New York state, Erie County and the Bills “have struck a final deal” for a 10-year lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium with a “hefty relocation penalty if the Bills leave,” according to sources cited by Tom Precious of the BUFFALO NEWS. The agreement, which was formally announced Friday morning, comes “after months of secret meetings between the sides over what officials have described as complex terms involving a team whose owner, Ralph Wilson, has made past commitments to stay in Buffalo but is getting old and has had health problems in the past year or so.” The Bills have a “one-time chance to leave during that time -- after the seventh year of the contract -- without a financial penalty.” If they leave during any other year of the 10-year period, the team “will have to pay a $400 million relocation penalty.” That amount is “more than the state has provided the team in incentives to remain going back to 1998.” A source said that $130M "will be spent on a range of renovations at the aging stadium.” The Bills “will kick in $35 million, which is different from past deals with the state that included no team contribution.” The state and county will “share the remaining $95 million renovation costs, though it is uncertain how much precisely will be coming from both government entities” (BUFFALONEWS.com, 12/21).
LACKING HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser agreed with Bills C Eric Wood's assessment that the Bills did not have a real home-field advantage when they played the Seahawks last week at Toronto's Rogers Centre. Kornheiser said, "The only advantage you have in Buffalo is the weather in November and December, and it should be uncomfortable. If you can come in and play in a dome in Toronto, where it’s no big deal with fewer fans and nobody’s really involved in the Bills, then you lose that advantage. If you’re going to give Toronto any game at all, give them games in September, don’t give them games in November and December.” ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said of the Bills, “You don’t have a home-field advantage anytime.” But Wilbon said, "We’re talking about economics, we’re talking a team’s finances. You know there’s a sweetheart deal here. They get more money for playing in Toronto” (“PTI,” ESPN, 12/20).
The A's move to Hohokam Stadium in Mesa for Spring Training is "all but a done deal, thanks to action Thursday by the Mesa City Council," according to Gary Nelson of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC. The council approved a memorandum of understanding "sketching the broad outlines of an agreement that will bring the A’s to Mesa for at least 20 years, with options for two five-year extensions." The A's have trained at Phoenix Municipal Stadium since '84, but their lease expires at the end of '14. That is the same year the Phoenix ballpark turns 50, and the A's "couldn’t reach an agreement with Phoenix about upgrading" the facility. Phoenix Municipal is now seen as the "most likely future home for the Arizona State University baseball team, which would be displaced if ASU moves ahead with plans to redevelop the site of Packard Stadium." The Cubs currently play at Hohokam, but will leave "about a year from now." That will give Mesa a year to "retrofit Hohokam and improve training facilities for the A’s at nearby Fitch Park." Mesa City Manager Chris Brady said that the work at "Fitch and Hohokam is expected to cost about $20 million." Mesa will pay the first $15M of that, and the "city and the A’s will split the next $5 million, if that much is needed." The A’s will "cover all costs above $20 million" (AZCENTRAL.com, 12/20).
LOOKING FOR A NEW DOMAIN: In N.Y., Ken Belson reports the Mets are "looking for a new sponsor" for their Spring Training ballpark in Port St. Lucie, Fla., after previous rightsholder Digital Domain filed for bankruptcy three months ago. Workers Friday are "expected to remove all signs" related to the animation company. Digital Domain, which had bought the rights to the St. Lucie County-owned facility from '10-18, owed the county $100,000 this year and "owed the Mets a similar amount." But the county "received only two of four required payments," and it was "not immediately clear how much the Mets received" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/21).
The Lions will offer fans "improved wireless Internet access starting this weekend as they partner with Verizon Wireless to offer the first free Wi-Fi network among professional Michigan sports teams," according to Michael Martinez of the DETROIT NEWS. The Lions on Thursday said that the "high-density Wi-Fi system -- available only to Verizon Wireless customers, at least for now -- will be unveiled at Saturday's home game" against the Falcons, and will be available "at all Ford Field events." The system, "designed and paid for by Verizon Wireless, supplements its traditional cell sites that provide wireless coverage in and around Ford Field." Previously, the "dense populations at games resulted in poor connectivity and scant cellphone reception." Verizon Wireless Network Operations Dir Mark Emerick said that the company "approached the Lions about the project" in April '11. Emerick added that the company "is in talks" with the Pistons and Tigers about providing similar networks. Ford Field will become the ninth NFL venue "with its own wireless network" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/21).
Incoming Pinellas County (Fla.) Commission Chair Ken Welch on Thursday said that the commission has "set a tentative date of Jan. 29 to talk publicly with" the Rays about stadium issues, according to Stephen Nohlgren of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. The idea of inviting the team "for a public question-and-answer session has been in the works for months." It is an "extension of informal discussions the Rays have held from time to time with individual commissioners." Pinellas County's hotel tax, which the commission controls, "helped finance Tropicana Field and might factor into any new stadium, as well." Welch said that the commission "also will invite St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council to the meeting" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 12/21).