smaller-scale face-lift prior to the 2014 season.

"I was not for that renovation," an unnamed league official told The Buffalo News in its article published Wednesday. "In other words, we thought we should have gone right to the question of what should be the big renovation or a new facility. Because if you're going to build one, you're going to try to break ground within five or 10 years from now. If you're going to do that, then you sort of didn't need to spend that $130 million. You should have saved that for the new facility."

The Bills, as part of their 2012 stadium lease negotiations with Erie County, contributed $35 million to the renovation.

"[Former owner] Ralph Wilson didn't want a new stadium," Poloncarz said, later urging the unnamed official to speak on camera. "[Team president] Russ Brandon and [former CFO] Jeff Littmann. Mr. Wilson went out publicly and said he doesn't need a Taj Mahal. He just needs a nice football stadium that works for his team so he can generate enough revenue to be viable. And they told us what they needed. It wasn't a new stadium. They didn't ask for one. They asked for a renovation. We gave them a renovation that worked."

Poloncarz, who chided the NFL multiple times during his interview for issues about concussions raised in a Thursday article in the New York Times, reiterated his belief that the Bills remain viable long-term in Buffalo and that a new stadium is not a necessary investment after the recent renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"To billionaires, I think the difference between tens of millions of dollars means nothing," he said. "That's the sad part. We're not talking about individuals who are bringing home 50 or 70 thousand dollars a year. They're probably making 50,000 a minute. And for them, the difference between $40 million and $80 million is a drop in the bucket. For any normal human being, the difference between 40 and 80 million dollars is life-changing, is everything that some people hope for and success you could never have. For individuals who are making thousands of dollars a minute, they don't care about what happens in this community, they just want to make more money."

The Bills told Poloncarz in recent years that the team's goal is to remain in the "third quartile" in revenue among NFL teams despite having one of the league's smallest markets. Poloncarz believes that proves the team remains financially viable despite their 43-year old stadium.

"Mr. Pegula wouldn't have invested all the money to buy that team if he thought they were going to lose millions of dollars annually," he said. "They don't lose millions of dollars annually. They're a successful organization. I'm just disappointed that out-of-area billionaires that do not care about Buffalo, that do not care about Erie County, that do not care about Western New York or New York State, are trying to force something on the community that is not needed now. No one said that we're going to totally be in that stadium for 50 or 60 years. Eventually you're going to have to replace the stadium. But there's no need to do it now. And for the NFL to be pushing and saying, 'You needed a new stadium a few years ago,' goes against everything that we know is the truth."