ESPN: Bon Jovi-Led Group To Keep Bills In Buffalo

A report yesterday on The Inquisitr first revealed that rocker John Bon Jovi was part of a Toronto-based group of investors seeking to purchase the Buffalo Bills franchise of the National Football League. At the time, there was talk that the Bon Jovi Bills group was interested in keeping the team in western New York. Now the world’s preeminent sports news organization is saying the team is in Buffalo to stay, at least if the Bon Jovi group secures ownership of the team.

In the report, ESPN simply states that relocation of the team to Toronto would not happen.

“The Toronto group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi reportedly is committed to keeping the Buffalo Bills in Western New York and isn’t aiming at moving the NFL team to Canada’s most-populated city.”

While the group may be telling everyone it can that it will not relocate the team, at least one ESPN reporter, Mike Rodak, is cautioning fans and the city of Buffalo to take the promises from the Bon Jovi Bills group with a bit of skepticism:

“If Bon Jovi’s group wins the bidding, they know they’ll have to stay in the Buffalo area through at least the 2019 season. Even hinting at relocation at this point would be a public relations disaster for the Toronto-based group.

“That’s why Bills fans should take this latest report with a grain of salt.

“Much can change between now and 2020, when there is a one-time out clause in the Bills’ stadium lease. At that point, any owner — whether it’s Bon Jovi, Terry Pegula, Donald Trump or anyone else — can move the team by paying a $28 million penalty and gaining the NFL’s stamp of approval.

“What they said in 2014 won’t matter.”

What? You don’t believe the group would go back on their word and move the team north even with the steep $28 million penalty?

First, let’s look at a few things. The first being the size of the markets. Toronto is Canada’s largest city versus Buffalo, which is just your typical mid-sized American city that no one ever visits unless you have a reason — business, family, or sports. By moving the team an hour and a half north, Canada would get its first NFL franchise and a nearly immediate fan base of 40 million people. Maybe less, though, depending on how much of the southwestern tip of Ontario’s population keeps rooting for the Detroit Lions. But back on point — the media market comparison would be huge. Distribution rights on CBC and other Canadian sports networks could be quite lucrative to the league and the owners, versus the small number of Americans who care about the Bills now.

The second thing you have to look at is what the city of Toronto has to offer that Buffalo doesn’t — a large tax base that is able to afford a possible new stadium for the team. While the media market didn’t matter much for the Oklahoma City-based group of billionaires that bought the Seattle SuperSonics in 2006, the financing and construction of a new arena mattered a great deal.

After two years of fights with the city of Seattle and attempts to move to the suburbs and wrangling with the Washington State Legislature over financing a new stadium, the owners finally said, “Forget it,” and moved the team to their hometown of Oklahoma City (much to mine and many other Oklahomans glee), which had financed improvements and an expansion to its nearly-new arena through a sales tax initiative. The nearly new arena had recently played host to the then-New Orleans Hornets while the team was relocated for two years following Hurricane Katrina. Facilities and financing of those facilities matter. And simply put, if the SuperSonics (now the Thunder) couldn’t get it to work in one of America’s richest cities, how is it going to work out when the Bon Jovi Bills ownership group tries to get a public-private partnership or just straight public funding to construct a new stadium in Buffalo?

Third, let’s just think about the fact that one of the investors in the Bon Jovi Bills group is Larry Tanenbaum, CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The company has ownership interests in the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. They’ll want to add another Toronto sports franchise to that roster and an NFL team would be just the right fit.

Look, you may think I’m crazy for thinking the team will move to Toronto. But they already play just less than half their games there in any given season at present, and having lived through the experience in Oklahoma City, watching our city’s richest men promise Seattle that they would never move the team and then moving once the financing talks broke down, I think it’ll probably happen again to Buffalo. Sorry guys. But prepare to call the team the Toronto Bills or whatever other mascot some group of marketing geniuses come up with in 2020. It won’t have the ring to it that my beloved Oklahoma City Thunder have, but I’m sure it will be nice.

[Image via Flickr Creative Commons]