SBD/July 16, 2012/Franchises

Bills Opt Out Of New Blackout Policy; Talks Continue Over New Stadium Lease Deal

Of the Bills' last six blacked-out home games, one reached 85% threshold
The Bills, "in a move likely to irk many fans, are opting out" of the new NFL policy that allows the lifting of TV blackouts if at least 85% of nonpremium seats are sold, according to Gene Warner of the BUFFALO NEWS. Bills CEO Russ Brandon said, "We are not going to participate in the relaxed-manifest rule. We are a volume-based business, and for us to be successful, we need to keep our ticket prices low and sell a greater number of tickets." The Bills join the Colts and Chargers, "two other smaller-market teams that also appear to be opting out of the relaxed policy." U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (D-New York) said, "I think it's disappointing, and I think it's somewhat short-sighted. I'm disappointed that they didn't take into account the loyalty of the fan base here in Buffalo." Of the Bills' last six blacked-out home games, "only one" reached the 85% threshold. The Bills "fear that the new policy, if adopted, would have threatened the team's ticket base." More fans "might opt out of season tickets or individual-game tickets." The Bills "clearly view this as a business decision, to protect their product." Brandon, regarding what effect the Bills' decision to opt out of the blackout policy will have on current lease talks with Erie County and the state of New York, said, "None whatsoever. This is a business decision, and it's a business decision aimed at preserving the integrity of our most loyal customers, our season-ticket holders" (BUFFALO NEWS, 7/14). In Buffalo, Donn Esmonde wrote under the header, "Bills Short-Change Fans With Blackout." Esmonde: "By easing the blackout, the team could have given back to fans who don't have the time, ability, interest or money to go to a game. Instead, it Just Said No. It is no way to show that you care" (BUFFALO NEWS, 7/15).

WORK IN PROGRESS: Erie County Exec Mark Poloncarz said, "I'm not surprised with the result. I feel if they went with the blackout rule, they would have asked for more money." He said that Buffalo "is not in a large market like New York City or San Francisco, and this move reflects that." Poloncarz: "We don't have the economic resources that those other cities do" (BUFFALO NEWS, 7/14). In Buffalo, Gee, Warner & Gaughan noted Poloncarz "wants a new lease that ties the Buffalo Bills to Ralph Wilson Stadium for many years." But how long the state and county "can ensure the Bills stay in Buffalo will depend on several factors." One factor is the "length of the lease, expected to be 10 to 15 years." Another is "how much of a financial penalty the team would face for leaving." Also, whether the county "can get the Bills to agree to clauses like those in the Jacksonville Jaguars' lease, considered perhaps the most ironclad" in the NFL. But it "might be hard to get an ironclad guarantee that would prevent the Buffalo Bills from leaving town during the duration of their next stadium lease agreement." Some kind of assurance that the Bills will stay in Buffalo "is believed to be key." The Bills "were not planning on having an ironclad guarantee in the new deal." While it is "not known whether they could be talked into the idea," the two sides "can look to the closest thing the NFL has to a guarantee, the Jacksonville situation." A framework of the deal "could be agreed to in the next couple of weeks" (BUFFALO NEWS, 7/15).
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